Restaurant Week: Great for Charity,
Not So Great for Special Occasions

When my husband and I chose a wedding date, we thought about the weather. We thought about football schedules. We didn't think about Restaurant Week, which didn't exist back in 2006.

Unfortunately, our anniversary this year fell smack in the middle of the festivities. And being new to Dallas, I was naïve enough to believe if we made a "regular menu" reservation, we could avoid Restaurant Week madness. Wrong.

My husband and I were among four people who ordered off the regular menu at Bijoux last night. The remaining 130 guests -- a huge number for a place like Bijoux -- were there for the $35 special.

Our dinner was pretty disastrous by special occasion standards: A server delivered a wine list to our table at 8:12 and didn't reappear until 8:44. Nobody knew what was in the amuse bouche, and our unpleasantly surly server threatened an $18 up-charge for including an assortment of cheeses in a five-course tasting menu (the a la carte plate's priced at $21, so the fee seemed a bit stiff.)

I called Chef Scott Gottlich today to ask how service gets so out of hand during Restaurant Week. If the restaurant's choosing the dishes and taking reservations, why are the servers so frazzled?

"We're full at 5:30 p.m. and we stay full until midnight," Gottlich told me. "So you're constantly rallying the troops and drinking coffee."

Restaurant Week requires fine dining professionals to act like hash house waitresses, handling large parties of unruly guests who tip badly and refuse to leave after they've finished their third coffee refill. Servers apparently don't have much goodwill remaining for guests who are unlucky enough to have a different reason to dine out during Restaurant Week.

But it's not just us non-Restaurant Week participants complaining. Restaurant Weekers also complain about service issues, often sharing their experiences online. Gottlich wishes they would remember Restaurant Week's a charity event.

"That's what I focus on," he says.

And that's what I should have focused on too. Rather than being annoyed that Bijoux failed to acknowledge my anniversary, I really should have been grateful that the restaurant was working so hard to raise money to fight hunger in Dallas. And I probably should have followed Gottlich's advice:

"Most people just don't come in during Restaurant Week because they know everything's going on," he says.