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Surviving Winterlicious

Quince: The scene of last year's Winterlicious meal

Winterlicious reservations open this week and Twitter (or at least the collection of people I follow on Twitter) can’t talk about anything else.  Winterlicious (and Summerlicious) are annual promotions that were originally designed to help the Toronto restaurant industry get through SARS in 2003 and kept around to increase business during the slow seasons.

Complaints are numerous and range from customers who feel rushed, crowded, and under-fed to servers who feel over-worked and under-tipped.  Last year Ivy Knight had this article in the Toronto Star that provided an inside look at how restaurant insiders feel about Winterlicious.

I understand that it can be a tough slog but think the promotions are golden opportunities for restaurants.  For once they know that pretty much every customer in the house belongs to the same value-oriented market segment.  Set food costs and and price (within the City’s pre-defined brackets) to make money or consider the endeavour advertising.  If customers aren’t buying enough wine let’s see some value-added effort like by-the-glass pairing suggestions for each course or a focus on local wine or the wine of a region relevant to the restaurant’s cuisine.  The bottom-line really is that the promotions are still running and attracting more participating restaurants than ever.  In other words, owners are signing up, servers are working, and customers are filling the seats.

Personally, my last two years worth of Winterlicious included a very good meal at Corner House and a decent one at Quince.  I can still remember most of the dishes we were served at Corner House (and this Chowhound review I wrote helps recall the rest) and while the wait to be seated could have been handled more smoothly the service the rest of the night was friendly and efficient. I definitely recommend Corner House.  The food at Quince was good (the portions were on the small side) and while our servers did their best there were a few minor, but noticeable missteps like forgotten requests for water and another glass of wine.  Quince is not participating this year.  Through Twitter and Chowhound I have heard of people having good experiences at: Pangaea, Reds, The Drake, Auberge du Pommier, Canoe, and Mildred’s Temple Kitchen.

Here are my suggestions for getting good value from an enjoyable experience:

  • Consider what you’re getting for the price.  When out for dinner I rarely order dessert–sometimes my dining companion and I might split one–so when considering the price of any prix fixe menu dessert is of no added value to me.
  • Taking that into account I usually think the main should make up two-thirds of the price, leaving one-third for the appetizer.  This means I would never consider the $45 dinner options. I just don’t see any way you will get a $30-main dining experience during Winterlicious.
  • Always go for a restaurant’s last seating of the night.  The staff might be tired and frazzled but with no other diners booked for the table that night you can take your time.
  • If you really want to go the extra mile compare a restaurant’s online menu to the one they are offering for Winterlicious to see whether you will be getting a true sampling of their food.
  • Perhaps best of all if you’ve had a bad time in the past or don’t see yourself enjoying the experience in the future don’t participate.  Many good restaurants will be sticking to their regular menu.  Others like Il Fornello will be running independent promotions.  I’ll have a post tomorrow (now available here) with more about Il Fornello’s Winterdelicious.

Reservations are open to the general public starting tomorrow.  The menus and contact information can be accessed through this website.  The promotion runs from January 29 to February 11.

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2 Comments

  1. Stacey says:

    Just wanted to swing by and say it was really nice to dine with you last night David! Looking forward to seeing what you create, eat, and consequently blog about in 2010. Cheers!

  2. [...] I offered my cheat sheet to surviving Winterlicious and today I’m going to take a look at what is out there for those who decide to go a [...]

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