Kelowna restaurants suffering tough times

By Judie Steeves

staff reporter

Kelowna restaurants are in a fight for survival.

With the seasonal nature of business in this area and its reliance on visitors, the past few years have been pretty bleak. In fact, a number of local eateries have had to go out of business, reports Dan Darragh, chairman of the Okanagan branch of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association.

“You go full-out in summer, but whatever you make has to carry you through winter,” explained Darragh, adding, “And last summer was not a good season.”

Restaurateurs faced not only a decline in tourist numbers, but also the HST implementation, increased minimum wage and changes to drinking and driving legislation.

“It was a really tough year. I can only hope we’ve hit bottom,” commented Darragh.

As a result of it all, this year’s Taste of Kelowna event has had to be cancelled.

Several charities and the thousands of people who have been dropping in to the Taste of Kelowna over the past 22 years will be disappointed, but so are members of the BCRFA.

He said the hope is that the event can be revived if the industry has a better season this year, but he admitted quite frankly he doesn’t hold out a lot of hope with the global economy the way it is.

“Tourism drives our economy and restaurants are on the front line,” he added.

If you want your favourite restaurants to still be there when you want to visit, better patronize them, he advises.

Event coordinator Rosanne Ting-Mak Brown says there were less than half the usual number of restaurants signed up for the Taste of Kelowna when a couple pulled out, so they decided they would have to cancel this year’s event.

“Restaurants have limited staff and funds and they’re coming off a difficult winter season,” she commented.

Usually there are 40 or so restaurants who participate in the Taste of Kelowna, offering samples of their dishes and competing for both a judge’s award and a consumers’ choice award at the annual event.

There’s live entertainment, lots of food and beverages and Kelowna residents line up down the street to get into the Kelowna Curling Club for it each year.

The trouble is, if fewer restaurants tried to hold the event, there’d be too much pressure on them from the 4,000 or so people who mob the event each year, she explained.

Many communities hold a similar event.

However, the restaurants don’t make money on it; it’s a marketing event for them.

Groups such as the Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCA-YWCA and Kids Care benefit each year, as proceeds are donated to such charities. More than $150,000 has been donated over the years.


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