January Restaurant Weeks: Eat Well and Save Money

As your stomach recovers from holiday overstuffing, you might not be too inclined to eat out. But restaurant associations in several major cities are doing their best to change your mind this January with a Restaurant Week. These “weeks,” which nowadays tend to last much longer (see New York’s eight-week “restaurant week” last summer), may be a great time to visit higher-end restaurants you’ve been meaning to check out – or to go to your local restaurant and trade in “the usual” for a 3- or 4-course meal. Participating restaurants offer fixed price meals for lunch and/or dinner, and more and more interesting restaurants have joined in on Restaurant Week throughout the years.

Below is a list of cities hosting Restaurant Week this January – with California and South Carolina both promoting state-wide events. All of these have their own dates and fixed prices, so check not only for your city but also to see whether your January travel plans match up with another Restaurant Week as well.

City Restaurant Week Dates Lunch Dinner
Alexandria (metro DC) January 13-22 $35
Baltimore January 20-29 $20.12 or 15.12 (3- or 2-course) $30.12
Charleston January 12-22 $20-40* $20-40*
Los Angeles January 22-27
January 29-February 3
$16-28* $26-44*
New York January 16-Feb 10 (M-F) $24.07 $35
Philadelphia January 22-27
January 29-February 3
$20 $30
Sacramento January 9-18 $30
San Diego January 15-20 $10-20* $20-$40*
San Francisco January 15-31 $17.95 $34.95
Toronto January 27-February 9 C$15-25* C$25-45*
Washington, DC January 9-15 $20.12 $35.12
Vancouver January 20-February 5 C$18-38*

*pricing varies by restaurant

While most participating restaurants don’t require reservations, Restaurant Week tends to bring in a lot of customers, especially to the more upscale restaurants, so it’s worth making a reservation if you can. Besides, with OpenTable co-sponsoring several of these events, participating restaurants tend to also be members of the online reservations program.

To ease the guilt from dining out after a food-packed holiday, consider the OpenTable points you’ll earn from making your reservation online and how much you’ll save at that restaurant you’ve been meaning check out when you take advantage of its Restaurant Week fixed-price menu instead. Bon Appétit!

August Is Restaurant Month

I hope you have worked up an appetite this summer, because Restaurant Week has finally arrived this summer.  This semi-annual affair first started in the 1980s and has hence become one of the most highly-anticipated events of the season.  Prices this year (depending on the city) are set at $20.09-24.07 for the prix-fixe lunch and $33.09-35 for dinner.  If you have never participated at a Restaurant Week, I highly encourage you to try this year.  If you do your research in advance (for which Zagat is a great resource), you might be getting a three-course culinary masterpiece at some of the finest restaurants in town at a fraction of the usual cost.

While the official NYC’s official Restaurant Week was supposed to have ended on July 31st, it has now been extended through Labor Day (click here for more information).  And Boston and DC are having their Restaurant Weeks from August 9-21 and August 24-30, respectively.  Experience tells us that these dates will most likely be extended as well.  Once you have created a list of restaurants to check out, be sure to make your reservations at OpenTable so you can collect points for a gift certificate for your next meal.  Happy Eating!

A Note of Encouragement

I am a firm believer in loyalty programs, but I know that with some of them it almost feels pointless to give your number/card since it looks like it could take years to reach a reward level.  But these past two weeks were great for me on that front, and I want to offer you a note of encouragement.

Two weekends ago, I received $2.50 Extra Bucks back (a free ½ gallon of milk or cereal?) from CVS for purchases I made during the spring.  A few days later, I redeemed $20 in cash back I had accumulated on Discover for a $25 gift card on Banana Republic, which I used over the weekend to get a top for free!  I use my Discover card mostly for purchases that give me a 5% cash back bonus, which means it takes me a little longer to accumulate cash back than if I used it as my primary card, but I still usually accumulate $20 every 3 or 4 months.

