Summerlicious: dignified dining program or “cash-grabby food factory”?

Summerlicious: dignified dining program or “cash-grabby food factory”?

(Image: Winter/Summerlicious/Facebook) (Image: Winter/Summerlicious/Facebook)

The idea of dining out on the cheap is nice, but what is Summerlicious like from the restaurant’s perspective? Sure, bargain meals help bring in business, but there are not-so-great tradeoffs, like stress, boredom and uncertain financial rewards (it costs over $1,150 just to participate). So, is it worth it? We got in touch with some chefs and restaurateurs to find out.

The Loyalist

image“The Fifth has enjoyed a long relationship with Summerlicious. It has been very beneficial to us, because it exposes the restaurant to a new group of dinner guests. With the backing of the city and the media exposure, we get a chance to reach out to guests who may under normal circumstances not join us.”

—Brad Livergant, chef at The Fifth

The Pragmatists

(Image: Nota Bene)“At Nota Bene, we never felt that we had to create such a program. But then we had a conversation about Summerlicious and thought that maybe we were missing out on opportunities. It’s more about promotion for us, and in that regard I think it has worked very well. We’ve introduced a lot of people to the restaurant. The profit margins aren’t as great as they could be, but we consider it an opportunity for people to discover Nota Bene.”

—Yannick Bigourgan, co-owner at Nota Bene

(Image: Brendan Meadows)“The reason we decided to participate is because the summer months are usually slower, so there is a financial benefit. Also, not everyone can afford to come to Splendido, so it’s nice to give people a chance for a few weeks of the year.”

—Victor Barry, chef and owner at Splendido

The Conscientious Objectors

(Image: Dave Gillespie)“I don’t hate the idea; I just hate that our restaurant culture is in a position to have to do it. I remember working at a restaurant that stripped its regular menu items of everything delicious and unique only to serve cost-effective dishes devoid of anything interesting. I would much rather be slower and serve dishes to their full potential than sacrifice the integrity of my customers’ dining experience. Ever bought toilet paper from Dollarama? The worst. I’d much rather spend a couple extra bucks on that Cashmere two-ply stuff. And the same goes for my dining.”

—Grant van Gameren, chef and owner at Bar Isabel

(Image: Jon Sufrin)“Winter/Summerlicious are problematic because diners are given a facsimile of the desired dining experience. Diners are being cheated—they get a sub-par experience for a negligible discount. Restaurants are being cheated by being in a position of having to simply make it through the ordeal that they collectively pay the city almost a quarter-million dollars for. I was hired to work at Avalon (one of Toronto Life’s best restaurants of the year at the time) and during food festivals like this saw a brilliant restaurant transform into a fast-food operation.”

—Nathan Isberg, owner and chef at The Atlantic

Untitled-1“I think it’s stupid. I appreciate that it was invented to give restaurants much-needed support during imagined and/or real slow times, but it’s become a cash-grabby, prix-fixe food factory. If you care about dining well, you are probably not going to enjoy the rushed, harried service of waiters just trying to make money on volume because, let’s face it, if you’re already committing to a bargain lunch/dinner, you probably tip 15 per cent (before tax, dad-style). If you use it as an opportunity to dine out in financially out-of-reach restaurants, how can I hate on that? Makes me look like a bougie asshole, so enjoy, but manage your expectations. From the perspectives of employees, it’s the worst. Especially for the cooks who have to cook the same three things on repeat for two weeks, in huge volume, for the same pay rate. Brutal. I will never, ever participate. P.S. it’s like $1,200 to play. Thanks for caring, Summerlicious.”

—Jen Agg, owner of The Black Hoof

Images: Yannick Bigourgan, Nota Bene; Victor Barry, Brendan Meadows; Grant van Gameren, Dave Gillespie; Nathan Isberg, Jon Sufrin; Jen Agg, Raina and Wilson