Last year for Summerlicious, my boyfriend and I went to Madeleine’s for dinner. I had intended to write a blog post about the meal, but I felt underwhelmed and kept putting the post off until it was obsolete. 

The year before, I had tried desperately to get a reservation at Canoe (like so many others), but to no avail. 

This year, I was pleased to see that reservations could be made using Opentable, which ups the convenience factor. However, in looking over the restaurants on the list, I wasn’t particularly excited about any of the selections.

This lead me to wonder what the criteria was for Summerlicious/Winterlicious. In looking at the City of Toronto website, it indicates that restaurants who wish to participate must:

  • be an existing restaurant
  • be located in the City of Toronto
  • possess a current Dine Safe Green Pass issued by Toronto Public Health
  • demonstrate that the average price of a 3-course meal on the restaurant’s regular lunch and/or dinner menu meets the minimum requirements
  • complete the Winterlicious / Summerlicious Application Form

And that’s it.

Because of the previous participation of high-caliber restaurants, I’d always thought there was some prestige associated with Summerlicious.

Nay. It turns out it’s just an excuse for restaurants to cram patrons into their establishments under a thin guise of a ‘deal’ then offer them mediocre service and sub-standard food because of the restaurant’s overwhelming busyness. I'm not a conspiracy theorist (no, scratch that -I kind of am), but I'd say that this is all part of some Toronto tourism revenue-generating scheme.

What do you think of Summerlicious? Will you be participating in this year’s hype?


  1. I participate every year, great excuse to try new restaurants. Have had both amazing and terrible experiences...but I think its a neat idea. Though they could be more stringent with their selections, huge range of quality including some really bad options!

  2. I couldn't have said it better Kate. My husband and I have gone to both Summer and Winterlicious for the past five years and have had both good and bad experiences. When you consider the hype around these two opportunities though, you would think that they would be more stringent with their selections.

    Fingers crossed for a good experience this year!

  3. Thanks for the comment, Kate. I guess I came off a little sour. I'll keep you posted if I do wind up trying out any restaurants... We'll see :)

  4. I have to say that I am very much in favor of the "licious" seasons. I as well have had good and bad experiences with the event, however I have had good and terrible experiences with just dining out when the event is not in town.

    I think that it is great that you can try a restaurant on a Tuesday and the atmosphere is the same as if you were to normally go on a Thursday or Friday.

    Even though the portions are miniature, I still enjoy being able to recommend more places and have more options for myself when wanting to fine-dine in the city(even if it is mostly based on the atmosphere, small portions, and quality of food).

  5. Having just talked to chef Jason Bangerter of Auberge du Pommier about Summerlicious, I can tell you this:

    He says they embrace it wholeheartedly, and aim to give as high a level of service as they do every other day of the year. They hire extra staff on during those weeks, and in an industry where labour costs are the largest expense (and concern), bringing on more staff is a pretty big deal. He says it gives people a chance to taste their food who normally wouldn't. You're getting a 3 course meal for just a little more than the average price of an entrée. And trust me, having eaten the food, I can tell you it's more than worth it.

    I'd be surprised if they weren't making less money than usual during those weeks. It works staff extremely hard (hence the reason a lot of the industry calls it "summervicious/wintervicious"), usually doubling or even tripling the turnover rate on seats, and it puts tonnes of scrutiny on the participating restaurants. Good restaurants usually have a pretty large base of returning/regular customers. When you suddenly have an influx of people who are trying it for the first time and with no vested interest, they're less likely to feel comfortable in the dining room, or be less forgiving of a mistake made during a particularly busy service.

    Having myself just spent two years in the Culinary Management program at George Brown College, one of the things we learn most about building and maintaining restaurant clientele is that word of mouth is king. Ads do very little, and good reviews can be negated by one bad word from a friend of a potential customer. Most people go to the places where they hear the food and/or service is good, so creating situations where word of mouth can be spread is always good in the long run—even though it may be hellish, tough and less profitable (or even create losses) in the present.

  6. Sean and Jaimie, thanks for your thoughtful comments. i'm glad you shed some light on the positive aspects of the licious festivities.

    Sean, I really liked your idea about Tuesday night feeling like a typical Friday or Saturday. That's definitely true and kind of exciting.

    Jaimie, I appreciated the insider perspective from chef Jason Bangerter of Auberge du Pommier and I see what you mean about long-term business growth for restaurants from these efforts.

  7. Jess:

    You've hit the nail right on the head here. With the exception of the O&B participants (Canoe, Auberge, etc.) and a couple other diamonds in the rough like Celestin and Corner House 'licious events are, in my opinion, best avoided.

    My two suggestions are: 1.Look for anti-licious promotions like the prix fixe that Pizzeria Libretto ran during the last winterlicious, or 2. Visit that fancy/new/unusual restaurant you have always wanted to try on a Wednesday four weeks from now when they won't inform you that "unfortunately they need your table by 8:15" and order a few items from the appetizer section.

    I may be mistaken but I think the promotions were originally conceived shortly after the SARS crisis as a revenue generator. As far as I'm concerned this is something that the City no longer needs to be involved in.

    Food With Legs

  8. Thanks for the comment, David. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Thanks also for mentioning that Pizzeria Libretto prix fix! I saw Corey Mintz tweet that one and I couldn't get over the value.

    Your SARS comment makes a lot of sense. I think you're right though, the city should hand over the reigns to someone else who could manage the program with a little more strategy.

  9. Not to beat a dead horse but I have heard such good things about Pangaea this year that I felt I should come back to add it to the list of exceptions to the rule. I've eaten there at non-licious time and at $35 it might be an even better deal than Canoe or Auberge for $45.

  10. Talk about a dead horse! How did I miss that comment?! My colleague went to Pangaea and he quite enjoyed the experience. I think you may be right that it's the special exception.