Restaurateurs tend to view Miami Spice, the two-month program that offers three-course prix-fixe dinners at hundreds of Miami-area restaurants during August and September, as a lifeline that gets them through the summer doldrums.
But what happens when a pandemic hits, grinding tourism to a halt and closing dining rooms for months on end?
Rolando Aedo, chief operating officer of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), has confirmed that Miami Spice will launch two months before its usual date as part of a larger initiative called Miami Shines that aims to entice locals and visitors alike to dine and stay in Miami and Miami Beach.
On June 1, Miami Spice will offer three-course lunch/brunch ($25) and dinner ($39) at participating restaurants. The program will run through the end of September.
To date, 78 restaurants have signed up, but Aedo expects the number to grow. Last year, more than 250 restaurants participated. This year the GMCVB has waived its fees and will also allow nonmember restaurants to join in.
Bazaar by José Andrés and Katsuya, both located at the SLS South Beach, have confirmed participation in the program. The full list of restaurants will be released on June 1.
Aedo says Miami Shines is a recovery campaign designed to drive as much business as possible to Miami restaurants, hotels, and attractions in a short period of time. Once spas are allowed to reopen, they will join the campaign.
"We desperately need to save jobs and get the faucet turned on as soon as possible," Aedo says.
The immediate goal is to focus on Florida residents in the tri-county region. "They're the easiest to start booking weekend getaways," says Aedo. Then the program will focus on families who'd be interested in driving to Miami. Finally, rail and air travelers will be lured.
There are special considerations, of course. "There's a governor's order that people coming from the tri-state area [New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut] must self-quarantine for 14 days," Aedo says. "For these reasons, we're going to start regionally."
Aedo points out that Miami Spice was conceived after a prior national tragedy, and that the mission it accomplished two decades ago proves that it's up to the task.
"I'd like to gently remind people that Miami Spice was born out of 9/11. [Restaurateur] Steven Haas helped conceive this program after New York City implemented its Restaurant Week. We're now faced with another crisis, so yes, our plan is to unleash Miami Spice."
Aedo has no intention of sacrificing quality and value. In order for a restaurant to participate, it must submit menus, which the GMCVB team checks for value. Typically, a menu must offer a 30 to 40 percent discount from regular prices while offering a diverse selection of dishes.
Says Aedo: "Consumers have become quite savvy, so we tell the restaurants to add additional elements and be creative."
Hotels will participate by offering discounts on overnight stays and dining packages, along with other discounts.
Aedo says he believes in the resilience of the people behind Miami's hospitality industry.
"There are still so many unknowns, but there's an energy in the reopening effort that's palpable," he says. "Miami is a hodgepodge of entrepreneurs and small business owners. Hospitality is in our DNA."
The miamishines.com site is currently under construction. For now, visit gmcvb.com/miamishines for more information.
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