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Happening Gourmand bringing people to the table in spite of industry troubles

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At a time when costs are going up and people are cocooning at home to save money, some restaurants are holding steadfast in what they know will bring foodies to their tables.

March marks the 16th edition of Happening Gourmand, uniting a group of restaurants in Montreal's Old Port to test their culinary prowess at a reduced price.

"That's our mission. That's what we want to offer people," explains Pierre-Luc Gravel, marketing and communications director at Corner Collection, one of the groups participating in the event. "Whatever happens, this is what we want to do, and this is what we want to offer."

More than 10 restaurants are "showcasing their own cooking style," offering three-course table d'hôtes for $39, $49 or $59 a person.

This year, organizers have also introduced a $29 two-course brunch menu for weekends.

Gravel says the restaurants participating in Happening Gourmand aren't immune to the economic hardships hitting the city's various industries.

"The first two months of 2024 were hard," he admits.

However, during Happening Gourmand's first week, Gravel says the participating restaurants saw a considerable increase in foodie traffic.

"Over the weekend, we already saw an increase of 20 per cent in our restaurants, and some restaurants were also [at a] 50 per cent increase week over week," he tells CTV News.

The feedback Gravel says he's gotten is that "people really want to go out and enjoy a good meal, a good ambiance, a great experience."

According to the Quebec Restaurant Association (ARQ), organized events that boast specialized menus can help entice people to leave the house even when their wallets are tight.

He points to MTLàTABLE, organized by Tourisme Montreal, and Happening Gourmand as examples.

"The many restaurants that we've talked with, many restaurant owners that we've talked to, say that it's a good thing to be part of Montréal à Table," said Martin Vézina, ARQ vice president of public and government affairs. "I think that something like Happening Gourmand will have the same showing."

He notes that from 2022 to 2023, restaurants across Quebec saw a five per cent decrease in traffic.

"People are showing up but our costs are still rising, and it's very difficult to transfer the cost increase to the price [customers are asked to pay]," said Vézina.

He states the association is closely eyeing the industry in the wake of rising costs and lower customer traffic.

"It's not something that we are worried about now, but if it continues for a few months, it can worsen the industry, and maybe we'll talk about many closures in the future," he said.

Happening Gourmand runs from March 1 to 30.

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