Image: Instagram/@Lee_restaurant

With Toronto’s favourite affordable eating option, Winterlicious, underway, Vv Magazine’s Robert Gray shares his five tips for keeping your wallet and stomach happy. Bust your buttons (with a full and happy belly), not your budget. 

February is nearly upon us in Toronto and you don’t have to be on the curling rink this winter to get your rocks off. Winterlicious is back. For industry folk, it means endless reservations and unexceptional tips. It’s when penny-wise people (by nature or necessity) can enjoy the height of culinary calibre for between 35-40 bucks – a realistic tally for foodies of meagre means.

But beware. If staying on budget is your goal, you’re in treacherous territory.

Here are five rules to prevent errant expenditures. All of them I learned one fateful Friday in February when a fancy feast at Lee, Susur Lee’s famously sexy King West bistro, with friends went from frugal to frivolous, fast.

winterlicious rules

Rule Number 1: Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses
When school got out and my friends and I flocked back to the city to find careers, an interesting thing happened. Some of us began to make good money. Some did not. Some of us ended up repairing pool tables part-time and writing jokes at night on our lousy 12-year-old laptops… With that being said, I’m happy for my friends; they earn every penny (remember those?). But every so often… a hint of jealousy rears its ugly head and I feel compelled to justify my anti-establishment (ok… lazy) lifestyle. My close friend is always flying to exotic destinations like Hawaii and Barcelona. He and I go on trips together too. Last year we drove to Detroit. He summed it up well: “Rob,” he said. “I’ve got my Barcelona friends… and my Buffalo friends. You’re more of an upstate New York kind of guy.” He’s right. That is me. And I’m good with that now. But on this particular evening, my ego got the better of me and I dined as though I were in a vastly different tax bracket than I am.


winterlicious rules

Rule Number 2:  “Sparkling or still?” is a trick question
The answer is “Tap”. This is classic public shaming. It‘s right up there with being asked aloud if you’d care to donate to charity while trying to buy a plastic bottle of vodka at the LCBO. Sparkling water, for those foreign to costly cuisine, is much like regular water, except that it comes with a sparkling surcharge of eight dollars per bottle. Bubbles ain’t cheap! My spidey senses tingled at my friends’ carbonated request. It took two bottles to fill our glasses and two more were left at the table for refills. We had yet to see a menu and had dropped thirty-two dollars on water — Gulp.


winterlicious rules

Rule Number 3: You booze, you lose
Believe me when I say nobody enjoys a splash of something over ice more than I, but looking at the drink menu was as sobering as watching Leaving Las Vegas at an AA meeting while drinking a pot of black coffee. Spending 30 dollars on an old fashioned when your meal costs $40 is lunacy. My friends, the lunatics, disagreed. I opted for a thrifty twelve dollar beer and cringed as my wife ordered an 18 dollar martini. Then came the wine. “It’s cheaper if we order by the bottle,” said my friend, clearly not a math major. “Cheaper in what?“ I thought. Not in dollars. Two bottles for the table.


winterlicious rules

Rule Number 4: Stick to the script
“The salad here is unreal,” exclaimed my mate, sipping from his cocktail as I silently calculated the cost of his drink per sip. ($1.20/sip – by the way, based on an estimation of 25 sips per drink) “I don’t see it on the Winterlicious menu,” I subtly intimated, wondering what my father the Value Village veteran might say about a 20 dollar salad. “Let‘s get a few for the table.” While playing dress up, don’t forget why your economical ass is at Winterlicious in the first place. This is food’s version of Leon’s “Ho Ho Ho Hold the Payment” event. It’s like going to the Mercedez dealership with 40 bucks in your pocket. You’re there for a test drive. So when the server asks if you’d care to see the regular menu, put your blinders on. You wouldn’t get talked into leasing a new Benz would you?!


winterlicious rules

Rule Number 5: Ask for separate bills BEFOREHAND
If you start to smell the burning of a hole in your pocket, ask for separate bills immediately. You might worry about sounding petty at the time, but you‘ll thank me later. Despite my efforts to curb costs, we split the bill three ways. I was too embarrassed to suggest an order breakdown, especially since I had consumed my fair share of sparkling water. My third of the bill came to $350 after tax and tip. As the waiter pried the VISA from my bone white fingers, I realized the ass I had been. To your friends, it doesn’t matter how much money you make. What matters is how much time you make for them.

RELATED LINK: 20 Must-Try Restaurants for Winterlicious 2017 

Do you have any other Winterlicious rules for a successful night out? Let Vv Magazine know in the comment section or tweet us at @Viewthevibe