This Friday, Chicago’s 10th annual Restaurant Week kicks off 14 straight days of face-stuffing all over our fair(ish) city.
Whether your CRW views lean rosy or skeptical, you’ve likely heard a fallacy or two about this prix-fixe feeding frenzy.
“Only people from the suburbs go!” “It’s overpriced!” “Chefs hate it!”
But before you begin drafting preemptive lists of grievances, allow us to clear the air on five common misconceptions about Restaurant Week, with help from a few industry veterans.
And then get to booking, gents. This finder tool will help when you do.
“Restaurant Week isn’t a good deal.”
All CRW participating eateries have to satisfy one of the following price points: $22 for a three-course brunch or lunch; or $33 or $44 for a three- or four-course dinner. The rest is up to them. But with so many eateries involved — 344, to be exact — “you have to be competitive,” says Kevin Cuddihee, executive chef at West Town New American spot Two, which is offering a four-course dinner for $33.
It’s also a balancing act, especially for higher-end spots with tight margins. Fine-dining stalwart Blackbird only offers lunch during CRW — dropping the price of its popular three-course, prix-fixe lunch to $22 from $25. “Restaurant Week is really about hype and competition — we don’t make money on it,” says chef de cuisine Ryan Pfeiffer. “The goal is that people will see the value we bring at lunch and come back for dinner.”
If bang for your buck is your top priority, consider an established, mid-tier eatery like the Berghoff, which has featured CRW lunch and dinner deals for eight years running. “Restaurant Week suits our model, because you get a lot for what you pay for,” says marketing and media manager Ashley Mazur. “On the higher end, it might be more difficult.”
“You can only order from the Restaurant Week menu.”
Regular menus are still available, but our experts suggest your (whole) table be kind to the kitchen and servers by sticking to one or the other.
Photo: The Berghoff/Flickr
“Only boring suburbanites do Restaurant Week.”
You’re most likely to rub elbows with suburban folks on weekends, particularly in train station-proximate, tourist-heavy spots like the Berghoff or the Gage. But even at Big Jones in northerly Andersonville, chef/owner Paul Fehribach notices a “tourist element” to the crowd filling seats at his heirloom Southern spot. The reality is that most restaurants have no idea where we diners hail from, nor do they care. Which means there's no way you can tell, either. “Maybe that myth exists because of people from the city having a vendetta against people from the burbs,” Pfeiffer says.
“Restaurant Week portions are smaller.”
Admittedly, we can’t flat-out debunk this, since portions are ultimately up to each restaurant (see Myth #1). Fehribach calls Big Jones’s CRW plates “restrained,” but more satisfying than standard tasting-menu portions ($33 there gets you three courses plus bread service). And Berghoff and Two are keeping portions the same size as the regular menu, as is CRW virgin Dove’s Luncheonette in its four-course dinner debut. Blackbird actually upped its portions, so expect four-and-a-half-ounce portions of steak or sturgeon.
Photo: Dove's Luncheonette
“Chefs hate Restaurant Week!”
Sure, it’s a pain in the ass to make the same eight-ish dishes night after night for two weeks, and hoards of deal-hungry diners can wear thin even the chillest chef’s patience. But overall, chefs love CRW for the busy nights and the chance to win new customers or remind existing ones about things we’ve overlooked — like, say, that Dove’s isn’t just a Luncheonette. “I’m looking forward to getting out from under our own myth that we only do breakfast and lunch,” says chef de cuisine Dennis Bernard.
And while Dove’s and Berghoff ply us happily with greatest-hit dishes (chicken fried chicken! wiener schnitzel!), Two and Big Jones bet that some among us are more intrepid eaters. “We like to put stuff out there that people couldn’t have at another restaurant or even at Big Jones normally,” Fehribach says. “People who come out for Restaurant Week are surprisingly adventurous. We’ve had people order blood sausage and pig stomach.”
The jury’s still out on whether said adventurers were suburban or cityfolk.
Nota bene: Looking for the best deal? We recommend checking out this Ultimate Guide To Not Getting Screwed by Restaurant Week from our friends at Chicagoist.
Main Photo: RPM Steak/Adam Alexander Photography