One of the most frequent questions I get this time of the year is: Where should I go for Magical Dining Month, Scott?
In case you’re new to town, Magical Dining Month, which is actually a little over a month long, is Visit Orlando’s annual promotion and fundraiser wherein participating restaurants offer a three-course table d’hote menu. In most cases, you get an appetizer or salad, an entree and a dessert, usually with two or three choices in each category, for the set price of $33.
There are 65 participating restaurants, and even with the expanded days from August 29 through October 2 this year, it would be virtually impossible to try the all. Thus that frequent question of the best places to go during the month.
The obvious answer is: Go the the participating restaurants you’ve been wanting to try but for some reason haven’t gone to yet.
I always consider first the new restaurants in town. For example, this year there are newcomers Amatista Cookhouse at Sapphire Falls, Urbain 40, STK, and Morimoto Asia to name a few.
But I also don’t just go by the newness. I look for good bargains, and that usually requires a bit of research.
Do Your Homework
If you go to the official website for Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month, you’ll find links to all of the participating restaurants with details of what they’re offering on their $33 menus. With that information, you next want to head over to the individual restaurants’ own websites and compare the “rack rate,” a la carte prices. (Visit Orlando is nice enough to provide the links to the restaurants’ websites at MagDinMo.)
Let’s take a look at Venetian Chop House, the upscale restaurant at Caribe Royale. Let’s say you chose the shrimp cocktail appetizer ($14) and the ribeye entree ($38). You don’t even need to calculate the dessert price to know you’re getting value for your 33 bucks. And if you haven’t been to this restaurant since it rebranded to the steakhouse concept, it’s a no brainer. Note, however, that Venetian Chop House is on its summer hiatus and will not reopen until Sept. 6.
So that gives you plenty of time to try some other places.
Some Deals are Better Than Others
But let’s take a look at another participating restaurant. The Melting Pot has MagDinMo first course choices from among three cheese fondues, all under $10. But I couldn’t find any of the entrees listed on the Magical Dining menu on the Melting Pot’s regular menu. So that suggests to me that perhaps some special entrees were created to keep things in line with the Magical Dining price. (And don’t get me started on the restaurants that don’t publish prices on their online menus.)
“But wait, Scott,” I hear you saying, “How do you know that some of the other restaurants are just serving smaller portions?”
It has been my observation from past years that that is not the case. And the restaurants would be unwise to do so. One of the biggest reasons for restaurants to participate in Magical Dining Month is to attract new diners. It’s an opportunity to show a new clientele what they can do. It doesn’t behoove them to do a lesser job; they want to impress the new customers and turn them into regular diners.
And even if a restaurant were to offer a smaller portion of food, it might still be worth your attention. Using Venetian for an example again, you’re just not able to visit such an elegant restaurant for this amount of money.
Now, a couple of caveats. Because the Magical Dining Month menu is usually such a great savings, not all restaurants will offer the menu when you’re seated. You may (probably will) have to ask for it. Don’t just choose the items you remember from doing your research off of the regular menu and expect the bill to be $33. It doesn’t work that way. Oh, and just so you know, one dollar from every MagDinMo dinner sold goes to a charity. This year’s beneficiary is the Russel Home for Atypical Children.
Also, your bill isn’t going to be $33. Drinks, tax and any other add ons will be extra. And don’t forget to leave a good tip — the servers are getting discounted in a way, too.
So then, back to your original question: Where should I go for Magical Dining Month, Scott?
Here are some restaurants that I’ve found to be worthy ones to visit during MagDinMo:
Tapa Toro Tapas Bar & Paella Pit
The Oceanaire Seafood Room
Venetian Chop House