Restaurant Week Is a Culinary Disaster

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 13 2014 1:42 PM

Restaurant Week Is a Culinary Disaster

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Mmm... dinner.

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

George Perkins at Eater DC has stepped up with the restaurant information Washington-area diners need this week—a map of good places that aren't participating in Restaurant Week.

Restaurant Week, for those who don't know, is a local promotion scheme used by the food service industry in many American cities. Restaurants typically offer a "special" multicourse meal that comes at a discounted price. If you scrutinize the prices and the offerings, what you typically get amounts to a free dessert.

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The problem with Restaurant Week, basically, is that it's a marketing scheme aimed at drumming up some business from people who don't normally patronize nice restaurants. And the problem with that is that if you're running a nice restaurant, the main reason to deliver good food is so that the people who do normally patronize nice restaurants will want to come back to your restaurant. If the customer base is all people who probably won't come back one way or another, then there's no point. Consequently, you get what's not so much a bargain as simply a lower-end experience at a high-end brand.

What's more, unless you're for some reason desperate for dessert, it's really not much of a value proposition anyway. If you're looking to save money, just skip the sweets and enjoy a Snickers bar later. Snickers are delicious. Try a restaurant on a normal week. Or try one of the non-RW restaurants this week! I'll give a special shoutout to my old friend Mike Friedman's place, the Red Hen (try the octopus!), as a standout Restaurant Week conscientious objector.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.