A $5 certificate on Best Buy also came through my Inbox last week.  Their Reward Zone program gives $5 for every $250 spent, and the netbook I bought for my mom last month was $250 and some change.  In the mail, I also got a $10 certificate from DSW just to welcome me to their rewards program (I have only ever made one purchase there before) – and there, $10 goes quite a long way.  And, a year since we first started using OpenTable, we finally reached the points for a $20 gift certificate, which can be redeemed at any member restaurant.  Admittedly, $20 is not much compared to how much we spent dining out over this past year, but being rewarded for using a service that makes life more convenient (no calling restaurants for reservations) is always great.

And in terms of future rewards, thanks in part to my AAdvantage/Citibank credit card, I recently reached enough miles on American Airlines for a free flight to Europe.  While I haven’t booked my ticket yet, I am planning on going to England in a month, and if my recent experiences with reward programs are any indication, I expect redeeming my miles for a flight will be a breeze, too.

Some rewards programs are obviously more generous than others, and I think that the instances in which it may make sense to spend money just to get a reward are few and far apart.  Nonetheless, if you diligently use your loyalty number/card whenever you do make a purchase, there just might be a reward coming your way sooner or later.

No Show? You Might Be Banned Forever

OpenTable.com offers a great service by allowing people to make their reservations online.  Reservations are often hard to make, but easy to break.  OpenTable discourages this kind of behavior, however, by automatically deactivating accounts that have more than four no-shows within a 12-month period.  Restaurants can assign you a no-show if you (1) arrived late (usually more than 15 minutes without giving the restaurant a call), (2) failed to honor or cancel the reservation, or (3) called to cancel but not within the cancellation policy (usually 24 or 48 hours prior to reservation time).

These rules may sound harsh, but OpenTable is meant to reward patrons who regularly honor their reservations or cancel them on time.  Despite this, OpenTable is also quite amenable to hearing you out if you feel a no-show has been assigned in error.  Take for example our weekly lunch last week, when there was obviously a miscommunication between OpenTable and the restaurant.  We had made a reservation through OpenTable, but the restaurant was not able to find us in their system.  When we checked our balance afterward, it turned out we had been assigned a no-show.  A simple email to OpenTable explaining the events, however, quickly rectified the situation and we were awarded our points.

All this to say, you should try your best to honor your reservations or at least be considerate enough to cancel in a timely manner so others may take your timeslot.  Otherwise, you might be making your last reservation on OpenTable.com.  Another lesson here is to keep track of your points to make sure you haven’t been inadvertently assigned a no-show.  Bon appetite!

Earn Points Even When You are not the (Only) One Dining

Has your boss ever asked you to make him/her a dinner reservation? Instead of grumbling under your breath that you didn’t graduate college to be someone else’s personal assistant, next time simply smile and graciously offer to make the reservation. Why? Because with OpenTable, you have the option to make reservations for other diners and earn points when they dine. Just select the box that asks whether you are an administrator and you can begin to compile a list of diners for whom you make reservations.

Another way to earn more points quickly is to set up a buddy system. As mentioned before, Tuesday is our dining out night, but we also have an OpenTable account together so that we can accumulate points faster and share the rewards together. To that end, our shared account is not limited only to making our Tuesday dinner reservations. We use it whenever either one of us has a dining engagement. If you and your group of friends are planning a get-together, offer to make the reservation and nab the points for yourself!

Get More Greens When You Eat Out

Tuesday night is our dining out night. While eating out does not have to be a weekly event for you, if you are going to pick a day, Tuesday should be the day. Fresh fish usually comes in on Tuesdays and Fridays, and a new batch of prepared food is typically made on Tuesdays (see Anthony Bourdain’s article in the New Yorker here).

Regardless of whether you are a foodie, you should always try to make your reservation through OpenTable.com. Sign up for free and for each reservation you make (and actually show up) OpenTable awards you 100 points. Once you accumulate 2000 points, you receive a $20 check from OpenTable, which you can use at any participating restaurant. That works out to getting $1 back each time you have dinner – not much, but wouldn’t it be great to get $20 off a meal every once in a while?

Note: Some restaurants offer 1000 points for tables booked at odd hours, which is like giving you $10 off your meal.