For the record: In 2016, Marc Vetri does not hate Restaurant Week.
Sure, there was that screed he put up on Facebook four years ago, which Philly Mag republished in full under the headline “Marc Vetri Does Not Like Restaurant Week.”
It started off telling prospective RWers that “[t]he deal that you think you’re getting” — three courses for $35 — “is non-existent,” and continued to explain that “food is less desirable, service is less attentive, tips are lower and everyone is miserable at the end of the week.”
The next year, Vetri doubled down, telling Philly Mag that “[Center City District Restaurant Week] is a gimmick and a quick fix that in reality doesn’t give the diner any special deal.” He did soften his statement with a clarification: “Some people may get it, some not. I’m not bashing anyone.”
By 2014, Vetri’s disdain for the promotion was canon. When he wrote “F-off restaurant week” in a tweet about Sausage Fest at Amis, no one was shocked, or even surprised.
These posts zipped around the Philly food world like a brush fire in search of marshmallows — mostly because they expressed a sentiment many industry workers usually kept to themselves.
Fast forward to 2016. The New York Times might still be writing about our city as if it’s news there’s great dining here, but Philly folks have grown much more confident and comfortable navigating the local scene. The Philadelphia restaurant landscape has changed and matured, even since just two years ago. And so, apparently, has Marc Vetri.
When the Center City District announced its lineup for the January 2017 promotion this week, two Vetri Family restaurants (Osteria and Amis) were listed among the 120-plus participants.
“We started discussing it,” Vetri told Billy Penn, “and everyone else [in the meeting] was like, ‘Oh, Marc doesn’t like it.’ No! That was like, four years ago. I do not hate Restaurant Week.”
Pressed for explanation, Vetri suggested his change of heart came because the promotion itself had evolved.
First, it used to be much more expensive to join, he suggested. (Fact check: According to the Center City District, the price for restaurants to participate has actually increased over the years.)
Furthermore, participating chefs used to be forced to serve only the RW prix-fixe deal and not allowed to serve their regular menu in addition, which his restaurants will be doing this year, Vetri said. (Fact check: Per the CCD, the guidelines have remained consistent since the promotion began in fall 2003: “Some restaurants choose to limit their menus to the RW menu, but that never has been a requirement.”)
Vetri’s last excuse for his turnaround is that the promotion is much better timed now: “It used to be in October or something, when dining rooms are already full as they ramp up for the holidays.” (Fact check: October dates were tested out once, said a CCD spokesperson, but other than that and a slight switch for the pope last year, the timing has been consistent — early September and late January — throughout Restaurant Week’s existence.)
What does it all mean? Basically, that Vetri changed his mind. Which people are allowed to do, even star chefs. The reversal didn’t have anything to do with selling his restaurants to Urban Outfitters, Vetri insists — URBN execs were not consulted in the decision to participate. “They wouldn’t even know what Restaurant Week is!” Vetri said.
“They really do let us run the day to day [of the business],” confirmed Vetri Family COO Jeff Benjamin. Will participating bring benefits? “I would hope and expect a positive impact during a historically slower period,” he said.
What’s even more interesting than Vetri’s flip-flop, though, is that it seems to be on trend.
Kevin Sbraga, who had been another (somewhat less-outspoken) critic of the promotion, told Billy Penn he actually wouldn’t be against participating, except that the format of Sbraga’s everyday menu means doing a different prix fixe doesn’t make sense.
“I would consider it,” he said. “However Sbraga already offers a fixed price menu for four courses.”
And some restaurant staffers, who have traditionally done little except moan and groan about extra work and bad tips during the 10-day promotion, are also coming around.
“I love restaurant week!” said Doug Fitz, bartender at Jamonera in Midtown Village. “My chef actually puts together a really nice menu so I’m proud to sell the stuff we’re offering [and] we’re booked solid every night.
“Yes, it brings a crowd that doesn’t usually go out, and therefore the people I deal with aren’t quite as up to speed on the finesse of being a good bar guest,” he continued, “but I’ll take a full bar over a handful of cool people.”