The holidays are gone and so are your excuses to stuff your face, right? Not quite.
January and February typically mark the start of a promotional event -- and a dietitian's nightmare -- known as Restaurant Week, during which participating eateries across the country offer fixed-price, three-course meals at discounted prices. The food includes such ethnic fare as Cuban and Middle Eastern.
It all began in 1992 during the Democratic National Convention in New York when restaurant owners in the Big Apple created a one-time promotion to draw in hungry delegates and conventioneers. The gimmick -- a three-course lunch for $19.92 -- was so popular that New York turned it into a twice-yearly event and extended the deal to include dinners. At least 250 restaurants in and around New York participate in the event.
Dining discounts around the country
For a list of restaurants participating in Restaurant Week in various cities, check out the following selected websites:
Los Angeles: Jan. 25 to 30 and Feb. 1 to 6, www.dinela.com/restaurantweek
San Diego: Today to Jan. 16, www.sandiegorestaurantweek.com
Palm Springs: May 31 to June 9, www.palmspringsrestaurantweek.com
San Francisco: Thursday to Jan. 31, www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com/taste/dineabouttown
New York: Jan. 18 to 23 and Jan. 25 to 30, www.nycgo.com/restaurantweek
Chicago: Feb. 20 to 27, www.choosechicago.com/eatitup/Pages/default2.aspx
Washington, D.C.: mid-February, (exact date had not been released as of the Travel section's Tuesday deadline), www.washington.org/restaurantwk
Philadelphia: Jan. 25 to 30, www.centercityphila.org/life/RestaurantWeek.php
Long Island, N.Y.: Nov. 1 to 8, www.longislandrestaurantweek.com
Baltimore: Jan. 23 to Feb. 1, www.baltimorerestaurantweek.com
Denver: Feb. 21 to 27, www.denver.org/denverrestaurant/default.asp
Austin, Texas: March 1 to 4 and 8 to 11, www.restaurantweekaustin.com
Vancouver, Canada: Wednesday to Feb. 1, www.tourismvancouver.com/visitors/dining/dineout.php
Today, at least 26 American cities have replicated New York's promotion. Many cities extend Restaurant Week for two weeks but the dates vary. Organizers typically schedule the event for times when business is slowest, which varies by locale.
With the economy staggering, restaurateurs and tourism officials hope the promotion will give struggling beaneries a boost and give budget-minded customers a chance to try places that are usually outside their price range.
Los Angeles launched its Restaurant Week event last year and was rewarded with a 25% increase in business at participating restaurants, event organizers said.
"I think restaurants are looking for any venue to build awareness that they are there and to drive traffic," said Carrie Kommers, head of dineLA, a marketing initiative launched by LA Inc., the city's convention and visitors bureau, and local restaurant owners.
Los Angeles’ Restaurant Week runs Jan. 25 to 30 and Feb. 1 to 6 (the fixed prices are not offered on Saturdays) and includes 160 restaurants, an increase from 143 last year. This year, the list of participating restaurants includes upscale places such as Gordon Ramsay at the London West Hollywood, the Bazaar at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills and Akasha in Culver City.
The savings for diners can be significant. For example, at the swank Comme Ça restaurant in West Hollywood, you can pay $28 for lunch during Restaurant Week and get your choice of roasted beet salad, mixed greens or the soup du jour for an appetizer; Scottish salmon, roasted free-range chicken breast or wild mushroom risotto for an entree; and brioche chocolate pudding, cream puffs or a cookie plate for your dessert. The same meal would normally cost about $47. (Tax, tips and beverages are not included in the fixed price, and reservations are often required.)