Chefs Have Gripes About Restaurant Week

Marc Vetri and Jeff Benjamin
Marc Vetri and Jeff Benjamin Photo: Collin Keefe

With each go-round of Center City’s Restaurant Week, larger and larger numbers of deal-seeking diners turn out for the promotion’s $35 multi-course dinners. In the grand scheme of things, it’s great for participating restaurants and the city’s overall economy. Still some chefs and restaurant owners aren’t completely happy with it. “For me it’s a concept that I don’t necessarily get,” Marc Vetri, chef and owner of Vetri, Osteria and Amis, told Grub Street. “They want you to come up with some easy and fast dishes to get people in and out in a hurry. We’re simply not a turn-‘em-and-burn-‘em restaurant, and there’s an experience that goes along with dinner at Vetri that I just can’t reproduce for $35.”

Vetri considered participating in Restaurant Week with Amis, the casual trattoria he opened earlier this year with partners Jeff Benjamin, Jeff Micahud and Brad Spence, but decided against it. “Sure, we could be slamming for like two weeks, feeding loads of folks who likely will never come back, because they didn’t get the real experience that we offer. It’s a little shortsighted approach to making a fast buck, if you ask me. Besides, you can already eat multiple courses at Amis for $35, so we decided why bother lowering our standards?”

Bistrot La Minette’s Peter Woolsey, who is running what he calls his “anti-restaurant week” special for the third time, feels that he’s been undeservedly banished from Restaurant Week because his restaurant falls outside the Center City District’s boundaries. “It seems unfair that there’s this wonderful Restaurant Week that’s an enormous boom for everyone who participates, and I can spit to the Center City line from here, but can’t participate,” Woolsey told Grub Street. Taking a cue form his friend David Katz, whose restaurant Meme also falls outside the Center City District’s lines, Woolsey is making Restaurant Week work to his advantage. In a repeat performance, he’s offering an unsanctioned prix fixe special of his own. “As an added F.U. to Center City District, we’re doing ours for $30 instead of $35, and we’re offering it for the entire month.” Among other specials this month, Meme is also offering a similar promotion through the end of September too.

It’s not just city chefs that feel this way. This past spring West Chester started up it’s own restaurant week, and John Brandt-Lee, chef and owner of Avalon Restaurant wasn’t thrilled to see the local incarnation encroaching on his suburban turf. “I think initially restaurant weeks were a really good concept, but over the years as its become oversaturated, its become all about generating business,” Brandt-Lee told Grub Street. “My whole thing is, if you can do it and do it well for one week, why not do it all year long? I’ve been offering a prix fixe option at my restaurant for four years, and I’m not sitting you down and giving you chicken, or the cheapest white fish I can get my hands on.” Brandt-Lee believes that restaurants should strive to offer truly outstanding dishes at a good value points all the time.

On the plus side, he says restaurant weeks present good opportunities for people who normally don’t venture too far out of their comfort zones when dining out to experience the atmosphere of new, trendy and/or acclaimed restaurants. “But they’re not really getting the full deal on the food,” Brandt-Lee added. “If your average price is $50 or $60 per person, don’t put yourself out there and offer a $30 prix fixe that has nothing to do with your restaurant. If you know what you’re doing, you should be able to offer a value that works with the theme, concept and quality of food.”

Chefs Have Gripes About Restaurant Week