Restaurant Weeks: Do The Math First

We’re almost half way through Providence Restaurant Weeks, which run July 11 – 24. And I have advice for anyone thinking about taking advantage of the set-price meals that the 90 participating restaurants are offering: Make sure you check out the regular menu prices first. Especially at dinner.
The promotion is well-intentioned (full disclosure: the magazine is a sponsor) but interpretation is left up to each restaurant. And some are actually charging more. That’s right, you pay more for the same food if you order it off the RW menu than if you went a la carte off the regular menu.
I noticed this at dinner at a West Side restaurant the other night, and a little online investigation revealed it’s not the only place; dishes are in many cases similarly priced, and occasionally more expensive, on various RW menus. I pointed it out to staff at one restaurant; they shrugged it off, saying the promotion gets people in the door and then they’re free to choose whatever options suit them.
Perhaps; but it left a bad taste in my mouth. At its best, this promotion is an opportunity for city chefs to experiment with new dishes and reward customers who order multiple courses. Deciding to stick with familiar dishes is fair enough; but deciding to do so at higher prices won’t tempt me back, now or any other time.
There’s plenty of upside. Lunch seems like it’s mostly a bona fide bargain. It’s also a lot of food – those prone to nodding off at their computers (ie. me), take note. And some restaurants – notably El Rancho Grande and Bravo – are going their own way by offering two-for-one dinners. I haven’t tried any, but they seem likely to represent a good deal.
And then… there’s Pizzico. This Hope Street restaurant went and put its whole menu on offer for the $12.95 lunch/$29.95 dinner prices. Kudos. I’ve never been, but I hear it’s generally great and I’ve got a reservation for next week.
One further word: some great restaurants offer set-price, three-course meals year round, at least on weeknights. Gracie’s and Chez Pascal do it for $30; New Rivers does it for $26. Chances are the meals are at least as good as during RW, and you don’t have to fit them in before the end of next week. Good news for me, because after four meals out this week, my palette and wallet are both suffering from a touch of restaurant fatigue.