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Promotions increasingly key to attracting Vancouver diners

Happy hours grow in popularity as people grapple with inflation
A menu board outside the Banana Leaf restaurant on Davie Street advertises its daily specials.

Restaurant owners are finding that while Vancouverites are eating out about as much as they did pre-pandemic, they are much more attuned to promotions and discounts than they were in 2019.

Happy hours, which often start at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. and run until around 6 p.m., are more popular than they were pre-pandemic, several restaurant owners have told BIV.

Restaurant owners are also noticing that customers are more readily asking for what the daily specials are, and that they make a point of returning on specific nights when there are regular weekly promotions.

The happy hour trend may be because people are less tied to in-office work hours. It may also stem from a desire to beat inflation, which in B.C. hit a peak of 8.1 per cent in May 2022 and has since subsided to be 3.5 per cent in June.

“Happy hours are definitely a segment of the business that is lot busier than it was before,” Joseph Richard Group CEO Ryan Moreno told BIV today this afternoon.

“We've definitely noticed that as things get more expensive, people are even more conscious of that.”

Moreno’s company owns dozens of pubs and restaurants that are mostly in suburbs. He has seen his customers' appetite for promotions cut into his business' profitability, he said.

"Normally [the profit margin] is 10 per cent," he said. "In this economy, maybe it's like five or six per cent." 

The Joseph Richard Group recently filed for creditor protection but Moreno said that he is confident that the company will be able to emerge with an arrangement with creditors, similar to what the pub owner Donnelly Group was able to achieve with its creditors. That agreement saved approximately 1,000 jobs.

Moreno said he has also noticed an uptick in people wanting to attend pairing events where a sommelier or a beer master will be on site to explain decisions on which meals to pair with certain drinks.

One trend seen in the downtowns of large American cities, such as New York, is that Thursday evenings are busier than Friday evenings because commuters often work from home on Fridays. Moreno said that he has not seen that trend at his establishments. 

Glowbal Group owner Emad Yacoub told BIV that he has noticed that Thursday nights are busier than Friday nights at his new downtown Toronto Black+Blue location. He attributes that to people in that city going downtown on Fridays.

His flagship Glowbal restaurant at 590 West Georgia Street in Vancouver, however, remains busiest on Fridays and Saturday nights, he said. 

It is unclear if that is because more Vancouverites are more frequently in the office on Fridays. There have been signs that Vancouverites are going back to the office more frequently than locals in other cities.

Vancouver’s rapid-transit system, for example, recently ranked No. 1 among North American cities for recovering to pre-pandemic levels.

Yacoub agreed with Moreno that his customers are increasingly seeking promotions. His Vancouver Black+ Blue restaurant’s Sunday special of a three-course prime-rib dinner for $59 is popular, he said. So is its $17 burger, beer and fries lunch special on Fridays, he said.

The keenness for specials is particularly true for locals, he said.

“It’s different for tourists, who are spending $800 per night at the Fairmont Pacific Rim,” he said. “The last thing they’re going to say is ‘What is the deal?’”

Yacoub and Moreno say their businesses are doing well after enduring challenges during the pandemic. 

So is Inez Cook’s Salmon and Bannock restaurant at 1128 West Broadway.

“We’re full ­– full, full, full,” Cook BIV this afternoon.

Reservations for that 40-seat restaurant are required and the venue can be booked for weeks at a time, although cancellations happen and some people can be squeezed in on short notice, she said.

Cook last year opened a more casual Salmon n’ Bannock On The Fly location at Vancouver International Airport, which has so far also been a success.

No future Salmon n’ Bannock restaurants are planned, however.

“I'm pretty busy right now,” she said. “There’s no time.”

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