D.C. Restaurant Week 2011: The deals, the people, the experience
Updated: January 18, 2011 - 10:05 am
- Mie N Yu (Photo Credit: Julia Benton)
It’s 8 p.m. on a Tuesday night, and The Oval Room in downtown D.C. is packed. Chef Tony Conte has been pushing the same dishes out of his kitchen all day. The same appetizers, the same entrées, the same desserts, over and over—the dishes that are offered on his prix fixe menu for Restaurant Week.
Conte says he expects the restaurant to do about 2,000 covers during the popular bi-annual week-long promotion. That’s almost double the number of covers they do during a regular week.
As soon as the dates for this winter’s D.C. Restaurant Week were announced, people rushed excitedly to make reservations, hoping to snag prime time slots in popular dining rooms. The event—this year featuring three-course lunches for $20.11 and three-course dinners for $35.11— attracts people to establishments they wouldn’t normally patronize because of pricey menus. For some others, the deal is an excuse to try eateries that are out of their comfort zone. It seems like a win for everyone. But, if it’s a win for everyone, then why isn’t every restaurant jumping in on the action?
Generally, restaurants embrace the opportunity for more business. But Restaurant Week is a different beast. Ask some servers and chefs how they feel about it, and they’ll tell you it sucks.
Even though the extra business is great, Conte says The Oval Room isn’t designed to do that type of volume. So in order to meet the demands, he creates a separate Restaurant Week menu—one that’s simple, with dishes that are easy to produce when the kitchen gets slammed.
He says that the restaurant does lose money during Restaurant Week, but he’s been able to mitigate the loss by creating a menu that highlights some good dishes, and is easy enough to execute when 30 tables are placing their entrée orders at the same time every hour.
Last summer, before Ardeo and Bardeo became one, a group of ladies in their early 20s walked up to Bardeo’s crowded bar and asked bartender/server Lucas Pekarski how long the wait for a table would be. It was 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday night during Restaurant Week. The wait for a table of six in Bardeo’s small dining room would be about two hours. Pekarski felt bad; they were attractive ladies, and he hated having to quote such a long wait time to potentially fun tables. But there was nothing he could do except to offer them drinks while they waited.
That night, Pekarski was juggling tables in both Ardeo and Bardeo. More than half of his guests were ordering off of the Restaurant Week menu. Of those opting for the promotion, Pekarski says he knew which were veteran diners and which were not. Did this bother him? More important, did it matter?
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