Desperate Restaurants? Semi-Annual “Week” Will Probably Ooze, Like a Molten Chocolate Cake, Past Labor Day

At the Time Warner Center on the afternoon of Thursday, July 9, the cast of Hair will serenade New Yorkers in an attempt to drum up excitement for Restaurant Week—which is increasingly seeming like a misnomer for a semi-annual promotion that last January was extended a full four weeks past its initial run.
This season, the “week” is slated to last 19 days, with an option allowing participants to extend their runs until Labor Day. High-end restaurants offering $24.07 lunches and $35 dinners include Jean-Georges Vongerichten‘s Perry Street and Nougatine, David Burke’s Townhouse and Fishtail, Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne and DBGB Kitchen and Bar and Tom Colicchio’s Craftbar.
For what Marco Maccioni, co-owner of Le Cirque, calls this “upper echelon” of Manhattan restaurants, the recession-era Restaurant Week seems to be all about keeping up appearances. “We don’t make money on Restaurant Week,” he admitted, “but we do make money on volume.  People who have never seen the restaurant will come in and see a full restaurant, I’m moving stock, I’m selling bottles of wine. Whether they’re inexpensive or not, I could care less.”

“It does so much good for New Yorkers,” Mr. Boulud told the Transom.

“In this climate, anything restaurants can do to engage new customers or encourage repeat customers is a help,” said Tiffany Townsend, VP of communications at NYC & Company, which administers the promotion.

Not everyone is convinced in spite of, or perhaps because of, the big-name participants. “Going there and essentially asking for less than their best—well, why bother?” asked New York Times food writer Mark Bittman. “I’d rather eat at one of our interesting, less-than-glorious but rather terrific places that are not part of the Restaurant Week formula. God knows there are enough of them.” Indeed, foodie blogs like Wined&Dined have complained that the offensively pedestrian dessert option on most RW menus—it’s as if a gigantic molten chocolate cake is oozing over the city—epitomizes all that may be woefully bridge-and-tunnel about Restaurant Week. Mr. Burke acknowledged that the crowd is often “office people, suburban people, and food people from other cities.” These patrons may include Mr. Bittman’s parents, whom the writer has tried to convince that Restaurant Week deals are not all they are cracked up to be.

“They ignore me,” he said. “They just want a 20 dollar lunch at Gramercy Tavern, or wherever. It feels like a bargain.”

Desperate Restaurants? Semi-Annual “Week” Will Probably Ooze, Like a Molten Chocolate Cake, Past Labor Day