In a rough economy, New Year's Eve is not a prudent evening to forgo business for most restaurateurs. Consequently, ringing in this new decade can be accomplished from a chair or bar stool in just about every restaurant in town. There are a few things to bear in mind when choosing.
First, make reservations in advance — a week to be safe, more if it looks like a monster bash or it's a tiny venue. Many restaurants opt for a two-seating approach with a prix-fixe or limited menu (the vegetarian or picky eater should confirm that there are appropriate options), often with a somewhat less expensive dinner at 6:30 or 7 p.m. and a second, more expensive seating at 8:30 or 9 p.m. The latter's price usually includes a champagne toast and party favors (noise blowers, etc.), but wine or other beverages are seldom included in the price, nor is tip. The advantage of the second seating is that you won't be hustled out of your table to make way for new customers.
This year, many of the big-party venues (major hotels as well as nightlife destinations like the Venue in St. Petersburg and Shephard's on Clearwater Beach) are offering a special dinner-plus-party price. Ranging from $25 to $125 per person, this still may be more economical than going out to dinner and then driving to a second destination for dancing and carousing into 2010.
Laura Reiley, Times food critic