Summer Restaurant Week starts Monday, August 11. While the premise is simple—three-course menus for $20.14 and $35.14 for lunch and dinner, respectively—getting the most out of the promotion is a little more complicated. Here are six pro tips to help you do RW right.
1) Look for restaurants offering almost their regular menus
Chicken or fish? Yes, certain Restaurant Week menus are so limited they sound like airline selections. Still, many places go all-out, and even give near free rein of the regular offerings. Such spots include Al Dente, Ardeo+Bardeo, most of the Passion Food Hospitality restaurants (DC Coast, Acadiana), DGS Delicatessen, and G’s tasting menu.
2) But beware of surcharges
Larger menus like the ones above can also include surcharges for more expensive options such as rib eye, lobster, or signature dishes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if your goal is to explore the restaurant’s true talents. But if you’re deal-seeking, tacking on an extra $5 or $10 can add up to the price of a non-Restaurant Week meal.
3) Find true bargains at lunch
Restaurant Week isn’t always a bargain, and it’s often called “free dessert week” for a reason. The $35.14 price doesn’t include tax, tip, or alcohol. Add two moderately priced glasses of wine, the sales tax, and your 20-percent tip—yes, you should still tip well during RW—and you could be looking at a $120 tab for two.
The best value is mostly found at lunch. A three-course afternoon meal for $20.14 is a bargain at pricier, fine-dining restaurants like Del Campo (menu), Sushi Taro (menu), Central (menu), Rasika (menu), Fiola (menu), the Source (menu), and others.
Another lunchtime bonus: Reservations at top-tier restaurants like the ones above can be tougher to snag in the evenings.
4) Try unofficial “Restaurant Week”
In order to participate in Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week, eateries have to be a member of the RAMW association. But a number of nonmembers are offering corresponding specials, which are sometimes more eclectic or generous. Dino’s Grotto “anti-Restaurant Week” lists ten courses for $35. For a similar price, El Chucho serves a snack and cocktail, a flight of three tequilas, your choice of tacos, elote, and dessert. Sister eatery Jackie’s will offer a special menu and 50 percent off bottles of wine through August, while chef RJ Cooper dishes up the semiannual “Restaurant Week gone rogue” at Rogue 24.
5) Look for deals on drinks
Alcohol is the main culprit for higher Restaurant Week bills. Sure, offering booze at a discount provides a bigger incentive to drink/spend money, but if you’re planning to imbibe regardless, might as well do it for less. José Andrés spots like Jaleo and Zaytinya will have special wine lists with less-expensive bottles; Slate Wine Bar + Bistro serves $4 drafts, $7 cocktails, and discount wines during dinner; and Zentan offers $14 sake flights, typically priced at $20.
6) Take advantage of extensions
A warning for the crowd-adverse: Certain Restaurant Week scenes can feel like Valentine’s Day or (shudder) New Year’s. Many spots offer extensions, which typically thin out the hordes. Such spots include the Oval Room, Masa 14, Graffiato (lunch and brunch only), 2941, and Mintwood Place. Check back for a full roundup of extensions on the Best Bites Blog.