Oaxaca is known as one of the main cities for eating and drinking in all of Latin America. The mole mecca in south central Mexico stands out for more than the variety of delicious sauces: internationally acclaimed restaurants, attractive late-night street food stalls, unique culinary and beverage items such as tlayudas, tejate, lamb barbecue, and of course , the iconic Mexican spirit based on agave, mezcal. But despite its gastronomic grandeur, every year from early September to the height of Día de Muertos towards the end of October, its restaurants suffer from malnutrition – that is, not enough on record to maintain a healthy level of financial sustenance.
Enter the Oaxaca Sabe grand opening, September 16-23, 2014. The week-long event was the first attempt in recent memory by a group of restaurant owners to generate much-needed income for restaurants ranging from the high end to the middle of the road, by offering fixed price menus at an affordable price. Yes, there is the Saber del Sabor for those with substantial resources, the Spring Festival of Humánitas, which always seems to be struggling, and the Fair of the Seven Moles that takes place during the summer when there are already a series of food and beverage events. drink. What Oaxaca City has always needed has been something to give restaurants hope and keep their servers afloat, during a time of year when rains in full swing keep residents indoors and tourism is at its peak. annual minimum. Oaxaca Sabe seems to be able to provide the correct recipe, despite starting deficits.
Twenty-three restaurants raised 1,000 pesos each for advertising and marketing, including posters and a presence on websites and online social networks. The promotional material featured a three-course meal (lunch or dinner) of appetizer, main course and dessert, including beer, wine or mezcal (or soft drink, tea or coffee), all for 250 pesos of tip included. And to top it off, a series of private lots was seconded to provide parking at the minimum price of ten pesos an hour.
My wife and I attended three dinners on consecutive nights, two of which were exquisite in every respect, and the third, well, although high-end, did expose flaws that we had experienced there on previous occasions. Why go to a restaurant that did not measure up to us? I guess we thought “one last chance, and for 250 pesos, how can you go wrong in a dining room that has received international criticism”. We learned how … again.
We selected three prestigious restaurants in the city: Origen, Azul and La Pitiona. We have always considered Origen as one of the two best restaurants in the city, the other being Casa Oaxaca. Origen did not disappoint, with the three dishes selected by each of us living up to the restaurant’s reputation, well-combined wine and a premium quality Arroqueño mezcal, which was practically never used as a house liquor. Since this article is not in the nature of a restaurant review, I will not turn it into one. However, I can confidently say that when a restaurant is found along a continuum of quality of fare and service the other 51 weeks of the year, it will stay there for a promotional week.
While we had not previously dined at Azul, it also had a reputation for being haughty, set in the courtyard of a high-end hotel of the same name, with several lodging suites designed and named after prominent Oaxacan artists. As in Origen, we were offered a selection of three dishes to choose from for each dish. This time each of us had red wine, a Spanish tempranillo, so nice that we ordered a second glass. And as in Origen, in Azul the servers were attentive and helpful.
La Pitiona, according to my wife, who had dined there twice more than I had, maintained a level of pretentiousness as on the day of its inauguration. How presumptuous not to offer a selection of selections for any of the courses! Even a cheesy wedding in Canada or the United States often features chicken or fish. But as suggested, the personality of a restaurant does not change for a special event … just like a leopard cannot change its spots.
The closing event took place on the night of September 23, in one of the highest level participating restaurants, Casa Crespo. Fine Oaxacan delicacies and drinks were served. Attendance was free for those who had been to five previous meals at any of the participating restaurants. The plan had been to hand out a card at the end of each meal, with a stamp, so if you presented a card with five stamps, there would be no cost to attend the final. The problem was that during the three nights we attended, at Origin our server explained to us about the last night but forgot to give us the stamped card, and at La Pitiona no card was even offered, stamped or not. Azul gave us the stamped card at the end of our meal, with no explanation of what it represented.
