Participation in vicious Winterlicious part of Mark McEwan’s civic duty

Participation in vicious Winterlicious part of Mark McEwan’s civic duty

Mark McEwan, chef at Bymark 

During an interview with CBC’s Metro Morning on Friday, Mark McEwan used the term “Wintervicious” to describe the imminent foodie festival—or rather, he relayed that this is how one of his staffers refers to it. McEwan’s swank restaurant Bymark apparently experiences a degree of madness in dealing with the Winterlicious rush—and it’s not the only one. We have heard that popular restaurants like Bymark and the stars in the Oliver & Bonacini universe (Canoe, Auberge du Pommier) install dedicated phone lines just to handle the sudden deluge of diners clamouring for a reservation.

We understand what McEwan’s guy is saying, but many diners claim that they too experience something vicious at Winterlicious. Like, say, the quietly escalating prices. Lunch for $10 to $20 and dinner for $20 to $30 were once standard, but this year, as one blogger complains, many restaurants have quietly inflated pricing to as much as $30 for lunch and $45 for dinner. In some cases, this is the equivalent of getting a complimentary appetizer. And then there’s the competition for tables. No matter how quick one is on the redial, it is almost impossible to get through to many participating restaurants. Increasingly, diners write off the whole event if they haven’t made reservations on the first day; and there are those who find the phone frustration (dedicated lines or no) taints the experience. As a Chowhounder declared, “I know I won’t be waiting on the phone for two hours to try to secure reservations at Bymark or Canoe anymore.”

In the same interview, McEwan said that he looks at participating in Winterlicious not as a time to pick up new regulars, but as a civic duty. Maybe he’s cutting to the heart of it, and maybe the -liciouses—winter and summer alike—are about a chef’s obligation to help the plebs nosh well twice a year. Or is it about engendering food culture? Or maybe bolstering Toronto’s wintertime economy?

McEwan hardly needs to worry about new Bymarkian regulars. Many one-time diners will sit on the phone for as long as it takes, hoping to get through for a seat, any seat. Of course, those who miss out may think twice about stopping in at his soon-to-open grocery store. It’s so good to diversify.