A Summerlicious Survival Guide


It’s that time of year again. Summerlicious (July 3rd – 19th);  when diners flock to Toronto’s restaurants in search of a cheap meal, and restaurant staff groan and complain at the long hours and stiffed tips. Summer (and Winter) Licious are self-perpetuating catch-22s. Diners expect poor service and so tip poorly regardless, while servers expect poor tips and so give bad service. It’s enough to make some of us avoid the whole thing completely. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With just a few basic rules in place for both customers and restaurants, Summerlicious could be a lovely, enjoyable, even civilized event. Here’s how…

For customers:

  1. Make a reservation. If you can’t make it, call and cancel that reservation. I mean this. I’m in the process of gathering a vigilante crowd, complete with pitchforks and fiery sticks to hunt down people who bail on their restaurant reservations without calling to cancel them.
  2. If you have anyone in your party with special dining needs (allergies, vegetarian, etc.) check when you’re booking the reservation that the restaurant’s Summerlicious offerings are appropriate. The official website has gotten better about flagging the vegetarian options, but I’ve arrived to Licious reservations only to be told the veggie option listed on the website doesn’t exist.
  3. No substitutions means no substitutions. Have you ever cooked 500 meals in one day? Trust me when I tell you that your head explodes less if they’re all exactly the same, and that the only way the restaurant can get through service is to refuse to customize stuff. Yes, I know it’s sooo unfair. If you don’t like it, order off the regular menu.
  4. If you happen to get decent service during Summerlicious (and it does happen), it is appropriate that you tip on what the full cost of the meal would have been, not the discounted price that you paid. There’s a reason why Licious diners have the reputation for being cheapskates – it’s because many of them are.
  5. Order a beverage other than tap water. This applies all the time, not just during discount events, and while I do think all restaurants should offer tap water automatically, please order a beverage that you actually pay for. It doesn’t have to be booze, it can be bottled water or a soda that you nurse throughout the meal. But restaurants depend on beverage sales, especially during discount events. Ordering nothing but a plain glass of tap water pegs you as a cheap-ass, and you’ll get service reflective of that.
  6. Make an effort and dress nicely. No flip-flops, no ball caps, no shorts unless it’s a bazillion degrees outside and they’re pleated like a razor down the front. I’ll even go out on a limb and say no t-shirts unless it’s totally suave and you’re wearing it under a nice jacket. Take your hat off indoors (I can’t believe people need to be told this); put your napkin on your lap.
  7. Please and thank you. Try it, it’s easy – please and thank you. Acknowledge your server when they bring you something. You don’t have to stop your conversation, but show your server that you appreciate their efforts. This will encourage them to not spit in your food.
  8. If you feel the service was sub-par and you choose to lower the tip or not tip at all, find your server and tell them. They might tell you off, they might flip the bird at the back of your departing head, but at least they’ll know why you were unhappy with the meal and have an opportunity to improve. And never, ever stiff on a tip because of the quality of the food, particularly if you didn’t enjoy the food but were a polite Canadian and ate it anyway. Extra-especially if, when the server came to check on you, you smiled and nodded and said it was great, even though you hated it. If your server didn’t come to check on you, at minimum during the main, you are permitted to deduct from the tip for this oversight.

And for restaurants:

  1. If the Summerlicious website says you’re offering a vegetarian option, you’d darn well better actually have it. And if you don’t, please don’t lie and blame the customer. We’re getting smart and printing out those menus now to wave at you when you sneak in the fact that the supposedly vegetarian soup of the day is made with chicken stock.
  2. If the customer orders the soup, bring them bread. Automatically, no questions asked. Don’t make them beg for bread, and don’t forget to bring them bread until after they’ve finished their soup. Soup – bread. Think of them as conjoined twins.
  3. During an event like Summerlicious where your profit margin on the meal is significantly reduced, it’s a good idea to upsell items that do make a profit, such as booze, coffee, or beverages in general. This is a good idea all the time, but especially when you’re offering the food at a discount. This being the HOSPITALITY industry, you don’t even have to feel dirty about upselling. “Can I get you another beer?” rolls off the tongue easily, and no customer is foolish enough to believe that the second one is free. Yes, it’s lovely that you brought us water, and that should be a rule that all restaurants adhere to (as mentioned above), but what you really want is for me to order things that I’ll pay for.
  4. When depositing dessert on the table, you’ll find another opportunity to not only upsell, but to improve your tip. “Can I offer you coffee or tea?” See? Easy. Plunking down the chocolate mousse and then stomping away means no coffee for me, and no money for you – and odds are I wanted a coffee. Coffee has a huge profit margin – you want me to buy coffee, you really do.
  5. When you’ve cleared the plates and the meal is done, now is the time to offer the bill or offer to get the customer something else. Leaving the customer sitting for half an hour waiting for their bill, particularly at lunchtime, with no explanation as to why, gets you a big fat donut of a tip.
  6. Flipflops are not appropriate footwear for anyone in the city, ever. They’re for the beach or the pool. On a server in a restaurant they are ugly, noisy and dangerous and don’t actually meet the safety and sanitation codes. And do I need to tell you about nail polish? I will walk out of a restaurant if my server is wearing nail polish. That shit chips, and where do you think it’s going? In the food, yo. Yech.

I could go on (no, really I could) but those are the basics. Remember that we all have the same goal here – for the customers to have a nice meal. Both customers and restaurants can achieve this by ignoring the fact that they’re dealing with a discounted special and acting like the customer has ordered the most expensive thing on the menu. Oddly, it seems to make everyone behave better, which translates to a better experience for all.

Happy dining.