How do you get the best of Queen’s Feast, Charlotte’s version of restaurant “week” (actually 11 days, from Jan. 19-28)? I put my head together with another local restaurant crawler, Tom Petaccia, to come up with suggestions to get the most of your experience.
Queen’s Feast happens twice a year now, in winter and summer. The deals – $30 or $35 for a three-course dinner at a list of 130 or so restaurants – vary widely, from fixed-price menus that give a good idea of the restaurant’s regular fare to ho-hum fare that’s just offered to meet the requirements of the special price.
But these 10 tips may help you get the most from it:
1. Get a reservation now. Big-shot names like 5Church, BAKU, BLT Steak and The Capital Grille get snapped up quickly. Play nice, please: If you make several reservations with the plan to pick the best one, cancel any reservations you’re not going to use with enough time to give someone else a chance. Not all the restaurants are available through Open Table, by the way, so check the website to find out how to sign up for a spot.
2. Aim for a weeknight. Yes, we all want to go to that sexy steakhouse on a Friday or Saturday night. But you’ll have a much better chance of scoring a reservation on a Tuesday or Wednesday. It will be quieter, too, and your server might not be so harried. It’s Restaurant Week, people – stay home and cook on the high-traffic nights.
3. Study the menus carefully. Some deals are better than others, and it pays to check how the Restaurant Week deal compares to the regular menu. If it only offers a few choices of a main dish, and you know you want the roast chicken, check the regular menu to see if an appetizer, roast chicken and a dessert usually cost much more (or more at all) than your CRW deal. Also: Check whether portions – the ounces on that prime rib, for example – are the same as the regular menu’s. Remember, there are some costs beyond the special price: Taxes and tips aren’t included (be generous with that tip, because your server is working just as hard during Restaurant Week and maybe harder). Drinks usually aren’t included, although some restaurants may offer a wine or beer special.
4. Up your ante. Restaurants still offer their “real” menu. Consider using your savings to order an extra course, maybe an appetizer or dessert to share with the table. You’re at a new place to see if you like it, so increase your chance to find out whether you’ll be dying to come back.
5. Be adventurous with what you eat. Study menus for something you normally don’t try or a special ingredient you’ve never had. If you always order the chicken, this is the time to see if you like lamb. You’ve never had stracciatelle or branzino? Take a chance.
6. Be adventurous with where you go. The idea behind Restaurant Week is to entice future customers. (OK, theoretically: It’s also a chance to fill seats at very slow times of the year, like January and July). This isn’t the time to just get a break in price at a place you already know well and love. Pick a place you’ve been meaning to try.
7. Be adventurous with where you go, Part 2: Yes, the big names on the list are the glitzy ones. But if you use the special to try a smaller place that really wants your future business, you may find a chef who’s really putting it out there with a longer or more interesting set of dishes.
8. Team up with friends. Some menus are longer than others. If there are four entrees offered and there are four of you at the table, you can experience a little more. Agree in advance that you’re not going to all order the same thing and you’re all willing to share. It’s more fun that way. (It doesn’t hurt to ask for extra forks.)
9. Be patient. Restaurant Week can get crowded, and because some people don’t honor those reservations they make (grrrr), restaurants sometimes overbook to protect themselves. Don’t be surprised if you encounter a wait even with a reservation.
10. Hit the road. Queen’s Feast has expanded to include more than the Queen City, with restaurants in nine counties. If you’ve been meaning to try that place in Rock Hill or Hickory, or you know you’re taking a road trip to a nearby town, take a look at the list and see if there’s something over there.