Winterlicious is a culinary prix-fixe program, organized by the City of Toronto and offered by some 200 Toronto restaurants. Each participating restaurant offers a 3-course meal at a set price (which is significantly lower than the restaurant’s usual prices) for a two week period in February. Similar programs, often called Restaurant Week, exist in many American and Canadian cities. Potato, potahto – we call it Wintervicious.
In the best of all possible worlds, I guess I can see the point of Winterlicious from the diner’s perspective: good food, good price, high adventure, new experiences. And from the restaurant’s point of view: busy restaurant, new customers, valuable advertising. But, sadly, it’s not the best of all possible worlds. In the real world, a diner’s experience of Winterlicious often means small portions, reduced quality, disdainful servers and the bum’s rush, and, for restaurant owners and staff, it can mean accommodating all manner of rude, cheap, rapacious, bad-mannered and inconsiderate clientele.
I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of ‘discount food’, which is the very premise of Winterlicious. A diehard will bang away at a phone redial button with the bloodied stump of a finger trying to get a reservation for a bargain meal at a middling Toronto restaurant. Or maybe line up for hours in the dark February sleet for a discount dinner delivered by a surly beardo and eaten at a pockmarked picnic table. I mean, I might bowl over a slow-moving, cashmere-clad society doyenne in my stampede to get into Holt Renfrew’s semi-annual 80%-off sale, I would probably queue up overnight if the Ferrari dealership was offering half-price Berlinettas, and I would definitely sell my soul for a 50%-off, 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom, fully-renovated detached house in a great school district. But discount prix-fixe dinners? Meh. That’s like lining up for dented cans of beans, expired yogurt, bruised fruit and stale bread. The difference between bargain clothes, cars or accommodation, and bargain food, is that I put the food IN MY MOUTH!
Sure, some restaurant prices seem ridiculous. More than $200 for a bowl of lentils at a Parisian Michelin restaurant? You might expect that these lentils are grown in space, harvested during a full moon by a beautiful bevy of virgin fairy sprites and delivered to the restaurant by angels on honeybee-powered chariots, especially when you can buy lentils at the grocery store for a couple of dollars. But the price of a menu item doesn’t just reflect the cost to the restaurant of the food that it offers. Consider just the labour cost of that Parisian restaurant: kitchen staff so extensive it’s called a brigade (executive chef, sous chefs, sauciers, an assortment of cooks and apprentices, bakers, pastry cooks and dishwashers) and numerous front of house staff (manager, host, head waiter, servers, buspersons, food runners and bartenders). Part of the cost of your dinner also pays for rent, electricity, gas, linen, furniture, silverware, glassware, taxes, insurance, legal, bookkeeping and accounting fees, cleaning expenses, music purchases, candles, flowers, office supplies, bank fees, loan payments, employee payroll remittances, equipment purchases, repairs and maintenance, advertising, telephone, licencing fees, and so on. Anything left over is profit. (Hah!)
To ensure a thriving, interesting and dynamic restaurant culture where you live, don’t wait for Winterlicious – make a reservation tonight at your friendly, local mom and pop restaurant. Be happy to part with your hard-earned money to hard-working people who, like you, are only trying to make a living.