Twice a year, Charlotte-area restaurants go completely crazy and start giving away food. Ok, not really, but the semiannual Restaurant Week, running Jan. 16-25, offers diners the opportunity to get a three-course meal for $30 at more than 100 different restaurants, some of them among the city's best. That's a steep discount at places that may normally charge that much for a single, luxurious entrée.
For many, Restaurant Week is a great opportunity to try out prominent local restaurants that may normally stretch the budget. But thinking strategically will help you make the most out of what can be a frenetic week in the Charlotte food scene.
First, choose strategically. Peruse the menus on the Restaurant Week website to find what interests you, and then target places with higher everyday prices. If your budget is like mine, this is your best chance to decide if they're worth a splurge at full price.
Second, reserve strategically and reserve early. Friday and Saturday nights at 7:00 will be the hardest times to get in. If a weekday evening is out of the question, try rearranging your weekend for an early dinner or a late one - 5:30 and 9:00 slots are the last to be filled. Parties of two will have more options than larger groups. And regardless of your canny insider knowledge, reserve as early as possible. Don't call around Thursday afternoon looking for weekend reservations.
Third, be a good customer. Don't berate the hostess because she can't get you in before 8:30; it won't make you a favorite guest. Do arrive on time or call if you're running late, but be understanding if your table's not ready. Servers can't help it when other diners dawdle over dessert.
At the same time, don't be that diner - keep in mind that the only way your lovely restaurant can make money at these prices is to "turn tables" as frequently as possible. To put it bluntly, you'll have a better time if you don't plan on a lingering intimate dinner.
And finally, a plea on behalf of restaurants and fellow guests: don't be a ghost diner. If you aren't going to use that precious reservation, call back and cancel it. Many customers make placeholder reservations while still hunting for better times elsewhere, then just don't show up for their 9:30 table. Seriously, don't be those people. Somebody else will be happy to snap up that reservation you left hanging.
In spite of the hectic pace, if you reserve early, remain flexible and act considerately, Restaurant Week can be a rewarding adventure on both sides of the table. As Hartwick says, "Anybody who loves food should come out and enjoy this." So go make those reservations - right now!