Big tippers! The winners of our first Denver Restaurant Week contest

Two weeks ago, we asked diners and restaurants employees alike to serve up their best tips for surviving Denver Restaurant Week, promising a $52.80 prize for the best advice in each category. More than fifty people complied, posting tips that ranged from remembering not to behave like an asshole to remembering the less fortunate -- and donating $52.80 for each $52.80 DRW meal you enjoy.

We'll be introducing a second Denver Restaurant Week RW contest later today. But right now, keep reading for the winners of this first contest. We like big tippers!

In the diner category, Jeff wins with this:

You can get in anywhere (even Mizuna on a Friday night) without a reservation if you get there when they open for dinner and sit at the bar. Don't be a cheapskate. This is hard on businesses. Tip well, order booze, and if dinner is good, make a reservation to come back after RW is over.

And in the restaurant employee category, Matt gives much more than $52.80 of good advice:

As a member of the industry, I will say this first and foremost to diners and employees: Remember that restaurant week is a blessing for all of us, no matter how bad it gets!

Diners: Cut the restaurants some slack please! So you had a reservation and you got seated 15 minutes late, and your food took 45 minutes. Who cares. Revel in the experience. Go to the bar get a handcrafted cocktail. (especially if your at TAG or Colt and Grey) Enjoy the company of your friends or date. If dinner takes 3 hours, so be it. Remember restaurant week is not about being in a hurry ever! It's about eating some great food at a discounted price, (always remember your getting this food for a pittance!) enjoying yourself, and trying new things, so please do so! Above all clear your schedule for the nights you are eating out, so that you can enjoy your experience to the fullest without being in a rush. My roommate and I got some free food, and free shots and got to talk to the chef at Encore last year for a few minutes thanks to our patience and few server from last year have remembered us because of our above 20% tips. Good things truly do come to those who wait!

Employees: So this is our slow season. Our hours have been cut, we are often seen cleaning things we don't want to ever let the general public know about, (Sure boss I'll help you fix the leak in the grease trap) and our bosses are breathing down our necks about food cost and sending employees home early. We are lucky that we get these two weeks, where reservations fill up like crazy, and our kitchens come alive again. Remember, patience, patience, patience. Yes, it is going to be crazy. Yes, everything may not go right. But keep chugging along, give that plate an extra wipe, spend an extra second on that garnish. Between the throngs of foodies, and the clueless first time diners, that no doubt will annoy you to no end and give you stories to share and complain about for months to come....This week is about showcasing you, your hard work, your restaurant, and what you do best for the year to come. Many diners will book again this year based on their experience in these two weeks, so treat every dish as if it was your last, because these two weeks can make or break you for some new customer base! So go that extra mile, help the servers, runners, cooks, busboys and work together, (stop giving the font of the house/back of the house a hard time for 14 days for gods sake, you can fight again and play pranks in March) Cooks, lay off the drugs and alcohol for two weeks! I know it's tempting, I know you want to blow off some steam, but you wanna be at your best. Working during restaurant week hungover sucks! (Trust me) You will make your fellow cooks, and managers, a lot happier if you are awake, alert and 100%. Save it for your day off!

A few tips for diners this week:

1. Book now before the menus even come out!

We are already booked at Mizuna, ChoLon, Colt and Grey, and Rioja. Give it a few days and all four of those places will be full. Go on 5280's top 25 restaurants, trust me any of those will be excellent. If your having trouble refer to the participating list from last year.

2. Try something new!

Whether its that new restaurant everyone is talking about, (for us its Trillium) a place you could not normally afford, or an old favorite that you have not been to in awhile, mix it up! This year we are going to three places we have never eaten dinner at, two we can't afford normally, and one place that is our favorite in Denver.

3. Treat the employees as you would want to be treated.

Be nice, be patient, be respectful. It's amazing what a more enjoyable experience you will have if you smile and relax. Food is about enjoyment, and I assure you that everyone is doing their best to make sure your experience is enjoyable as well. A smile if the waitress bring you the wrong order, may warrant a free glass of wine, or a free dessert, but above all, it will allow you to focus on what you came for instead of on the negative. We work very hard for a living in this industry and are often, overworked, underpaid, and under appreciated. Keep that in mind. And tip $20 or more. I know that is more than 20% but it is less than what you would tip at normal menu prices. Even though you got a discounted meal the server still has to pay their rent. They get lower tips during this time, even with higher volume. Help them out a little please!

4. Do your research.

The menus are posted online tomorrow. Hopefully by now you have narrowed it down to 10 places you want to eat. Browse their menus, see what you like, and above all look for what the best dining experience will be for you. If you don't eat red meat, Ted's Montana grill may not be the best choice. If you don't like vegetables, maybe Root Down isn't for you. Read reviews on each restaurant. What has been written about them, what was good, what was bad. Then analyze the menus. Some will be better than others. Look for menus that showcase the restaurants regular menu, that don't skimp, and that offer three or four choices per course. These will usually be the real gems. Analyze the dishes as well. If the entree is chicken with yukon gold potatoes and Buerre Blanc sauce, maybe skip that one. If they are offering beef tenderloin, with brandy caramel, and bacon whip cream, you are in for a treat. Above all, know what you will be ordering before you go. You have weeks to decide, you already know the menu, there is really no excuse. It will help speed things up tremendously.

5. Be adventurous.

Eat everything as it was intended to be eaten. The chef meant for it to be that way, so stop being picky and do not try and substitute anything. If you really don't like something in the dish, pick it out, or don't order it. But also remember, most dislikes in food were due to bad experiences you have had in the past. These are top restaurants. I used to hate brussel sprouts until I had them at Root Down and Squeaky Bean. I hated them because everyone I knew overcooked them, but I was wrong. You may find that out to, so just let go and stop trying to control everything. Above all, try things you have never heard of. Bacon whiskey, Geoduck clam, foie gras, whatever it may be, this is your chance, Take it!

Enjoy restaurant week, everyone.

Matt and Jeff, send your mailing address to [email protected], and we'll send your prize.

But really, anyone who participates in Denver Restaurant Week is a winner! Happy eating.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun

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