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Smart Buying

Deals on fancy meals

Ritzy restaurants are drumming up business with special promotions and prix fixe menus.

And you thought you were having a bad year. High wholesale prices and newly cost-conscious consumers have created “the most challenging environment for the restaurant industry in several decades,” says Hudson Riehle, of the National Restaurant Association. Even high-end restaurants, including those operated by big-name chefs such as Mario Batali, have responded to weak sales by offering diners reduced prices, prix fixe meals, nightly specials, free appetizers or desserts, and small plates at (relatively) low cost. Restaurateurs who try to hold out for le prix scandaleux do so at their peril, says Riehle. “With the competition so intense, consumers are quick to vote with their feet.”

What constitutes a bargain at a ritzy restaurant? At Batali’s Del Posto, in New York City, that would be the tasting menu, recently reduced from $175 to $125 for a seven-item assortment that includes gourmet ingredients such as foie gras and truffles. The prix fixe lunch goes for a mere $32.

But it’s not just pricey Manhattan eateries that are dishing out savings. Splash!, a seafood restaurant in Tampa, draws bottom feeders with such weeknight “stimulus” specials as the shrimp jambalaya for $5 (plus the price of a beverage)—about one-fifth the price of the seafood risotto from the regular menu. Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, where the average dinner tab runs $74, recently introduced a prix fixe meal that includes an appetizer, a side, a 16-ounce strip steak and dessert for $40.