Recession specials

Whether it's because of poor weather, the Blackcomb gondola incident earlier this season, avalanches, or the global economic crisis, it's no real secret that visitor numbers have dropped this year in Whistler, and fewer visitors directly translates to less business - fewer people skiing, shopping, and yes, even eating out.

Rather than cry in their beer about economic hardships, a few local restaurants have seemingly adopted VANOC's mantra of putting bums in seats, bringing back their off-season specials during Whistler's peak season to entice tourists and locals in to spend their money and fill their bellies. So far, Quattro has brought back their pasta and small plates specials, the Brewhouse has reinstituted their burger and beer special, the Four Seasons has launched the weekly Wine Down event again, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler is hosting Fairmont Fridays again, the Bearfoot Bistro's Champagne Lounge is offering "casual" dishes and daily oyster specials, and the Mountain Club has introduced a new three-course tasting menu. And those are just a few of the advertisements that have caught my eye in recent weeks. I'm sure there are plenty of other places that are taking the same tack.

Marty Taylor is the general manager of the Brewhouse, just one of the Mark James' Group of brewery restaurants that operate throughout the province. The Brewhouse was actually the first to take the plunge this season, taking a proactive approach to dealing with what they knew was going to be a tough season by bringing back their burger and a beer special three weeks ago. From 11 a.m. til 3 p.m., Monday to Friday, you can grab a brew and a beer for just $10.

"I've seen in the last three weeks that everyone has jumped on board," he noted. "They were waiting for the first guy to go, and I said, 'You know what? I'm doing it, I'm in, I don't care.'"

I managed to catch up with Taylor at 1 p.m. on Monday afternoon, when the pub was just starting to fill with the apr├Ęs ski crowd, and apparently, the special has been "working like a charm," with over 400 specials sold in the past two weeks.

"It's bringing locals in, bringing people off the hill having a good time," Taylor said. "It's a great value!"

The tanking economy was the primary factor in Taylor's decision to bring the special back, as their way of trying to weather what they expect will be a "long and nasty storm," but it's going to remain a fixture on their menu indefinitely.

"With the way things are right now, we have to think about filling the room up every day," he said.

The Brewhouse's January numbers were down about eight per cent from last year, and after a recent analysis of their sales, they noticed that higher-ticket items aren't selling.

"There's a lot more sharing pizzas, a lot more sharing appetizers," Taylor said. "In both of those categories sales are up considerably."

Though people are definitely being more frugal, it seems that during times of economic hardship, people are still prepared to spend their hard-earned dollars on a bit of alcohol to ease the pain.

"Our beer sales are fairly constant, though I've seen a bit of a decline, not much. Sometimes they do like to drink their way through a recession," he said with a laugh.

Now, they're also looking at revamping the menu with this new information in mind, and are streamlining other aspects of the business.

It's an industry-wide slump, and the Brewhouse certainly isn't the only local business to decide to offer a discount in hopes that they will draw pennywise customers through the door. Quattro is again offering $10 pasta on Thursdays, and $5 small plates before 6:30 p.m., the Mountain Club has launched a new $45, three-course tasting Sunday to Thursday, and a few of the bigger hotel restaurants are relaunching their special weekly evenings, like Fairmont Fridays and Wine Down at Four Seasons.

The good news in all of this is that locals can expect to cash in on some excellent deals.

Extra helpings

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and if your budget isn't going to allow for an evening out at some of our fine dining hotspots, think about making a trip to Boston Pizza.

A sports bar may not seem like the most romantic place to spend an evening with your special someone, but the chain restaurant is serving up piping hot heart-shaped pizza pies for a good cause on Feb. 14. Eat-in, take away or have in delivered - one dollar from each of the pizzas sold on Valentine's Day does towards the Boston Pizza Foundation in support of its charities, which include the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, Kids Help Phone and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

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