Does Arizona Really Need a Second Restaurant Week?

Arizona Spring Restaurant Week begins on Saturday, May 19, and ends the following Sunday, May 27, and my response to that supposedly good news is a great big whoop-de-do.

If memory serves, we had another Restaurant Week in September. Do we really need two of these blowout tent sales in a single year?

I don't think so.

Oh, I can already imagine the seething invective headed my way: How can I be so unsupportive of our local restaurants? Don't I know times are tough? And why on Earth would I object to an event that puts butts in seats at a time of year when the butts are typically packing up to leave town? And, really, does a journalist given a dining budget even live in the real world?

To answer the last one first, yeah, I think I do. Sure, I eat on New Times' dime, but it's not keeping me rolling in steaks, lobster, and foie gras (and, please, save your outrage on that subject for another day).

Here's my take:

First and foremost, I'm not convinced that the $30 and $40 prix fixe dinners featured during Restaurant Week -- or the overall experience, for that matter -- offer diners a true representation of whatever restaurant they're visiting.

Would I likely get a great $40 dinner at Binkley's or Nobuo or a handful of other top-shelf restaurants?

Yes, of course. These chefs aren't going to do anything half-assed, ever. But plenty of participants are trying to figure out how to offer a three-course dinner for $30 or $40 and still pocket a little profit. They're not going to take a loss just to get you in the door.

Will you get the same dishes you might order on a non-Restaurant Week visit from the regular menu? Maybe so, but it's just as likely the menu will feature some dumbed-down dish put there solely to increase the profit margin.

Of course, plenty of Restaurant Week menus offer good value. That's the whole point. But take a cursory read of 10 or 12 menus, and you just might find a number of three-course dinners that probably wouldn't add up to much more than 30 bucks in the first place. Other menus (and I'm just ballparking it here) probably save the diner $8 to $10.

I get it. That's money in the old pocket, but at what price? Crowds, rushed service, and the necessity of making reservations. This at one of my favorite times of year: The tourists have left and the really hideous heat hasn't kicked in. But can I just waltz into my favorite restaurant and expect a table? Not if they're participating in Restaurant Week. For the record, I'm not the only one who takes this position. A number of local chefs, who'd rather not go on the record for obvious reasons, have grumbled about having two Restaurant Weeks in one year. They contend that it dilutes the event. With two, there's no build-up of excitement and less participation. But they're damned if they do, damned if they don't, given that they're likely to lose business to restaurants who are participating in Restaurant Week.

But, hey, that's what we've got, like it or not: a situation that's just peachy for folks with a coupon-clipper mentality.

If you do insist on going out for Restaurant Week, do it right and take my colleague Laura Hahnefeld's advice on where to eat for Arizona's Spring Restaurant Week 2012.

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