DDA picks up the tab

March 14, 2010
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Although members of the Downtown Development Authority didn’t leave a 20-percent gratuity on the table, they did agree last week to fund 31 percent of the budget for the city’s first Restaurant Week.

The DDA’s $25,000 financial commitment to the inaugural event’s $79,500 spending plan means the Convention and Visitors Bureau can begin putting Restaurant Week together. The event is tentatively set to take place over nine days in November and coincide with the annual Wine and Food Festival that the Convention and Arena Authority and Showspan Inc. hold for three days in DeVos Place.

In addition to the DDA dollars, the CVB will invest $17,500 into the event. The bureau also hopes to raise $25,000 from 13 sponsors, with sponsorships ranging from $500 for a “special” sponsor to $10,000 for the event’s presenting sponsor. Another $10,000 in revenue is expected to come from participating restaurants; the CVB hopes to have at least 60 taking part. Finally, an opening event has been pegged to contribute $2,000 that would come from 100 attendees at $20 a ticket.

The budget’s largest expenditures are $50,000 to promote the event and $15,500 for a project manager to put it together.

Restaurants involved in the event would offer a multiple-course meal at an agreed-upon price to keep the playing field level. CVB Vice President Janet Korn told the DDA that the bureau has received a lot of inquiries over the past month about the event from many sectors of the community.

The bureau’s idea behind Restaurant Week is to promote the dining industry to local residents, and also elevate Grand Rapids’ reputation to the rest of the nation as a city with thriving restaurants. Achieving those goals could increase revenue to restaurant owners and give out-of-town meeting planners and tourists another reason to come to the city.

One goal for Restaurant Week that isn’t in the bureau’s business plan is for the city’s restaurant owners to come together and form some sort of an association that could speak for the industry as a whole. As far as the CVB is concerned, that association could be a formal one complete with membership fees, a board of directors and regular meetings. Or it could be a less formal group, like the one the restaurants near Van Andel Arena have formed. Either could help the CVB promote the industry and this event.

“We’re hoping (an association) might be a byproduct of this. Will we ever fully pull out of it? We’re not sure. But it would make our job easier today if that existed,” said CVB President Doug Small. “I don’t think people are aware of how good we have it here restaurant-wise because nobody is telling the story, and generally restaurant associations tend to do that.”

Small also said he recently learned that a new culinary tourism council has been formed in the state, and he plans to speak with that group to see how the bureau can involve it in the event.

“Their mission is to keep it local with a farm-to-table kind of concept, but also encourage that more attention be paid to the culinary aspect here. So I would hope (a local association) would happen. Would we encourage it? Certainly,” said Small.

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