In most cities, March and August are traditionally slow periods for restaurants, but for four weeks each year in Boston, the crowds swell in around 200 of the city’s hottest dining spots. This is almost entirely thanks to Restaurant Week. Started in 2001, Restaurant Week offers a sampling of the city’s most posh places for a steep discount of $38 for a three-course meal.
This is great, in theory. In practice, however, turning any ordinary experience into “The Event” presents a-excuse the silverware pun-two-pronged set of problems.
First, as pointed out by Taryn Luna in The Boston Globe, there are many logistical problems with Restaurant Week.
The appeal of Restaurant Week, the one-size-fits-all price tag, is not particularly effective considering one of the major appeals of the Boston food scene is its diversity, the antithesis of a forced number of courses and set price. For higher end restaurants, Restaurant Week meant either sacrificing profits to offer signature dishes, or disappointing customers. On the flip side of the coin, less expensive restaurants had a harder time getting customers in the door because the mandated $38 check was a higher price point than what the clientele expected.
These criticisms led to the rebranding of Restaurant Week in 2014. Now known as Dine Out Boston, greater flexibility is being offered to both diners and restaurant owners. There is now tiered pricing-$15, $20, or $25 for lunch and $28, $33, or $38 for dinner-with no set course limit for restaurants.
The second set of problems that arise from Restaurant Week is those elusive, intangible qualities that often come with making a typical experience-going out to eat, in this case-“The Event.” (Forgive me for the brief, obnoxious, curmudgeon-y direction this column is about to take-I promise it will not last long.)
In some ways, Restaurant Week becomes an adult version of the vastly popular Scooper Bowl. Granted, it’s a cheap three-course meal rather than all-you-can-eat ice cream, but the awfulness of the experience remains the same. Despite being initially enticed by the great deal, ultimately you find yourself just short of throwing elbows in a sea of people, all of them thinking they are more entitled to personal space and to the deals than others. After about an hour into the experience, you realize this whole production sounded a lot more fun in concept rather than in actuality, and you probably should have just stayed home with the same Netflix and bad Chinese food you eat every weekend.
Hopefully, the re-branding of Restaurant Week to Dine Out Boston will take the best parts of the event and distill them slightly so that it once again becomes an occasion that the city celebrates, not something that provokes snarky blog posts advising readers how to avoid Restaurant Week, or an event that starts to seem a lot like the Groupon offers that arrive in inboxes every morning.
This weekend will be the second of the two Dine Out Boston weekends. Despite all the potential drawbacks, there is still something enticing about all the promise that the rebranding and a spring weekend have to offer. Hopefully, a new optimism can be cultivated among restaurant owners and patrons alike, achieving the original goal of Restaurant Week-boosting the food scene of Boston. The new tiered pricing system and flexible number of courses will hopefully encourage a wider customer base -a $15 lunch is much more enticing to a college student than an almost $40 dinner.
Thanks to the changes made, I may be persuaded to put down the pork-fried rice and emerge from my cocoon of covers in hopes of a new experience that will indeed entice me, and the rest of the city, to dine out.