What restaurateurs really think of prix fixe holiday dinner deals

Executives say they have a love/hate relationship with the multicourse meals.

Nothing says Christmas quite like a glazed country ham with rum roasted pineapple or a spiced eggnog crème brûlée. But unless you want to make it yourself, be prepared to fork over $125 or more for the festive food. 

Holiday prix fixe dinners have become commonplace, and even expected, at restaurants throughout the city. But several restaurateurs who serve them say they have a love/hate relationship with the multicourse meals, noting that while the meals may help keep a kitchen organized or present a more celebratory atmosphere, ingredient costs can go up and customers may not appreciate more limited offerings. 

"Holiday dining has changed so much. If you had told me 10 years ago that Thanksgiving was going to be the biggest day of the year in my restaurant, I would have said, ‘No way,’ " said Georgette Farkas, 54, the owner of Rotisserie Georgette on the Upper East Side. "There’s one day of the year we do a prix fixe, and it’s on Thanksgiving. We know the guests’ expectation, and we know our expectation — I can tell you 76 percent of our guests will order turkey with all the trimmings."

Farkas serves a multicourse meal for the holiday to about 400 people (with 150 more on the wait-list) for $90, at least $20 more than she would typically  charge per person for a busy night, plus the cost of drinks But she does not love locking diners in to the pricey meal, and while she will be open for Christmas dinner for the first time this year, she will make it a la carte.

"In our business you sort of have to be able to do business when it’s there, and December is the busiest month of the year. If so many people are calling us to reserve Christmas, I should just get with the program," Farkas said, adding: "On the holidays you have luxurious ingredients, it’s what makes the holiday a holiday…. But I feel I have a responsibility to the people who come here all year long. I’m a big believer in choice."

Brian Owens, 39, who owns Crave Fish Bar, said a lot of advance work goes into creating a holiday meal, and that while he does not love the prix fixe (and does not think his customers particularly do, either), sometimes it is a sort of a necessary evil because it is customary. On a holiday, Owens said he typically charges $75 for three courses or $95 for four courses, more than the $55 average each guest spends on a non-holiday night.

Owens said the restaurant does a prix fixe menu for Thanksgiving, but is offering the entire menu with seasonal options (that tend to be higher priced) for Christmas Eve because he believes the demand is not as high.

"It’s more money gross, but then if you get into the costs associated with holiday. . . people really want to see the bone-in filet, the prime rib, the langoustines, kind of the higher-priced items," he said. "It’s harder to control a menu that you’re just running for one night. There tends to be higher food costs, there tends to be more waste."

But Kelly Harbison, the general manager of Tavern on the Green (purveyor of that glazed country ham and crème brûlée), said 99 percent of her Thanksgiving or Christmas customers appreciate the idea of a fixed holiday menu.

"I always think of a prix fixe as really celebratory," Harbison said. "I think people are expecting it, and I think, looking forward to having a meal that’s designed for them for the holiday."

Harbison said the Central Park restaurant typically books up fully about two months in advance and will plan to serve about 3,000 people for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They charge $125 per person for a three-course plus a soup, which she estimates will keep a small party at the table for just over 2 hours. And ultimately, Harbison said, prix fixe meals are easier on the kitchen. 

"Most people are not doing a four-course on a normal Saturday night. And we are really trying to make the items grand for the holiday," Harbison said. "Obviously, we want to maximize the number of people we can serve, but we also want to make sure it’s a pleasant experience for people . . .  It just kind of ensures that everyone is dining in a timely fashion."

Alison Fox