The annual winter Restaurant Week promotion is happening right now and runs through Sunday the 31st. It’s a long-running tradition in the city that’s designed to drum up business during the slow winter season as well as encourage customers to try restaurants that might otherwise be out of their budget.
The basics of the deal is that participating restaurants offer fixed-price menus that run $22 for lunch and $35 for dinner and typically include three courses. But that’s only the beginning of navigating a successful Restaurant Week. Here are a few things to know when deciding whether or not to take advantage of the deals.
1. Not all restaurants offer full menus.
Participating in restaurant week doesn’t always mean you’ll be able to pick off the whole menu. Some places prefer to pare down to a few choices per course to make the week more manageable for the kitchen and servers as well as manage the costs of offering more expensive items.
This doesn’t mean avoid 100 percent, but if you’re set on a particular dish, be sure to check the menu ahead of making a reservation. A few good bets offering full menus are Chef Geoffs, Belga Cafe and District Commons.
2. Restaurant Week isn’t a guaranteed savings.
This is probably the biggest caveat against Restaurant Week. The flat price is a nifty and easy way to get diners to consider new restaurants without worrying too much about differences in cost, but it’s often times thought it doesn’t equal a significant savings over the regular menu, especially during a dinner.
If you do the math, you’ll find most appetizers are around $10-$12 and entrees between $18-$20. That leaves roughly $5 to put toward dessert, and anything else is your Restaurant Week savings. Remember that drinks, tax and tip aren’t included. Some places also tack on supplemental chargers for premium ingredients or extra courses, so be on the lookout. You might just as well off visiting on a regular day.
3. It takes planning to get the most for your money.
The best strategy to maximize savings is to seek out pricier restaurants that don’t skimp on the menu offerings. Also, try to plan a trip for lunch if possible, as the $22 meal has the potential to be a far better value. You may find though that simply having the prix-fixe option makes the experience more enjoyable, even if you don’t save a whole lot in the end.
4. Some restaurants offer a extension or twist on the promotion.
If you’re not able to catch specials during official Restaurant Week, you’ve got options. A lot of restaurants will opt to extend their restaurant week specials for longer than the official period, with some going for around two weeks. The Italian restaurant Graffiato, for example, is running its menu until February 7th. And other places, like Dino’s Grotto, for example, have crafted their own promotion during this time to attract customers.
5. Restaurant Week isn’t the only place to find good value prix-fixe meals.
You don’t have to wait for Restaurant Week to come around in order to find a good deal on food. Consider places that offer pre-theater menus, which typical are offered in early evenings before 6:30 p.m.
Other restaurants are built on a fixed-price model. Medium Rare (locations in Cleveland Park and Capitol Hill) offers one of my favorite fixed-price meals – you get bread, salad and a good portion of steak and french fries for around $20. Red, White and Basil in Adams Morgan offers a $16 three-course pasta menu. And Thai X-ing on U St. is well-known for its feast that includes multiple dishes for around $30 or $40, depending on the day.