Arizona Restaurant Industry

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Steve Chucri, President and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association, talks about the state of the restaurant industry.

Ted Simons: This is Arizona restaurant week, giving us a chance to check on the health of Arizona's restaurant industry. This is Steve Chucri, president and CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association. Good to have you.

Steve Chucri: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about restaurant week. What's the idea behind it, what's the goal?

Steve Chucri: It's the best second week of the year, we have a spring restaurant week, as well. It's a way to celebrate Arizona's restaurants, pure and simple. This is our fourth year having restaurant week. Our first year going statewide. So it's an opportunity for restaurants to showcase the best culinary that Arizona has to offer. We're very fortunate that the patrons of Arizona are digging in.

Ted Simons: How does it work?

Steve Chucri: It's very simple. It's through the Arizona restaurant association, we are the promoter of the event. Our member and nonmember restaurants alike. You get as a guest of any restaurant that's participating a three-course dinner at a fixed price, at $30 or $40 depending on what the restaurant decides to showcase. You can have a great entree and a great dessert, whatever you want. Restaurant are on sale for a solid week. From fine dining down through casual dining.

Ted Simons: How many restaurants have you got participating in this? And is it difficult to get restaurants to participate in something like this?

Steve Chucri: It's not, it really isn't. The first year was always challenging. Like any other new venture, but this year they just team to really get it. We're really in a position to where restaurants see the value. They see the volume that comes through their doors on a daily basis during this week. We have over 200 participating restaurants. That includes the Phoenix metro area, of course Tucson, as well as Flagstaff this year. And we've gotten off to a great and robust start last Saturday and we will continue through Sunday.

Ted Simons: I was going to say how are things going so far. These are tough economic times, we've talked about this throughout the program on a variety of levels. How are restaurants handling all of this?

Steve Chucri: It's a challenging time, I won't kid you about all that. This week affords you to do, regardless of your budget, it lets you go to celebrate that special engagement that might have taken place months ago but you wanted to wait to take your special someone to a nice restaurant that you might not afford on an everyday basis. For some, the unaffordable becomes affordable. Budgets are tight but this week people let down their hair a bit and opened their wallets and went and celebrated.

Ted Simons: Once the week is over, what are restaurants doing in terms of momentum? Obviously they have to change in terms of marketing or what you do and how you do it. What's changing out there?

Steve Chucri: In the fourth quarter of 2007 is when this recession started. We saw our industry face a very large and big battle that's only gotten worse over time. What restaurants have done to counter that is go to deep, deep discounting. They are having to market more. In this new recessionary time all the rules changed dramatically. What you see restaurant doing more now than ever is deep, deep discounts, not just restaurant week but they are sending out a variety of discount coupons. They are marketing more on TV. Social media is the new way of advertising for restaurants and tweets and everything else. So it's really caused restaurant owners, they are entrepreneurial by design. They have had to kick it up another notch to keep their doors open.

Ted Simons: You mentioned social media. The internet in general, how has that changed the dynamic for restaurants in terms of marketing, menus, folks maybe staying in and watching TV or doing stuff on the internet, maybe not going out like they used to? What's that dynamic like?

Steve Chucri: The dynamic is interesting. If you follow a certain restaurant and sign up for tweets, they might say hey, special tonight, pasta for $3.99. They have a following. It's growing, they have a following and it's growing. It's all a segment of all generations. We aren't just a restaurant that you go to anywhere. Our industrial has changed to where we were in your dining room. You're picking up a meal from curbside service and taking it to your dining room. We are an extension of the family kitchen table, we really, truly are. That's happened more and more during this slow period of time.

Ted Simons: Are you seeing more in way of affordable dining? Not necessarily the big tables and the Italian restaurant kind of thing. But are we still seeing the fine cuisine? It seems in this economy, folks who drop a certain amount of money may not do it quite as much.

Steve Chucri: It certainly has its fluctuations, no question about that. This year Arizona alone will be a $9.6 billion restaurant industry, that's a lot of money. We grew last year in 2010 by 800 million in growth and sales. What I equate it to is the $100 million powerful, there's a hundred winners, as well. Not anyone got rich. But people are upticking in their frequency of dining and restaurants. Somebody might be brown-bagging it to work on their workday and they may be cutting back on that and getting a meal from a quick-serve restaurant that's going to be equivalent in cost. It take as lot for a restaurant to be successful. It takes those dining rooms, that frequency has to be full. They have to have a good young-of-what their costs are and maintaining those costs.

Ted Simons: With that factor in there, Arizona's reputation as a restaurant down. Compare to other areas and when this recession we got hit very hard in most areas. How has that played into our reputation?

Steve Chucri: Our reputation is improving dramatically in the last few years. I'm a native and I can tell you how much I've seen change in recent years just from the culinary differences. You have more Indian restaurants, and we were known for just having Mexican restaurants. You can see the dynamic from steakhouses to other types of cuisine. It's not only the restaurant itself that you have to look at. You have to look at what's on the menu. You can go up the street to some downtown restaurants and see tabouli on the menu right next to a hamburger and french fries. I think that excites patrons across the state. It might be slow in coming, but finally Arizona is getting some good ethnic restaurants that are coming to the state that are opening up. Also, other restaurants are adopting those types of cuisine as well.

Ted Simons: And hopefully they will survive during this economic downturn.

Steve Chucri: We will keep our fingers crossed.

Ted Simons: It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Steve Chucri: Thank you.

Steve Chucri:President, CEO of the Arizona Restaurant Association;

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