Beyond Fine Dining, Miami Spice 2016 Adds More Variety and Value

Miami Spice, the two-month promotion that runs from August 1 through September 30 and offers value-priced meals at Miami-area restaurants, is celebrating its 15th anniversary. With that landmark number come some major changes in the program that offers diners a three-course lunch for $23 and dinner for $39. 

This year, the program, sponsored by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), is hosting a record number of restaurants — more than 240 — including many eateries that previously didn't reach the GMCVB's monetary threshold for inclusion. 

According to Rolando Aedo, senior vice president of marketing and tourism at the GMCVB, the increase in the number of restaurants reflected the overall evolution of dining. Historically, Spice participants were mainly the white-linen eateries found in Brickell and South Beach. "Some of the best dining experiences may not be in those traditional restaurants," Aedo says. "Whether it's family-style or tapas, there are now a lot of different ways people walk away and say they had a fine-dining experience.

This year, Aedo says the program is more flexible, with restaurants offering a glass of wine or an additional dish to keep the value ratio. "That is a significant shift that would allow more great restaurants to join the program."

Indeed, establishments such as 27 Restaurant & Bar are embracing the concept by offering extras like a complimentary cocktail of the day to add value to the meal. The key, Aedo says, is keeping the Spice meal at roughly a 40 percent discount off the regular price. While the GMCVB, in the past, would literally calculate a restaurant's dinner menu check average for a three-course meal, now the program is more flexible. "Keeping that value proposition in mind always, we did say yes to restaurants that had been knocking on our door for a long time. We're still saying, however, that you've got to deliver at a minimum that value proposition of 40 percent off."

Aedo says that, in the end, savvy Miami diners also help restaurants up their Spice game by sharing their feelings on what they ate. "Right now, with all these social media platforms like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Facebook, the program has become a movement, quite frankly, and the community is passionate. They'll be the first ones to compliment a great Miami Spice experience, so the program is self-regulating. You can have the greatest restaurant not do a good Miami Spice menu. But if a small restaurant is bringing its A-game and adding courses, they'll do very well, and that's why we're comfortable."

The program is also expanding from its original Miami Beach and Brickell locations into up-and-coming and trendy areas such as Doral and Wynwood. Aedo says that allows people to reach beyond the typical tourist areas. "The core is to spread the wealth of tourism and encourage visitors to explore more of Miami. By doing that, hopefully, they will spend an extra night or two here. That is what we talk about when we do programs like this."

There's one more benefit that can't be overlooked, and that's the impact the Spice expansion can mean to mom-and-pop restaurants in the Miami area. The slower summer season can make or break an eatery on a shoestring budget, and the extra business that Spice can bring in might be the difference between riding out August and September and permanent closure. Aedo agrees: "We've been able to inject more business into restaurants during the summer."

So where does the GMCVB executive plan to Spice this year? "I love going to Palme d'Or at the Biltmore, and Zuma is just a few blocks from where our office is. Beaker & Gray is another great spot that I look forward to, and Tuyo. What really fascinates me about Tuyo is the view and how I can look at Miami from a different perspective."

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