There is a palpable collective sigh of relief from the restaurant industry as it has put another year of Winterlicious behind it. We already know that service staff dread the biannual festivals, but what baffles me is: who exactly looks forward to these events?
I understand, even appreciate, the concept of “Licious” (i.e. Summerlicious and Winterlicious) from both a restaurateur and diner perspective. For those of you who are not familiar (and those who have forgotten), the idea is magnificently symbiotic: restaurants get to fill seats during their slowest periods of the year and diners get to sample the goods of the city’s top restaurants for a fraction of the normal cost. Plus, with the prix fixe multi-course format, theoretically, a decent selection of the menu offerings can be tasted in one go.
So, through the dregs of February (this being one of the coldest in years) as we have little to talk about aside from the new season of House of Cards, foodies like myself patiently await stories of the life-altering dining experiences usually reserved for the wealthy or the indulgent. But those stories never come.
Seriously, when was the last time you heard someone had an excellent, or even acceptable, dining experience at Licious? Conventional wisdom suggests that fault lies in the service staff, being frustrated with “the rabble” that their restaurant’s price tags normally insulate them from, they take it out on the guest. But I think if we are more honest with ourselves, the failures of Licious are more systemic and can only be rectified by the commitment of all involved parties to improve. My grievances to both sides go something like this:
When you accept reservations, don’t belittle your new guests by forcing them to declare whether they are making a “regular” reservations or a “licious” reservation.
When the hostess greets your guest at the door, don’t ostracize them by asking “which menu” they would like. Take both to the table and allow the server to suss it out.
Coach your service staff to minimize the jaw-clenching, eye-rolling and foot-stomping typical of the Licious-treatment. They are professionals and should have the ability to behave as such irrespective of service “challenges”.
Offer dishes that are actually on your menu. If food cost is an issue, reduce portion size. Your new, mediocre dishes that don’t exemplify the creativity, quality, flavour or presentation that define you as a restaurant are misrepresenting you. Even “the rabble” can tell the difference.
We know that you’ve already accepted (rightly or wrongly) that your Licious guests are one-time-only guests, but if you keep an open mind and treat them to the calibre of experience you are known for, maybe they’ll spend their next anniversary with you and pay full-ticket. Or maybe they’ll spend ALL of their anniversaries with you!
Dear Licious Guest,
Don’t make reservations you have no intention of attending.
Don’t wear a tracksuit to a 4-star (or really any) restaurant. Show some respect for the institution you have been given the opportunity to experience. They have worked for years or decades to build and maintain a world-class reputation. Don’t scoff at that.
Be nice to the service staff. Just because you’re at a fancy restaurant doesn’t mean you have carte blanche to behave like someone from The Real Wives of …
If you can’t afford to go out for dinner, eat at home. The point of Licious is to have a dining experience. Not to spend the equivalent of Thai delivery, drink tap water and receive top-notch service. You don’t have to be a lush but perhaps you would indulge in an iced tea, dessert or coffee after dinner that’s not included in the prix fixe. At least pretend like you’re there to enjoy yourself, not just to check it off your bucket list and tell your friends that you’ve been.
Lastly, tip. Add gratuity. Just do it. I’m not going to tell you how much. There’s been enough talk about that in the media lately. Google it, ask your friends and do what seems right. Just don’t leave nothing because you forgot to include it when you budgeted every penny of your evening.
So perhaps if we all work together, owners can make sales, fill seats and maybe even inject some fresh blood into their stagnant-gene-pool-of-a-regular-clientele. And the public will have a new-found, meaningful opportunity to appreciate some of the best dining on the continent and live out fantasies that are normally relegated to watching countless hours of the Food Network.
We have six months until Summerlicious. Let’s think long and hard about why we’re there before we choose to participate on either side of the equation.