It certainly looks like a good move

March 3, 2012
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Most downtown restaurant owners seem to be ecstatic that Experience Grand Rapids has shifted its popular Restaurant Week to August.

In fact, the Arena District — a coalition of 18 downtown restaurants, taverns and coffee shops — asked the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau more than a year ago to add a second event that would take place in the summer, when business typically slows.

“We’re actually elated,” said Dennis Moosebrugger, co-owner of Bar Divani at 15 Ionia Ave. SW and Arena District president. “We weren’t really happy with November in the first place. I think it was only set up that way because (Experience GR President) Doug (Small) came from Denver, and it worked in Denver in November.

“But we are slow in the summer, and anything that moves summer sales is phenomenal. So we’re elated that it’s in August and we’re looking forward to providing those services. November just gets crazy with holidays coming up and all kinds of things going on. So we are happy,” he said.

Gregory Gilmore, president of the Gilmore Collection that includes The BOB at 20 Monroe NW, felt the same. “We are excited to have Restaurant Week back and the date is fine with us. We are just happy to have the promotion in any month,” he said.

Together the Arena District and the Gilmore Collection have accounted for more than 30 restaurants that have participated in the previous promotions.

The first two events took place in November and served as a lead-in, of sorts, for the International Wine, Beer and Food Festival that the Convention and Arena Authority and Showspan Inc. annually present at DeVos Place.

That festival actually played a role in why Restaurant Week was moved to August.

Small explained that his sales staff landed a large U.S. Department of Defense convention at the last minute, and the November dates it required fell on the same days the festival was scheduled. “We relinquished our early November Restaurant Week dates so the festival could move and make room for the convention,” said Small.

“In a nutshell, we’re doing what we do best: book conventions. We looked at a variety of other 10-day timeframes to hold RWGR, but believe it or not, there is so much activity in GR — between longstanding festivals, ArtPrize, LaughFest and others that we did not want to interfere with — that we had only a couple of choices. This made the August dates our best scenario,” said Small, adding that hotels in the county had $114.4 million in room revenue last year, a gain of 10 percent from 2010 receipts.

Restaurant Week will run Aug. 15-25, and one key reason Experience GR picked those 11 days for the event is that a large convention will be in town during that period. Small said the American Quilters Society will bring 10,000 people to downtown this August, and the group hasn’t put together any banquets. So the hope is that the quilters, who are booked to come here for three consecutive years and are expected to spend $15 million during each visit, will become avid diners.

“We plan to keep RWGR in this time period for that reason and also because the local produce is in such abundance during late summer,” said Small, a move that supports the bureau’s farm-to-table branding effort. “It will be a great time for us.”

The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority co-sponsors Restaurant Week with Experience GR, and last November, 37 of the 71 eateries that took part in the event were in downtown. Sally Littlefair Zarafonetis, who organizes Restaurant Week for the bureau, said the number that participated in 2011 topped the 57 restaurants that offered three-course meals in 2010’s inaugural event.

Zarafonetis also said 25,860 diners ordered from the Restaurant Week menu last November, up from 19,128 during the previous event, and the total number of diners reached 40,000 in 2011, up from 30,000 in 2010. Sales were estimated at $1.25 million during last fall’s promotion. The event raised $20,393 for the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education at Grand Rapids Community College. Restaurant owners donate $1 from every meal sold during the promotion to the institute.

“We love that we are able to help a worthy Grand Rapids institution that focuses on food with Restaurant Week funding. The Secchia Institute for Culinary Education is one of the top 20 most acclaimed culinary schools in the country, and the students who attend the school receive a wonderful education, with many of them deciding to stay in the community to work in the restaurant industry. This helps us all in growing Grand Rapids’ reputation as a wonderful culinary city,” said Small.

The 2012 event will, again, feature three-course meals for $25. But at this point, it doesn’t look like the two meals for $25 promotion that was part of last year’s event will be offered. The “two-for” was added so taverns that serve food could compete with the area’s restaurants on a more level playing field.

However, Small did hint last week that a second Restaurant Week may be held during the winter of 2013 that would be “unique and different” and would give diners another reason to try new eateries.

“I am also working on another concept similar to RWGR that, if successful, will launch in 2013,” he said. “Stay tuned for that announcement at a later date.”

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