CVB set to eat-up November

April 26, 2010
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The three-course meals that participating restaurants will specially prepare for the inaugural Grand Rapids Restaurant Week will cost diners $20.10 this November, and next November, and the November after the next November.

As a matter of fact, the meal charge will still be $20.10 when Restaurant Week turns 10 years old in 2019 because the price was chosen to commemorate the very first year of what restaurant owners and the Convention and Visitors Bureau hopes becomes a popular and well-publicized annual event.

“What the restaurateurs said is, it’s nice to have that (price) tie-in,” said Doug Small, president of the CVB, the group driving the event.

“That (price) actually was suggested by a restaurateur. When that came up I said it was OK as long as they are committed. I don’t want to change it every year because there could be confusion in the marketplace. Plus you can use it as a marketing ploy, sort of speak. If nothing else, we’re hoping this will go on for years and we will know when the inaugural year was,” he added.

The 10-day event will run from Nov. 4-13 and each restaurant that participates will be required to offer at least a three-course meal, but can exceed three courses. The number of courses isn’t important to the bureau as is the number of restaurants that participate. So the guideline isn’t so restrictive that it would eliminate the casual restaurants that normally don’t charge that much for a meal.

“Let’s look at HopCat. Some people say they don’t have a $20.10 item. But what it can do is have a really nice beer-tasting dinner where every entrée has a beer. Some did four courses in Denver. It’s up to them. The three-course is just a minimum,” said Small.

“We’re encouraging this almost to the point where it becomes a competition, if you will. We’re not going to say it’s a competition. But we want the restaurateurs to approach it with their chefs that way; be creative and offer something that’s very unique to what their standard menu is. We made it clear that they’re not going to make their profit all in one week. This is more about driving new visits and building destination appeal. I saw that happen in Denver,” said Small, who came to the bureau from the Mile High City, where that first event charged $52.80 for a meal to celebrate that it is 5,280 feet above sea level.

Small said each restaurant wanting to participate will have to submit a menu prior to the event. Each will be reviewed by a committee that is likely to be comprised of culinary experts from the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at Grand Rapids Community College, which will receive $1 of every meal sold for a new scholarship program. The committee can accept or refuse a menu. One menu that won’t make the cut is a cheeseburger, fries and two beers. Certain two-for-one deals may also be rejected.

The idea behind having the committee make the decision of who gets in and who doesn’t is to make sure that participation isn’t only limited to the city’s fine-dining establishments. Small wants the event to include places that offer good food but aren’t thought of as being fine dining.

“I don’t want this to become so arrogant and pompous that becomes what everyone thinks Restaurant Week is about. I think it’s more about a celebration of all restaurants, especially those independently owned restaurants and HopCat is a great example. It’s gotten some great attention,” he said.

Small said the next steps involve getting the restaurants on board, building the event’s Web site that will list the menus and allow diners to make reservations, and find sponsors for it. Sally Littlefair Zarafonetis has been hired to coordinate many of those tasks for the bureau.

Marketing for the event is expected to get underway after Labor Day and piggyback on the city’s second annual ArtPrize competition, which begins on Sept. 22. Small said one idea being considered is to have the participating restaurants hand out a small brochure about Restaurant Week with every food tab given to every customer in September and October.

At first blush, the thought was to schedule Restaurant Week so it would end on the same weekend that the Convention and Arena Authority and Showspan Inc. hold the Grand Rapids Wine & Food Festival at DeVos Place. This year the festival’s dates are Nov. 18-20. Restaurant Week will close five days before the festival starts so that idea has been pushed aside.

“More and more of (the restaurants) are starting to engage in the Wine & Food Festival and they just felt that it would put too much pressure on their kitchens to have that going on and have Restaurant Week going on. We sat down with (Showspan Vice President) Henri Boucher and some Wine & Food Festival people and we’re going to do some dual collaborative efforts to publicize both events.”

Small said his bureau could have something special to sell to tourists and meeting planners by having both events go back-to-back in the same month. “The only reason that the CVB is putting what I would call a lot of traditional funding in above and beyond the DDA’s [$25,000] is for that destination-appeal piece,” he said.

“If I can celebrate November as wine-and-food month, there’s the chance of getting some good press out of it to start to show this community as a true city that has a great dining experience — then that’s where we win.”

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