Economic Development, Food Service & Agriculture, and Travel & Tourism

Bureau whets appetite for new dining event

Experience GR is pleased with August version of Restaurant Week.

October 27, 2012
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Bureau whets appetite for new dining event
The new culinary amphitheater at Grand Rapids Community College played host to the wrap-up of this year’s Restaurant Week. Photo by Johnny Quirin

Coming on the heels of a third successful Restaurant Week, Experience Grand Rapids decided to make it official last week by announcing it has yet another dining event up its promotional sleeve.

While Experience GR Vice President of Marketing Janet Korn didn’t reveal all the details of Cool Beer, Hot Eats last week, she did say the event would bring together local restaurants and craft breweries for a first-time promotion that would run from Feb. 18 through March 2.

“The community will enjoy restaurant specials, special beer events and craft-brewery check-ins. More details about Cool Beer, Hot Eats will be available soon on RestaurantWeekGR.com,” said Korn.

Experience GR President Doug Small told the Business Journal last March his crew was putting together another event because research showed that visitors enjoy the dining opportunities the local industry offers. On top of that finding, Grand Rapids was named Beer City USA in a nationwide poll last May conducted by the National Beer Examiner, a staple in the craft-brewery business.

The idea for the new event likely emerged from the 2011 Restaurant Week event, which was the first to offer diners two meals for $25 at popular taverns and beer bars such as HopCat and Cottage Bar. The special promotion proved to be successful and was part of last August’s Restaurant Week.

Small said in July his organization was thinking about making it a stand-alone event.

“We almost did it this year,” he told the Business Journal then. “A big part of our sell, and flavor of Grand Rapids, are those bistro pubs, if you will, and we didn’t want to exclude them. So we’re looking at doing something with our dining community in the wintertime.”

Winter was targeted for Cool Beer, Hot Eats because Experience GR moved Restaurant Week from its November slot for the first two years to August this year. Sales from the most recent event are estimated at $1.2 million, down just a tad from the $1.25 million reached in 2011.

Sixty-one restaurants participated in August, while 71 took part last year and 57 took part in the inaugural event in 2010. More than 30,000 diners were estimated to have taken advantage of the three-course meals offered for $25 in August — more than in 2010 but fewer than the 40,000 last year. Restaurants reported some patrons dined out two or three times during the event.

“We didn’t quite know what Restaurant Week Grand Rapids would be like within our new summer timeframe this year, but we are pleased to report a very good result: over 18,000 Restaurant Week meals were served, nearly equaling what we were able to accomplish with Restaurant Week in 2010 and 2011,” said Small in a release last week.

“While the month of August is usually not a great month for restaurant receipts, this promotion was a large and appreciated bonus for most of the participating restaurants. Many saw large gains in their business from the previous year’s timeframe, and in some cases, 100 percent increases,” he added.

Thirty-one of the 61 restaurants that participated this year are located downtown. In November 2011, 37 took part, and sales revenue to those businesses was estimated as ranging from $500,000 to $700,000. A figure for 2012 wasn’t released, but Downtown Development Authority Chairman Brian Harris said the district experienced an upswing in activity throughout the event’s 11-day run.

“We’re especially pleased with the downtown restaurant participation levels. It is the DDA’s interest to seed new and emerging programs that help elevate the downtown Grand Rapids business economy and positively promote Grand Rapids as a thriving cultural center in Michigan,” said Harris.

The DDA co-underwrites the event with Experience GR.

“Restaurant Week has clearly demonstrated itself to be one of the best bets we’ve made in terms of vibrancy, economic activity, and the added bonus of stewardship in the form of meaningful scholarships,” he said.

Each participating restaurant donates $1 to the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education Student Scholarship Fund at Grand Rapids Community College for every Restaurant Week Meal sold. This year, $18,014 was added to the scholarship fund from the event. Last year, $20,393 was raised, and in 2010, $19,128 went to the effort. Together, the three Restaurant Weeks have provided the scholarship fund with $57,535.

“This helps us all to increase Grand Rapids’ reputation as a wonderful culinary city,” said Small. “The DDA and all of the sponsors can be proud that their support flows back into helping the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education.”

In addition to Experience GR and the DDA, the event’s underwriters, Restaurant Week 2012 had 21 sponsors that donated nearly $200,000 in cash and trade to the effort.

Restaurant Week 2013 is set for August 14-24. 

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