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Let me tell you—here’s how to win NYC Restaurant Week this summer

Start planning now for July 24-August 20.

Amber Sutherland-Namako
Written by
Amber Sutherland-Namako

“Let Me Tell You” is a series of columns from our expert editors about NYC living, including the best things to do, where to eat and drink, and what to see at the theater. They publish each Wednesday so you’re hearing from us each week. Last month, Food & Drink Editor and Critic Amber Sutherland-Namako argued that “no photos” should be NYC’s hot new going-out trend.

Twice each year in New York City, some of our best, most famous restaurants (qualities that are not always mutually exclusive) mingle with some of our most average, surprisingly still existent operations (qualities that sometimes are), in a briefly equalizing, always promising, dining event known as Restaurant Week. 

New York City Restaurant Week, whether in winter or summer, is my fourth favorite holiday, sandwiched between Valentine’s Day and daylight saving time (the good one). This now month-long eating fête first began in 1992, and grew to incorporate hundreds of spots in its 31 years, including the occasional newcomer, and some destinations that have been around since day one. Each is expected to produce prix fixe menus that amount to less of an outlay than the same preparations would cost at any other time. The promotion ideally both gins up business for restaurants during these sleepier seasons and makes entry to some spendier spots somewhat less financially prohibitive. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

Like many things, particularly in these boroughs five, unlocking Restaurant Week’s maximum potential requires a little bit of common sense, a little bit of luck and an actual strategy. Fortunately, two of those three are pretty easy, and the third—well you got that going-out money somehow. 

1. Plan ahead

Tables are available from July 24-August 20, but reservations open on July 6. I have found that securing Restaurant Week spots is easier than the veritable booking platform Hunger Games I have written about a thousand times, but there are always a few that are going to be a tad more competitive than the rest. 

2. Get what you came for

Make clear at each checkpoint—reserving online, when possible, checking in, and upon ordering—that you are there for the Restaurant Week menu. Nobody wants to walk away yelping about some perceived erroneous charge that could have been avoided to begin with. 

3. Don’t think of Restaurant Week as “cheap”

Restaurant Week’s recent typical prices, ranging from about $30-$60 for two or three-course lunch and dinner specials are hardly an express elevator to the bargain basement. And, exclusive of tax and tip, even the lower end will still reach about $39 before a single drink. That’s all easier to swallow if you use the program, instead, for that implicitly intended purpose of acting as a kind of discounted pass to places you wouldn’t otherwise budget for. In other words, it’s not going to be worth it at the occasional chain that pops up, but it will at our city’s more august institutions. 

4. Read the menus in advance

Restaurants are asked to provide their Restaurant Week menus for inclusion on the official event site, and most do. The site also enables a search that excludes the ones that do not. Why does it matter, if you’ve always wanted to go to that famous hotspot or esteemed classic, in any case? Because sometimes places have obviously listed their lowest cost items among their prix fixe options, which could either still be great, or end up an eye-rolling snooze. And the latter often happens at locations you might not expect. 

5. Supplement, just this once 

I will admit, on occasions when I’m fortunate enough to be dining fine and ready to spend serious money on a tasting menu, seeing a triple-digit caviar, truffle or uni supplement is a little irksome; a reminder that there’s always more. And sometimes it seems like certain restaurants add considerably more affordable supplements to their Restaurant Week menus because their prix fixe edit isn’t that strong to begin with. But patience and judicious choosing might just lead to, say, a nice bit of filet for a still expensive, but not everyday exorbitant, price. 

6. Try something new

Restaurant Week’s kind of like Leap Year Day—though happily more frequent—an outlying occasion to eat outside your standard palate. Order something you haven’t had before. If you don’t like it, depending on the prix fixe configuration of your choice, you’ve got at least another course to make up for the mismatch. 

7. Let somebody else choose

Me, for example! I am a restaurant critic, and I’ve been curating New York City Restaurant Week picks for years, and this list will be updated from the day reservations open on July 6 right through the last dinner on August 20. 

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