January is prime time for "restaurant weeks"—when cities get restaurants to agree to three-course set menus at much cheaper prices. In theory, it's hard to argue with the trend—but if you're not careful, you may find that you get less than what you paid for.
Six pieces of advice:
1. Book early—like now. Restaurants only set aside a few tables for these promotions. Some restaurants takes ressies through OpenTable.com—it makes life way easier. (I'm a huge OpenTable fan. Who likes dealing with snotty reservations people who can't spell your name?)
2. You have to mention when you book that you want the deal. By now many of us know that participating restaurants tend to have a special, limited menu (don't expect more than three entre— choices, and if you want lobster go to Maine). But some restaurants also put you in a lesser room. If this is a concern, ask when you book!
3. Avoid "hot" restaurants, where patrons get treated badly even when they pay full price. Look for restaurants that want to encourage off-peak business—try business restaurants (which are usually busy at lunch) for dinner, and smaller, neighborhood restaurants for lunch. You'll need to do some digging, but if you can find a restaurant where the chef is the owner, that's the best bet of all. Because they'll care.
4. Ultimately, and this is true for finding a good restaurant anywhere at any time, you should be looking for a small restaurant in a neighborhood where people actually live. Famous restaurants don't really need the business—The 21 Club is on the New York roster, but I wouldn't touch its restaurant-week with a ten-foot fork.
5. Beverages, taxes, and tip are not included. Don't be surprised if your server tries hard to upsell you on bottled water or other items.
6. Speaking of servers: Waitstaff loathe restaurant week because it brings in stingy customers who aren't likely to become regulars. Be nice, and maybe they'll be nice to you in return.
For info on restaurant weeks in New York, L.A., Washington D.C., and Boston, follow the jump.
—Los Angeles is having its first official restaurant weeks: Jan. 27-Feb. 1, and Feb. 3-8. Lunch: $15 or $22, dinner $25 or $34. DineLA.com.
—New York: Jan. 21-25 and Jan. 28-Feb 1. Lunch $24.07, dinner $35. NYCvisit.com.
—Washington D.C.: Jan. 14-20. Lunch: $20.08, dinner $30.08. Washington.org/restaurantwk.
—Boston: Mar. 9-14 and Mar. 16-21. Lunch: $20.08, dinner $33.08. Bostonusa.com/rw08.
PREVIOUSLY ON THE BLOG It is borderline outrageous for Carnival, Costa, Holland America, Cunard, Princess, and Seabourn to slap a $5 fee per passenger per day to the bills of passengers who paid in full months ago. And More than 60 readers lashed out.