One of my favorite Memphis events is coming up: Downtown Dining Week!
In Memphis we have this weird culture where people who live downtown or midtown complain about the suburbs being "all the way out East" and the suburbanites complain about going "all the way downtown". Mind you at non rush hour times these are 35 minute or less drives. Anyone from NY or Cali please take a moment to roll your eyes and say bitch, please!
While the tasty locally owned establishment is an exception in the suburbs they dominate the food scene in downtown and midtown, which is why I personally beleive people afraid to cross over the 240 loop are really missing out. To provide an incentive to those who don't frequent downtown on the regular downtown dining week was created to give the downtown restaurants a chance to show off why they are "worth the drive".
The rules: participating restaurants offer 3 course meals for $20.14, select parking garages offer $1 parking. Traditionally upscale places take reservations while more casual places either do not or do not require them.
I have been participating for years but this will be my first year to go every single night; I'm excited! And since I have already made my reservations and y'all pose no threat to my enjoyment I don't mind sharing some recommendations with you. To me, DDW is a great time to check out places you might not ordinarily go to or don't go to frequently so unless the menu is amazing the casual restaurants where I could eat for $20 or less on a regular basis are out.
Places I recommend considering are:
Now I'm sure all of the participants are wonderful, but I have not tried them all or find some a casual place best visited at another time.
Making reservations is key to being able to participate, but there's also a few things I think are helpful to keep in mind to keep the expectations realistic.
1. The food options for DDW are limited, this helps the restaurants buy in bulk and mass produce. Expect the restaurants to be at full capacity and the food to come out faster than if you were dining at full price. If you're not buying drinks or additional items don't be a jerk holding a table for two hours.
2. Understand that service might not be as attentive as a typical fine dining experience. One of the hallmarks that sets fine dining apart is a low server to table ratio - when a restaurant is packed and tables are being turned over quickly this ratio goes up. Excellent servers will still provide good service during this week but be understanding if your server seems a little overwhelmed, this is not their norm.
4. Don't expect the regular menu, although most places will offer it should you choose to order off it. Some of the dishes offered on a regular basis require more time and attention when cooking or have pricey ingredients and just aren't practical to serve a crowd. Plus no one expects the restaurants to go bankrupt wowing the crowd this week.
5. Do expect smaller portions. At some places you will feel stuffed, others fully satisfied and maybe one might have you getting some chicken nuggets on the way home. Nice restaurants typically have smaller portions than chains anyway. You are not getting a 12 oz steak as part of your 3 course $20 meal, sorry.
6. Budget for beverages. Most places will offer a specialty cocktail for the evening, others will discount their wines. Some will charge full price hoping to make up the lower revenue on the food. Either way, a nice glass of something does add to the experience. Maybe don't drink every night, but pick one or two places to enjoy a cocktail.
7. When in doubt, tip up. Nothing makes one look like they don't belong in a nice place more than tipping poorly. Please y'all, keep in mind that a table of two at most nice places will average a $100 tab, that's a $15 to $20 tip. Yes, table volume and turnover is up during this week but if your server gives good service they deserve more than $6. You might experience a bad apple with a bad attitude and Im not saying you have to reward that behavior but most servers are still bringing their A game, remember this week is about the restaurants wanting you to come back at full price. I'm not saying you have to leave $20 but find a happy medium as service warrants. Budget as if every server is going to treat you like royalty.
Most of all have fun, enjoy the wonderful ambience, a walk down Main Street and culinary delights. It's really cool that Memphis offers this annual opportunity so make the most of it!
Oh, and check out participating restaurants here: