Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining will run from Aug. 27 through Oct. 3 this year with participating restaurants offering special three-course menus for $37.
This is the sixteenth year for the promotion, which began as an attempt to help boost business during what is historically a slow time for area restaurants. (Originally called Magical Dining Month, it ran only during September.) It quickly became one of Central Florida’s most anticipated culinary events.
As in years past, one dollar from each dinner sold will be donated to local charities. This year Visit Orlando has selected Pathlight Home, which provides affordable housing to low-income and homeless individuals in Central Florida; and iDignity, an organization that assists disadvantaged Central Floridians in obtaining valid identification. Last year, a record-setting $345,378 was raised even though fewer restaurants participated.
This year, 72 restaurants are currently listed as participants with a dozen more “in the wings” that have not yet provided their menus. Traditionally, restaurants offer select items from their full menus with diners choosing a starter, entree and dessert. The restaurants, who pay a marketing fee to Visit Orlando to participate, use Magical Dining as a way to attract new customers by highlighting their signature dishes.
And consumers are often able to sample restaurants they might otherwise find out of their price limit. A quick look at one of this year’s new participants, Aurora at the Celeste, shows diners can get three courses for $37 that would price out at $48 if selected from the regular menu. (The promotional prices do not include tax, gratuity or beverages.) I’ll have more recommendations before the August launch.
Of course, it takes some research to determine if you’re getting a good deal or just breaking even. But Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining website has handy links to the restaurants’ websites so you can cross-check the regular menu. (By the way, the MagDin website has been redone and it looks great and seems much more user friendly.)
Research can be hampered if the restaurant doesn’t list prices on its online menu or if the restaurant is offering dishes on the special menu that are not on the regular menu, a practice that has perplexed me in the past.
But this year, restaurants are encouraged to offer a Chef’s Creation item to give “chefs even more creative freedom and guests additional options to choose from,” according to a press release.
Also new this year is the addition of Visit Orlando’s Magical Nights, with select hotels offering discounted stays. So, for example, you could get a package at Rosen Plaza Hotel that includes a one-night stay, the Magical Dining menu at Jack’s Place, and a breakfast buffet in the morning.
Last year, several restaurants offered the three-course menu as a takeout option for those wary of onsite dining. A takeout filter on the MagDin website shows it is still an option, but only seven restaurants are currently offering it.
Besides Aurora, other new participants this year include the estimable Russell’s on Lake Ivanhoe, 310 Lakeside, 310 Park South, Adega Gaucha (a Brazilian steakhouse near Florida Mall) and RusTeak in its new Thornton Park home.
Other flog favorites on the list include Big Fin Seafood Kitchen, the Tap Room at Dubsdread, Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar, and Delaney’s Tavern.
For the full list of restaurants so far (others are promised to be added), visit magicaldining.com.