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Dine Out Vancouver’s business bump helps wary restaurant owners

Festival comes as hospitality sector weathers warnings of business slowdown, credit risks
Many Keg Steakhouse + Bar locations participated in Dine Out Vancouver

The recent Dine Out Vancouver promotion helped pack hundreds of restaurants at a time when owners are facing ominous forecasts for their sector's future.

A DBRS Morningstar report last week projected a tough time for restaurants stemming from a "challenging macroeconomic backdrop and decreasing customer purchasing power."

The credit-rating agency said full-service restaurants in particular face the risk of downgraded credit ratings.

Risks, it added, include "rising rents as lease agreements come up for renewal, growing energy costs (particularly in Europe), rising input prices, and a tight labour market."

Many Vancouver restaurant owners, however, were too busy with their Dine Out promotions to fully digest the credit agency's dismal outlook.

Destination Vancouver’s 17-day Dine Out festival ended Feb. 5 and involved 365 eateries offering multiple-course meals for a set price. More than 50 of those restaurants saw such value in the festival that owners have extended their Dine-Out promotions past the festival's official end date.

“We had some phenomenal success this year,” Destination Vancouver CEO Royce Chwin told BIV.

He noted a record number of participating restaurants as well as 18 special events, such as one where Michelin-star chefs from outside B.C. visited Vancouver restaurants to make dinner. Among other events were culinary tours, such as A Wok Around Chinatown, and an event where participants learned how to forage for seaweed, fish, crab and other sea life.

Chwin said many restaurant owners told him their interest in Dine Out promotions was high. 

“Restaurants were thankful that we continue to invest in this program, which we'll continue to do in the future,” he said. 

The Keg Steakhouse + Bar's chairman David Aisenstat told BIV that Dine Out is so successful that it makes for a "three-week blip" of extraordinary restaurant business in the city.

"Vancouver is distorted during the Dine-Out period," he said. "That's everywhere, and at every level, whether it's expensive places like Joe Fortes [Seafood & Chop House) and Hy's [Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar] or whether it's White Spot.”

He said that outside of the Dine Out festival’s time period, restaurants he is involved with have been doing well. 

That includes the Keg restaurant chain where he remains as chairman even though he sold his ownership interest in different tranches in the past decade, he said.

Fairfax Financial fully owns the Keg restaurant chain thanks to it buying Recipe Unlimited Corp. in a deal that closed in October.

"These days you're inundated with cautious news," Aisenstat said. 

"There's inflation, interest rates – all that stuff. If you're looking for something to be nervous about, in the restaurant business it's pretty easy to find it, but so far nothing [bad] has materialized, really. Fall was great. January is better than we would have expected."

Aisenstat said things are also going very well at other restaurants, where he has ownership stakes. 

Those ventures include Fleetwood's on Front Street in Maui, Hawaii, which also counts Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood as an owner. 

Aisenstat is also a principal at Joe Fortes in Vancouver, The Shore Club in Toronto and other eateries.

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