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Rolando Aedo Talks Miami Spice: "The More People Celebrating Food in Miami, the Better"

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Miami Spice, the two-month promotion that offers value-priced meals at 174 Miami-area restaurants, is in full swing.

Sponsored by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, the promotion continues throughout August and September and offers diners a three-course lunch for $23 and dinner for $39 at both independent restaurants and upscale dining establishments.

But how do restaurants participate in Spice, and what's the ultimate goal of the program? We spoke with Rolando Aedo, senior vice president of marketing and tourism at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, for an inside look at Miami Spice.

See also: The Great of Miami Spice 2014, Part Two

New Times: This year, the number of participating restaurants dropped from more than 200 last year to 174. What's the reason for that and for going back to the one-tier pricing system?

Rolando Aedo: If you go back in time to year one, Miami Spice started out with about 40 restaurants, and that was a great year-one effort. We're so glad the number of restaurants has grown, but we also wanted to be very aware of how we started this program. From the beginning, Miami Spice was about celebrating the best of what Miami has to offer. In our zeal to make it as inclusive as possible, we included a great number of restaurants.

We added the second tier to allow for different restaurants, because we base an establishment's inclusion on analyzing the menu and the average check price. But frankly, we wanted to return to making it about quality over quantity. We wanted restaurants that offered value to the consumer, so we raised the price bar but lowered the number of restaurants. The quality is better than ever, and we have 45 new restaurants. Some dropped off; a lot cycled in.

How much revenue was generated from last year's Miami Spice? How many meals were served?

Miami Spice restaurants track their own sale; we do know, however, that approximately 150,000 Miami Spice dinners were served August and September last year.

How exactly does a restaurant get to participate in Miami Spice? Are there guidelines or criteria? Do they pay a fee? Submit menus?

Part of the process does include having the restaurants submit their menus to our team for evaluation. Miami Spice restaurants must also be active members of the Greater Miami CVB in order to be part of the program. We also analyze the proposed Spice menus. We look for a regular per-check average of about $50.

Some restaurants get more creative than others with Miami Spice, so this is more an art than a science, but that dollar amount, in essence, qualifies you. There is also a participation fee that's 100 percent reinvested into the market. It's varied from $700 to $900, and there are discounts because we do want to make it easy for individual restaurants to participate. The Bureau itself puts significant funding into the pot. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote Miami Spice.

Are restaurants ever turned down?

Miami Spice was created 13 years ago and has come to represent the best of Miami's food scene. Today, Miami Spice remains synonymous with the best of Miami's cuisine and is proud to include some of the region's most exciting gastronomic destinations. It is certainly a beloved local program, and unfortunately not all restaurants qualify to participate.

What happens if you receive a complaint about a restaurant?

Here's what we do: My colleague receives all complaints. Anyone could have an off night, so we have to be sensitive to that. We follow up all complaints with the restaurant, and in the vast majority, a restaurant will correct the issue. We welcome that feedback, and we reserve the discretion to not ask a restaurant back if they're not delivering on the Miami Spice promise and quality.

What is the official goal? Does Spice cater to locals or tourists, and why?

Miami Spice started after 9/11. Steve Haas, our partner and our chair who is also a restaurateur, had a vision. Right after September 11, a lot of things stopped working. Tourism and restaurant business went away, not only in New York but also in Miami. Miami Spice was designed as a local stimulus program. This was our way of giving back to the community. We wanted to help kick-start businesses. The program also communicated to locals to go out and spend money. Right from the start, there was a local purpose to the program. This time of the year used to be the slowest time, but now August and September generate a lot of income for restaurants. We can't take all the credit. There are a lot of other programs, but we do keep the ball rolling along.

Speaking of other credit, there are some unofficial summer three-course deals being offered this year. Does this help or hinder Miami Spice?

We support the local restaurant community in designing special summer deals that help drive business whether it's part of the official program. Art Basel welcomes satellite shows, and because of that, art is coming alive in Miami. We think of other restaurant programs the same way. We're comfortable with that. Miami has evolved as this great culinary destination. Whether you're the highest of the high or a small restaurant, the more people celebrating food and culinary tourism in Miami, the better. We're fine with that.

With so many restaurants, give three insider tips for making the best of Miami Spice this year.

Definitely visit ilovemiamispice.com to learn about the different options and partners. Search options allow you to find restaurants based on cuisine type, neighborhood, etc. It is a great resource that allows you to review full menus before you make your decision.

Visit new neighborhoods and try new cuisines to explore the diverse flavors of Miami. Also, consider trying a Miami Spice Mash-Up, a new program this year offering special chef collaborations and the best of Miami flavors in one setting.

What are your favorite places to "Spice"?

Impossible to choose one, but there are 45 new restaurants, so I'm going to try to get to them. Seasalt & Pepper, I hear, is quite the place. I haven't been yet.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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