FEATURE Making the most of restaurant week 2010

Five tips for experiencing Boston’s finest on the cheap

5. Know the basics

Restaurant Week is actually a two-week event that happens twice a year, once in March and once in August. Hundreds of Boston’s best (and priciest) restaurants prepare special menus at discounted prices. From March 14–19th and 21–26th, these restaurants will be offering 2-course lunches for $15.10, 3-course lunches for $20.10 and 3-course dinners for $33.10. See for full listings.

4. Find menus online

The last thing you want for your Restaurant Week experience is to sit down at your table and realize that the prices are the same as the regular menu, and that nothing on it sounds delicious. Some establishments participate in Restaurant Week to make themselves look upscale and high-end, but in reality are nothing more than Olive Gardens in disguise. Most restaurants have already posted their Restaurant Week menus on their websites. It might spoil the surprise to know your options in advance, but it’s better than realizing that you’ll be eating a lettuce leaf and half a chicken leg for lunch. Compare their Restaurant Week menu to their regular menu; if it seems like they’ve significantly cheapened their menu, avoid it. The best places offer similar options between the two menus.

3. Make reservations During these two weeks, penny-pinching gastronomes all over Boston will be roaming the restaurants around town. Don’t expect to be seated without a reservation, especially if you choose a good spot. Make your reservations now if you haven’t already. OpenTable is a free website for making reservations, and most Restaurant Week locations use it. It will tell you what time slots are still available for your party size, and you can easily change or cancel your reservation. As an added bonus, with each OpenTable reservation you make (and fulfill), you are one step closer to earning a Dining Cheque, a gift certificate to any OpenTable restaurant. Talk about killing two birds with one stone. 2. Not all restaurants were created equal

Duh. But this is especially true during Restaurant Week, when everyone is serving meals for the same price. Not all restaurants participate in both lunch and dinner, nor do they all have weekend availabilities. On the same token, some restaurants, like L’Espalier, have extended their participation; L’Espalier is offering their Restaurant Week menu for the entire month. Aquitaine, among other places, is offering discounted wine pairings to go with your meal.

1. Tip Well

Yes, you are paying for a discounted meal at a nice restaurant. I’ve never worked as a server, but I can only imagine how stressful these two weeks must be for waiters and waitresses. People who normally would not step foot inside their restaurants march on in, expecting to be blown away by the four-star ratings they’ve read in the Boston Globe. They get upset when they show up for their 7 p.m. reservation on a Friday night and their table isn’t ready yet. They ask questions about the menu that regular clients would never dare ask (FYI: coq au vin is braised chicken cooked in wine, tagliatelle is a type of pasta, and arancini refers to fried risotto balls). And when the check comes, they leave a measly 15 percent tip on their $33.10 meal (they drank tap). Don’t be that customer from hell, especially if you insist on wearing your MIT sweatshirt. For good service, tip 20-to-25 percent at minimum, or at least 15 percent of how much your meal would have cost at any other time during the year. The meals may be cheaper for you, but the servers are still getting paid the same amount. At the end of the day, it’s just good karma.