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Posted 10/Jan/2007 01:00:00 by Sheryl

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:

  • 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 promotional discount.
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 website:
And remember, if you can't drag yourself out into the cold, Summerlicious takes place each July.

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