Posted 10/Jan/2007 01:00:00
Ah, January. The traditional time of year for Torontonians to take
one look at their post-holiday credit card bills and the piles of
snow outside, and then hibernate until the first warm day in April.
Some local businesses with small numbers of employees, such as
galleries, wisely shut their doors for the month and head south.
Restaurants, however, are often hard hit during this slow month, and
many have jumped at the chance to join a city-promoted restaurant
week to encourage people to head out and have a good meal.
The restaurant week idea originated in 2002 in NYC as an effort to
encourage tourism after the World Trade Center attacks. The following
year, realizing a good idea when they saw it, the City of Toronto
created their own restaurant week to co-incide with the annual winter
festival, Winter City.
The premise is a simple one; a selection of medium to high-end
restaurants offer a three-course prix fixe menu for either lunch or
dinner. In some places, this can be fully half the cost of the same
items off the regular menu. The event has grown in popularity since
its inception in 2003 (Toronto has since added a summer restaurant
week in July as well), and many of the more popular restaurants have
seen their covers increase by as many as 6000 people over the 10-day
event, earning it the nickname WinterVicious, as chefs and cooks at
restaurants that serve both lunch and dinner can easily expect to
work a 15 -18 hour day, for every day of the event. It has become, in
some circles, a way to determine if staff are up to the job, and can
regularly result in promotions, demotions or, if it breaks them,
staff walking off the job never to return.
From the patron's point of view, Winterlicious is a great way to
sample the menu at a place they may not otherwise be inclined to try,
and it's always a great way to discover a gem that quickly becomes a
favourite. Because of the stressed and busy atmosphere, however, the
"Licious" events can also show a restaurant at its worst, which may
not be reflective of how the place normally functions. One issue that
arises regularly, and often creates a Catch-22 in terms of service,
is that patrons looking for an inexpensive meal do not tip
appropriately or order beverages to accompany their meal; restaurants
offering a discount meal are relying quite heavily on profit from
beverages to make the event worthwhile for them. And then because
staff are expecting the Winterlicious customers to cheap out, the
service is less than perfect, particularly when the establishment is
also offering its regular menu to its regular customers.
This shouldn't dissuade anyone from participating however, and as
long as patrons follow some basic rules, things should go smoothly.
This is, after all, supposed to be an event to promote the restaurant
and to attract new customers who will hopefully return.
To get the most out of Winterlicious:
Winterlicious runs from January 26th to February 8th with prices of
or for lunch and or for dinner, not including taxes,
tip or beverages. Reservations are accepted as of January 11th, by
contacting the restaurants directly. For a full list of participating
restaurants and menus, check out the City of Toronto's Winterlicious
- read the menus on the website carefully, and if you have
concerns, particularly food allergies, confirm the items and
ingredients when you book your reservation. Because of the high
volume, most places do not allow substitutions or changes to dishes
on the Winterlicious menu.
- Book your table in advance, some places sell out very quickly.
- Call to cancel if you cannot make it -- many places will take
a credit card number and will charge patrons for reservations that
are not cancelled in advance.
- Consider lunch at many places, the lunch and dinner menus
are the same, while the prices are different.
- Order beverages, even if it's just juice or soda.
- Tip your server based on the full price of the meal, not the
And remember, if you can't drag yourself out into the cold,
Summerlicious takes place each July.