Oaxaca Sabe seems to have been a successful inaugural event, with a buzz in the city, at least among some of our friends and acquaintances. However, some changes and additions to the next edition would make it more successful and potentially make Oaxaca Sabe a permanent fixture:
• Toronto has seen success with a multi-day Winterlicious restaurant event in the dead of winter when even Canadians hate venturing out into the cold and snow, and a Summerlicious program six months later. Both have had considerable success. Accordingly, consider a second Sabe Oaxaca each year, during the other mild season for tourism, May. People’s memories are brief. Twice a year it keeps the experience in the foreground and gives residents something to look forward to. Additionally, attending tourists can spread the word to friends and family for about a second week, just a few months later.
• Do not include tip in the price. Yes, make sure servers are served quietly, but they need cash flow more than restaurant owners. Perhaps it reminded customers that they are getting a real bargain and that they should consider increasing their usual tipping pattern accordingly.
• Consider doubling the number of participants in the restaurant and include a variety of ethnic foods. Go beyond Italian and Oaxacan or continental fusion. Oaxaca’s middle-class population is now large enough to adequately patronize many more than 23 restaurants, especially if the system of encouraging customers to attend more meals is adjusted. Oaxaca is known for its gastronomic grandeur, and a considerable percentage of tourists to the city, both foreign and national, come to Oaxaca for the food. Promote it through more offers, and they will come.
• Begin issuing “passports” to residents and tourists a week in advance, at all participating locations. Don’t rely on servers to remember to give diners their cards to stamp. Customers will be quickly trained to bring their passports to each restaurant they visit and have them stamped. Through all the publicity and promotion of the event, the public should be aware of this incentive program.
• Consider reducing the number of assists required to participate in the grand finale, from five to four. Five meals out in the course of a week is a lot to look forward to. After all, the cost of late night snacks and drinks should be relatively modest.
• With more and more diversity of restaurants, consider two different fixed price amounts, one for restaurants with higher prices (ie Los Danzantes, Casa Oaxaca, Origen, La Pitiona, Vieja Lira, etc.), and another for restaurants with more modest prices. (That is, La Olla, La Biznaga, Las Quince Letras, El Marocco, Zandunga, etc.). If two price categories are used and there is a greater diversity of restaurant styles, then perhaps the requirement of five attendees to attend the final would work, as customers would not be required to visit five higher category establishments with similar types of cuisine. .
• Do more to promote nominal parking as a way to attract residents downtown from the suburbs. Remember that now there are tons of restaurants in neighborhoods like Colonia Reforma, so if one of your goals is to attract potential customers to the city center, publicize the parking incentive more clearly.
• Require each participating restaurant to offer three options for each dish. By doing so, customers who were impressed with their first meal at a particular restaurant will be more likely to return later in the week.
• Consider involving the state government, with a view to encouraging it to promote Oaxaca Sabe on its website and in other promotional material throughout the year, as an important tourism week. but not, however, at the expense of the organizers maintaining control of the event.
• Oaxacans love promotional posters. In this case, the participating restaurants were identified on the posters only by logos (of different sizes) printed at the bottom, some of which failed to properly identify the restaurant. Ditch the logos and just name each restaurant in the same bold type.
• All promotional material must be bilingual, Spanish / English, and not only in Spanish as was the case with the opening week. Although tourism in September is low, one of the objectives should be to ensure that not only Oaxacans and national tourists visit the restaurants, but also travelers, including foodies, from English-speaking countries already in Oaxaca. or they are considering a visit. Oaxaca is already synonymous with Culinary Tourism!
Many American and Canadian cities host week-long events, which are promoted permanently throughout the year under an event calendar (i.e. Taste of Chicago). With Oaxaca’s reputation for food and drink, the city has the potential to use Oaxaca Sabe as a major point of attraction to attract visitors at a time of year that they would not otherwise consider traveling to the city. Oaxaca Sabe just needs a few adjustments. But bravo for an admirable start.