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The good, the bad, and the ugly of Summerlicious

Summerlicious runs July 4-10

For you, it is a chance at a satisfying meal at a restaurant you might not typically be able to afford.  For the people who get your meal to the table, it means weeks of unpaid overtime, exhaustion, unforgiving diners and crummy tips.

Summerlicious, Toronto's annual fixed price lunch and dinner promotion gets underway Friday, lasting until July 20. Over 200 restaurants are participating. Summerlicious, along with its cold weather cousin Winterlicious, were established to help boost restaurant revenues as tourism slowed in 2003 in the wake of the SARS epidemic.

Anja Warunkiewicz is a pastry chef at a downtown eatery that is bustling year-round. For her, the two week Summerlicious period is a blur of long days, high stress and fatigue.  Over the 14-day run of Winterlicious in February,  Warunkiewicz logged an extra 48 hours in the kitchen without extra pay.  She says the increased workload is tied to just how much food is in demand.

The restaurant Warunkiewicz works at sees as many as triple the number of people pass through it's doors during Summerlicious compared to a normal day, all diners consuming more food than average.

David De Bernardi, a former sous-chef at the Ritz Carlton and Reds, says with the sheer volume of diners, some of the city's best-quality restaurants devolve into "scoop and serve" establishments just to keep up. Warunkiewicz does not agree. She says in her kitchen, high standards are upheld, Summerlicious or not.

De Bernardi feels relieved not to have had to work at a restaurant participating in Summerlicious, Winterlicious or a similar promotion during his 16-year career, though he sees their merit.

"It introduces the restaurant to people who wouldn't normally go to a restaurant like that (an upscale eatery)."  But both De Bernardi and Warunkiewicz are sceptical of any long-term benefits, suggesting Summerlicious diners virtually never return without another discount.

Warunkiewicz says the average Summerlicious diner also seems to have much higher expectations, less patience, be more rude and to tip less for service.

She says eateries that are busy year round are hardly raking in the dough through the Summerlicious period either.

"Restaurant owners end up spending so much on food costs, and labour", says Warunkiewicz "they end up losing a lot of money.

Worth it or not, Warunkiewicz has one thing keeping her going through the next 16 days: the promise of a good night's sleep on July 20th.

For a list of participating Summerlicious restaurants, click here.

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