Restaurant Week Allows Budget Travelers to Splurge
Restaurant Week is an opportunity for budget travelers to splurge on dining during their visits. Many of the participating restaurants offer menu selections that would fall well outside the range of a budget travel itinerary. But these restaurants want you to sample their specialties so they offer a fixed-price meal (several in most places) that introduces you to their specialties at a fraction of the everyday prices.
Much like Hotel Week, this effort also benefits restaurants during times when perhaps business is a bit slower than usual. For that reason, most Restaurant Week selections come in January and February. With the exception of November and December, you'll also find Restaurant Week events at other times of the year in some places.
Restaurant Week Chicago
Few cities offer more Restaurant Week choices than Chicago, where about 300 eateries participate in late January and early February.
As with many cities, the word "week" is a bit inaccurate when describing what happens in Chicago. The event usually consists of almost two weeks in the city and some of the suburbs as well.
Price levels will vary by city. In Chicago, for example, they come in at around $22 for lunch, or $33 and $44 for dinner. Note that these charges do not include taxes, gratuities, or additional items such as bar drinks or side dishes. That price includes only what is on the three-course prix fixe menu. Some places will offer a choice of meals at those various prices, while others will offer only one.
At Prime & Provisions on N. LaSalle, the dinner choice is $44. That will seem like a lot to a budget traveler, but the same items that were included at $44 would have been $65.
How Restaurant Week Works
The three courses offered at Prime & Provisions included a choice of soup or salad for the first, a choice of several main dishes for the second course, and two dessert choices.
I chose the wedge salad you see pictured, which consists of iceberg lettuce, charred red endive, thick cut bacon, Hook’s gorgonzola, purple onion, and tomato. The main dish I selected was the hand-cut filet mignon, which was topped with house seasonings and normally costs $39 by itself. My dessert was a one-serving banana cream pie.
Because we ordered a few extras that were not on the prix fixe menu, the total for two people was about $130. It was clearly a splurge meal that you would reserve for a special occasion during your trip. But the quality of the food and the excellent service made this meal a good value if not a budget bargain.
The rules for how Restaurant Week offerings are set up will vary by city and even by restaurant. If you'll want to sample some of your destination's better dining, it pays to do a quick search for the dates and terms.
Restaurant Week Offerings in January and February
For many restaurant owners, the months of January and February are lackluster. The holidays are over, and inhospitable weather in many locales keeps would-be diners at home. This might explain why more than half of the top 60 places observing Restaurant Week stage their events in the dead of winter.
Even relatively warm locations such as Galveston, the state of South Carolina, and Hilton Head opt for January dates. They are joined by Philadelphia, which offers about 130 restaurants, and the Triad cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill in late January.
You'll also find many Restaurant Week options in February. Charlotte structures its event so that only certain restaurants are participating each day, perhaps to encourage visitors to sample a variety of places.
Baltimore, Denver, Minneapolis, and Cleveland all opt for Restaurant Week dates in late February.
But don't consider this a big-city option. Smaller cities such as Annapolis, Asheville, Kalamazoo, and the Napa Valley also celebrate the event during the first two months of the year. Santa Fe, a city of 70,000, checks in with an impressive 49 eateries participating each February. New Mexico's capital city is already a favorite stop for many budget travelers.
Other favored travel stops such as Newport Beach and Savannah also present Restaurant Week offers in the winter.
Restaurant Week Offerings in Spring
In the Queen Anne section of Seattle, you can visit some small, memorable restaurants. Unfortunately, not many of them cater to budget travelers.
But Seattle Restaurant Week includes Emmer & Rye (formerly Julia's), a Queen Anne establishment where you can enjoy the ambiance alongside quality dining.
Orange County, California offers 135 dining choices during its Restaurant Week in early March.
Back in New England, the states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont each offer Restaurant Weeks in March or April. Statewide events are often organized by region as well as by city.
Other east coast locations staging the event at this time of year include Boston, Newport, R.I., Atlantic City, and Ocean City, Md.
If you travel primarily in summer, you'll find fewer Restaurant Week choices. But it pays to check anyway because there are a few in popular locations.
Restaurant Week Offerings in Summer and Fall
Several cities offer multiple Restaurant Week options during a calendar year.
New York, for example, schedules dates for both January and June. The Big Apple was the originator of the concept, and you'll have great opportunities to sample restaurants in all the boroughs.
Nantucket offers weeks in early June and late September, times that mark the beginning and the end of peak tourist season. Richmond, Va. offers dates in late April and late October. Gorgeous Sedona, Ariz. includes both winter and summer weeks.
The busy season is done in Cape Cod by late October, but that's when you'll find Restaurant Week in full swing. On the opposite coast, San Diego's event falls in late September.
Roughly midway between those two cities, Omaha stages Restaurant Week in mid-September. About 65 restaurants participate, including Stokes Bar & Grill (pictured above) in the Old Market area.
Don't let anyone tell you this is a temporary fad focused only along the coasts and in tourist areas. Do a search before your next trip and include Restaurant Week in your overall budget dining strategy.