Whitney Kimmel does not kid around when it comes to food.
So when August and September — known to foodies as Miami Spice time — roll around, the Miami resident gets down to business, perusing participant lists and rounding up friends to hit different restaurants on a regular basis.
“I take this very seriously,” said Kimmel, 26, who works in public relations.
Starting Wednesday, Kimmel and fellow Miami dining enthusiasts have more choices than ever before. Now in its 11th year, Miami Spice has a record 177 participating restaurants.
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That’s mainly due to a new two-tier pricing structure that allows less expensive restaurants to participate in the program. Unlike recent years, when a three-course meal cost $22 for lunch and $35 for dinner, there are categories now with price points higher or lower than that.
“We did raise the price point; it hasn’t been raised in quite some time,” said Rolando Aedo, chief marketing officer with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, which organizes the program. “We still feel that it’s delivering significant value.”
Restaurants in the fine dining tier, including City Hall, Rosa Mexicano and Soyka, cost $19 for lunch and $33 for dinner. The “luxury” category includes venues such as Cecconi’s Miami Beach, Smith & Wollensky and Palme d’Or at the Biltmore and costs $23 for lunch and $39 for dinner. Those prices don’t include tax or tip.
A full list of participating restaurants is online at www.ilovemiamispice.com.
When the program was first launched in 2002, it was meant as a way to showcase the area’s top restaurants — and also drive business during the economic slump that followed the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Every year since, it has served as a way to encourage spending in South Florida’s slower seasons.
Aedo said restaurants that didn’t qualify to join Miami Spice in previous years felt they were at a disadvantage because higher-priced competitors got a bump in business. The new structure, he said, allows for greater participation.
“I think these two categories have allowed us to bring more restaurants into the fold,” Aedo said.
One of those newcomers is Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s Bongos Cuban Cafe in Miami, which will offer the special menu at dinner after trying for years to join the Miami Spice party.
“Because of the new fine dining tier, we finally got on and we’re very excited to be on the program,” said David Naranjo, head of media relations and marketing for Estefan Enterprises. “It obviously opens our restaurant up to the possibility of guests that may have normally not been to Bongos Cuban Cafe.”
In addition to the appetizer, entree and dessert, Bongos is offering a welcome cocktail (mojito or red sangria) at no additional charge and live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
“It’s kind of like a celebration for us,” Naranjo said.