From the restaurant patron perspective: Restaurant week is a great opportunity for the patron to 'kick the tires' on a restaurant that has been on their mind to try, but paying full price for a possibly bad meal has kept them from it. Therefore, shelling out around $40/person for a 3-course meal (rather then around $60 for the same meal) makes it a fruitful opportunity.
Many restaurants open up their entire menu, so you aren't limited in choices of things to try. If a restaurant has a limited menu just ask the waiter which selections would help you get to know the restaurant/chef - chefs ALWAYS put one of their specialities/favorites as a choice for each course. Restaurants generally make their restaurant week portions smaller, so you may leave the restaurant hungry, at the very least, you won't be full. My husband and I often book a 6pm a one restaurant, then an 8pm at a near by restaurant - that way, after a 6-course restaurant week menu - usually portions out to about a 4-Course regular restaurant visit (except you get two dessert courses!).
The restaurants that are on the restaurant list are usually the 'old stand-bys' of DC. Restaurants that aren't necessarily going anywhere and have most likely been open for years. You won't find any utlra-hip, super popular or ubber-successful restaurants on the list, this is simply because those types of restaurants don't need restaurant week business and discounts aren't something they'll do. But won't it be great is the Inn at Little Washington participated? At the very least, get Kinkeads to do dinner restaurant week? You would probably only get a 3-course dinner of amuse boches or very small appetizers (which is probably the truth if you thought about their regular price ratio).
From the line cook perspective: Where should I begin? Well, first, restaurant week is not for the unexperienced cook. Things are caotic, fast-pasted and you usually end up setting records on the amount of covers you did - usually in comparison to the previous restaurant week. Second, restaurants only serve items for restaurant week that can be prepped days in advance. Yes, restaurant patron - did you really think that Today's Soup was made today? Hate to burst your bubble. Most dishes are pre-cooked days before, at the very least, hours before you order them. Restaurants get so many patrons they need dishes that can be ordered, heated, plated and served in less than 15 minutes. Therefore instead of the cook bringing your steak to med-rare when you order it, it was probably already just past rare around 4pm that day.
Restaurant week is dance between the front of the house (waiters/host/runners) and the back of the house (line cooks/dishwashers/runners). They need to turn those tables because volume is how they make money during restaurant week. Restaurants strive to seat and serve a couple and turn the table for another couple in less than 1 hour. Therefore if you watch your watch, courses come out minutes after you order them and you may be walking out the door only 45 minutes after being seated. If the restaurant lets you hold up that table more than an hour and 15 minutes, the restaurant has dropped the ball.
Of course, I am going to put in a little disclaimer and say that I have not been in every kitchen in every restaurant that participates in the DC area. Although, I have worked a lot of places and have had colleagues that work in numerous other fine dining restaurants and have yet to hear that their restaurant week experiences are NOT like this. I think this is just the way the ball bounces when it comes to the industry.
My husband often asks me "Why do we come here - when you know what is going on back there?" For me, I like to pretend that I don't know - and that I am just a restaurant patron, looking to get a cheap meal at a restaurant I have been meaning to try. You take the meal for what it is - you decide - hey "I like this food" or "I really don't like this food" and if you do - go back. And I bet that the food will be twice as good as it was during restaurant week.
For you and the front and back of the house, your second visit will be pleasantly paced, your dish will most likely be finished when ordered, your portions will most likely be larger (and don't forget your bill too) and if you generally like the food during restaurant week - you wil probably love a non-restaurant week meal.
Last week, I visited Ceiba, TenPenh and Vidalia for restaurant week. I'll be putting up reviews, but they are going to defined as restaurant week reviews - which I think should never be solely factored in when deciding to eat their or not. I would have to say that restaurant week is kinda like a 'pass or fail' - 'credit or no credit' class in collegue. You either like it enough to go back.....or not. So those reviews will be based on those creditals.
DC Restaurant Week
Twice a year (summer & winter) the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) showcases 'Restaurant Week' - a collection of their members showcase a week-long (8/1-7) discount ($20.05 for lunch; $30.05 for dinner) on 3-course meals. The RAMW represents the DC Metro area, but DC restaurants mostly participate. Some restaurants create special selections for restaurant week that diners can only choose from, others put their entire menu up for the week and with only a surchange on spendy items.I have been both a restaurant patron and a line cook during several restaurant weeks and have noted several observations. Some you may like, some may not. Some you may want to know, some you may not.