Dining

Restaurant Weak?

What chefs really think about Restaurant Week
Photo: Alyssa Ringler
How Chefs on Restaurant Week

Restaurant Week is upon us again. From January 18 to February 5, restaurants around New York City will be offering the promised bargain of $25 three-course lunches and $38 three-course dinners. But does anyone actually like Restaurant Week? We turn to the pros to find out.

Tapping both chefs who participate in the biannual prix fixe festival and those who do not, the majority of responses come from chefs who take part, which comes as no surprise. In 1992, Restaurant Week was conceived as a way to promote New York City restaurants, and the program continues to serve this purpose. It would stand to reason, then, that any chef choosing to participate wants to promote his or her restaurant's involvement.

While participating chefs acknowledge that Restaurant Week can be a busy time, the general sentiment is that the week is a good way to attract new customers. Not all chefs think Restaurant Week is all that, however. Here's what seven of New York's leading chefs have to say about this infamous time of year.

Seamus Mullen, chef and proprietor Tertulia and El Colmado, says: "Restaurant Week is always a busy and hectic time in the restaurant, but one of the things I love about it is that it gives folks, who might not otherwise come in, a chance to see what we do. And, hopefully, we can turn them into regulars."

Chef Jordan Frosolone of Sessanta agrees: "Restaurant Week is a great way to introduce Sessanta to a whole new audience. With that in mind, we want to put our best foot forward and create a menu that's a great snapshot of our culinary program. Restaurant Week is a great way to get out of the winter doldrums."

Jimmy Bradley, chef and owner of The Red Cat, says: "As a chef, Restaurant Week can be a little less fun just because you're making fewer items, which can sometimes be limiting and less expressive. However, from an operator's standpoint, it brings in more guests during the slower restaurant seasons and gives owners and chefs an opportunity to introduce their food and atmosphere to new diners who weren't visiting before, which is great. All in all, I really think Restaurant Week is a good thing and would love to see the tradition stick around."

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Jesse Schenker, chef at The Gander, says: "Restaurant Week is a great way to introduce The Gander to an untapped audience. By participating in weekday lunch and dinner, we see a solid amount of first-time diners and are thrilled to introduce them to The Gander. I like to showcase signature dishes for the first-time diners, as well as create new items for our regulars who enjoy participating. We definitely see a spike in business and think it's great for New York City and the restaurant industry."

Chef Chad Brauze of The Back Room says: "I'm looking forward to participating in Restaurant Week this winter. As far as I am concerned, the more people I'm cooking for, the better. Whether aiming for $155 per person or $25, I can make something nice. This is an opportunity to treat people to a good time that they otherwise might not have. We've put some thought into our menu and worked with our purveyors to set up some nice dishes for New York this year. It's going to be a great start to a busy 2016."

Bringing new diners in during a traditionally slow time of year—sounds likable enough. Some chefs—and diners for that matter—feel differently.

Alissa Hernandez, sous chef at BKLYN Larder, acknowledges the benefit of enticing new customers but also reveals some of the harder truths: "I think Restaurant Week is a great way to introduce people to establishments they may never visit, because of the great deals that are offered. However, the menus are limited to the most inexpensive items in the kitchen. Depending on the kitchen, cooks can either be bogged down by the extra work or challenged. Because the dishes offered during Restaurant Week tend to be less culinarily challenging, it should not take too much time away from regular production, but it does increase the workload regardless. I have both worked and dined during these special weeks and, candidly, have never been impressed as a customer or as a cook."

Chef/owner of Buvette and chef/co-owner of Via Carota Jody Williams basically says it all with "Restaurant Weak. (And that is not a typo)." She calls the biannual bonanza "opportunism and mediocrity, otherwise known as Restaurant Week."

As a chef and owner of her own spots, Williams has never participated in Restaurant Week. She doesn't do Beaujolais week either. She sees these promotions as "old-school marketing concepts to drive business into a restaurant." She says, "That's great, but we want to drive people into our restaurants with quality, talent and hard work." Even though they don't participate, Williams's restaurants don't suffer during Restaurant Week. "Busy restaurants are busy, and not-busy places probably join Restaurant Week."

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