Economic downturn takes bite out of high-end Calgary restaurants

Sales are down in restaurants and bars across Alberta according to the latest report from Statistics Canada, but at least one high-end restaurant owner says it's not time to hit the panic button, yet.

Some establishments deliver deals for dedicated diners

The owner of Rouge restaurant, Olivier Reynaud, says a drop in corporate bookings means he'll be marketing more to tourists in 2016. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

High-end restaurants in Calgary are feeling the pinch of a strained economy.

It's been a quieter December compared to last year at Rouge, a fine-dining restaurant in Inglewood, according to owner Olivier Reynaud. He says with corporate bookings down and companies paring back on their tabs, he's been looking for ways to boost business in 2016.

"We might have to market ourselves a little bit differently for next year. What I mean by that is, we know corporations' budgets might be down, but tourism is going to be hopefully up due to lower travelling fees as well as our low dollar. So hopefully we will get through this as well."

Drop in sales is 'significant'

Other high-end restaurants in Calgary, like Teatro Ristorante, are seeing a similar drop-off in corporate spending, as well as more conservative dinner reservations and private bookings over the holidays.

"We would see our private rooms as well as our main dining room, say in the months of November and December, booked out nearly every evening, and we've seen a good cut in that happening this year," said Karen Kho, service director for Teatro.

Instead of companies booking the entire restaurant, Kho says each department may be booking a 25-person event on a smaller-scale budget.

"Bookings are down about a quarter, which is significant for us," said Kho.

Nathan Jokela shows off his restaurant's promotion "Time to Wine About Oil" meant to help draw in customers during the downturn. (Colleen Underwood/CBC )

'Downturn-related deals' pop up

Some restaurants say this downturn is forcing them to come up with creative marketing ideas to entice more customers through their doors.

Barcelona Tavern, a downtown Spanish-style eatery, started a promotion last January called "Time to Wine about Oil," which offers cheaper wine at certain times until a barrel of oil reaches $70 US.

"Right now it's at around $40, we're a little off the mark, but we're going to hold true to it because that's a promise we made to our guests," said Nathan Jokela, the assistant general manager.

The Teatro group of restaurants, which includes Teatro and six other eateries around Calgary, started offering regular happy hours this year as a way to bring in the after-work crowd.

"That's one area that we've opened up, something we didn't necessarily do very strong in the past, and now all of our properties do it all across the board," said Kho.

As for what to expect in 2016, Kho says it would be easy for the company to be negative and focus on the money it's losing, but instead it's trying to keep upbeat.

"There's still people walking in through the door and that's something we are thankful for."


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