“It’s back to January and then it’s slow. It’s like this constant ebb and flow where you’re adapting.”
That’s how Ciara Curran – assistant general manager at Frankie’s Modern Diner in Victoria – describes how the restaurant business crashes when the holiday season ends.
January is that time of year when restaurants appear empty and hotels are far from fully booked.
Tourists from all over visit Vancouver Island in the summer but in the winter the locals mainly inhabit the area. The lack of traffic impacts the industry so heavily that some restaurants only operate during the warm months of the year, while others scale back their hours and the number of days they remain open.
The end of the holiday season means restaurants and hotels must get inventive – coming up with new ways to bring guests into their establishments.
Finding the target demographic of guests is a key part of holding out during the slow season.
For Frankie’s Modern Diner, that’s where they gain traction during the middle of the day. Employees working downtown stop by the restaurant for lunch.
“I think that a lot of people have come back, even though it’s kind of that weird mindset that now those people that did work from home are saying I could just be doing that there and it does seem like because we are in this government building, they are forced to be back so it definitely wasn’t as bad as when every single person was made to go home,” said Curran. “We’re slow but we’re still busier than we have been in the past couple of years because of COVID.” Another strategy to attract customers is having a delivery service.
“We do SkipTheDishes, which really, really helps us give back to the restaurant when we would have no one in here ordering anything,” said Curran. “We’ve always had a delivery service since SkipTheDishes, which we started using at the beginning of COVID. Those delivery services keep us breathing, especially in those quiet times.”
From a guest perspective, it does not appear as noticeable but many of the employees that make up the staff at local Victoria restaurants are students.
Student availability aligns smoothly with the busy tourism season. University and college semesters usually take place during the slow hospitality industry months, when students are not available to work, but come summer and students are ready to be hired.
Curran says that during the slow months, “reducing the shifts for people you want to schedule more but can’t afford to schedule more” is something the restaurant faces.
During this time of year, they also are “having to redo a menu just to up the prices just because you need to afford the inflation of what you’re buying compared to what you’re giving out.”
At Il Terrazzo, they have a different perspective on the busy tourist season by actually targeting the locals.
Shellie Gudgeon, one of the co-owners of II Terrazzo, says, “our strategy has been for 30 years that we don’t focus on the tourists, we focus on keeping the locals happy and the locals will tell the tourists where to eat. We just continue to do what we do year-round which is every customer that walks through the door we give them the best experience and treat them with kindness and they spread the word.”
II Terrazzo has a traditional approach and uses this time to “breathe” and focus on the “details.”
“This is an opportunity during the quiet times of the year to dot I’s and cross T’s,” Gudgeon said. “To maybe create new drink menus, work on the wine cellar which is another big seller for II Terrazzo.”
The off-season is viewed as a useful time and in Gudgeon’s words, “it lets everybody breathe. It lets all our staff collectively take a deep breath and focus on details. I think we are very detail-oriented here and it’s important to make sure we don’t slip or fall or miss the details.”
Reid James, general manager at the Grand Pacific Hotel, concurs.
“Yes, our markets shrink, too,” James said. “In the summertime, it’s a different region. We still got lots from the Lower Mainland and Washington state, but in the lower season the people come from closer to home.”
The Grand Pacific Hotel is conveniently located on the Inner Harbour and next to the B.C. legislature.
Individuals working for the provincial government, not from the city, often choose to stay at the Grand Pacific when in Victoria.
“We take advantage of our location next to the legislature,” James said. “It helps us out. That travel is regular, it’s especially good when the house is sitting and the house isn’t sitting right now. When it starts to do that, we’ll see more government business come through.”
To attract locals, they have several discounted rates.