Today marks the start of Winterlicious, a once great event in the city of Toronto. In it’s early stages you used to be able to go and get a great deal at some high end restaurants around the city that would typically cost a lot more. Over the years instead of making it affordable for customers to experience these “great” restaurants, I believe it turned into somewhat of a joke. Instead of getting a deal on your meal, you basically got a free dessert, smaller portions and shitty service. Here are my reasons why I no longer attend Winterlicious.

UPDATE: After some thought, I believe this post is more directed towards the restaurants charging the higher prices ($35-$45/dinner). There are some good deals to be found on the list of restaurants participating in Winterlicious, but you need to do your research.

1) Price – When Winterlicious began, the most expensive restaurants were $35. This has since increased to $45 yet many of the restaurants and menu variations have remained the same. While $10 doesn’t seem like much, going from $70 to $90 for a table of 2 before even ordering a drink makes a good deal go bad very quickly. When you really do the math comparing the regular menus to the Wnterlicious menu of many of the participating restaurants, you will notice that in many cases it works out to you getting a free dessert (if that). As someone that never orders dessert anyway, I don’t care.

2) Service – In all my Winterlicious experiences over the years (and from what others tell me), the quality of service at these restaurants appears to drop drastically during this week of savings. It is as if the waiters think because you are there for Winterlicious you are cheap and probably won’t tip what their normal clientele would. For that reason they give much more attention to tables not partaking in the Winterlicious menu.

3) Restaurant Division – One of the funniest things I have heard over the years during Winterlicious is restaurants that run out of “Winterlicious tables”. It is almost like they are saying this side of the restaurant is for the cheap people and this side is for our quality paying customers. If you are going to offer Winterlicious it should be for the entire restaurant, not just a special area.

4) The Waiters Hate It – Since Winterlicious does draw a crowd that is looking for a deal it means less money in the waiters’ pocket at the end of the night. I have heard countless stories of customers who come in to a high-end restaurant for Winterlicious and drink water all night long. Sure, there is nothing saying they can’t do this, but chances are these same people aren’t coming out to the restaurant at other times of the year and doing this. Just because an owner of a restaurant wants to participate, doesn’t mean the staff do.

5) Portion Sizes – Ever notice when eating from a Winterlicious menu if you look around the restaurant the other table’s plates seem to have more on them? They probably do! I’ve experienced it and heard from many others that the portion for a meal seemed to shrink quite a bit while featured on a Winterlicious menu.

6) Menu Substitutions – Winterlicious was supposed to be about experiencing a more expensive restaurant to see if you would want to come back at full prices, but now you can no longer do this. The reason why? Menu items aren’t always the same as their regular menu. Since I am always trying to see how much of a savings a restaurant is actually offering I commonly find that Winterlicious menu items don’t exist on the regular menu. These items are just added because they have cheaper ingredients allowing the restaurant to turn a once unprofitable time into a profitable one. For example, let’s take a look at the Bymark Winterlicious menu. Here are the appetizers:

Bymark Winterlicious Appetizers

Bymark Winterlicious Appetizers

Now, let’s go take a look at their regular menu to see how much these cost normally:

Bymark Regular Menu Appetizers

Bymark Regular Menu Appetizers

Other than the house cured gravlax, I can’t seem to find anything else on the menu!

7) Menu Choices – With a lot of the restaurants in Winterlicious I find that they only have 1 thing that I would order from their “special” menu. If they run out of this item, what seemed like a good deal is not so great if you can’t eat what you wanted.

8) Many of these restaurants run Group Buys all the time – The final reason why I don’t bother with Winterlicious is many of the particpating restaurants run group deals all of the time for way better savings. Just look on sites like Groupon Now and you will see several of the restaurants in the Winterlicious list.

While there still is the odd restaurant that will give you a great deal during Winterlicious, the point of this post is to say do your research! When you really break it down, many of these restaurants aren’t offering a great deal and you are much better off going to them at any other time of the year when you can actually experience the quality and level of service they are known for.

Note: This article also applies to Summerlicious ;)