Beginning Thursday, diners at the Social Club in South Beach’s Surfcomber Hotel are going to see a lot more of Doug Sisk.
The chef is using the two-month Miami Spice dining promotion, which runs through Sept. 30, to test out potential dishes for the Social Club’s new menu.
“I really want to be out front in the dining room, talking to guests, getting feedback on the new dishes,” Sisk said, mentioning a mushroom and white cheddar tart and a crispy-skin snapper he created for Miami Spice. “Whatever is best received is what we’ll incorporate into the next menu.
“My drive is to give people a taste now, and give them a reason to come back and try more.”
Now in its 12th year, Miami Spice offers diners three-course, fixed-price lunches and dinners at a record 194 Miami-Dade restaurants, a number that has jumped more than 40 percent since organizers added a second pricing tier two years ago.
Customers at “luxury” restaurants pay $23 for lunch, $39 for dinner; “fine-dining” restaurants charge $19 and $33 respectively.
For many casual diners, shelling out $39 for an appetizer, entrée and dessert – plus extra for drinks, tax and tip – is hardly a bargain, especially in the age of deep-discount Internet sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and restaurant.com. (Even New York City’s restaurant-month dinner is a buck cheaper than a Miami Spice luxury meal this year.)
But the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, which runs the program, doesn’t claim it provides cheap eats. Rather, organizers say, it’s a chance to make expensive restaurants a bit more affordable for locals and tourists.
“From the very beginning, we’ve partnered with the highest-end restaurants, the ultra-luxe restaurants,” said Rolando Aedo, the bureau’s senior vice president of marketing and tourism. “We want to demystify the luxury restaurant experience.”
By going after a well-heeled clientele, Miami Spice can benefit restaurateurs and diners alike, according to David Talty, a former Burger King executive who’s now a lecturer at Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. Deep-discount coupons, on the other hand, could damage restaurants’ bottom lines and set up customers for bad experiences, he said.
“I’ve seen restaurants go broke through Groupon deals,” Talty said. “It’s impossible to provide adequate food and service at those prices.”
Miami Spice restaurants, he said, should put their best foot forward for the next two months in hopes of earning full-priced return visits.
Talty recalled chatting up a couple at a nearby table during a Miami Spice visit to a Coconut Grove restaurant.
“They said they had wanted to try that restaurant for some time, and the promotion allowed them to do it,” he said. “They were so happy with their meal, they said they couldn’t wait to come back. So that’s the perfect win-win: The restaurant earned new customers, and the customers enjoyed a good value experience.”
Front-of-the-house staff have been known to complain about Miami Spice’s impact on their bottom line.
“Servers may assume their tips will be lower during Miami Spice because the check averages are lower,” Talty said. “But the truth is, their volume of customers should be up, and if they play their cards right, they’ll win some repeat business.”