Restaurant crawls increasingly popular in Vancouver

New businesses target young professionals for food excursions and social evenings out

“Tangooers” enjoy a night out in Vancouver

A new business movement in the city is catering to wannabe foodies who are craving a fresh social experience.

Instead of following the well-worn tracks of a traditional pub crawl, companies are targeting young professionals for pre-planned nights exploring Vancouver’s food scene.

Tangoo is a “resto-cocktail hop” offering an evening’s food and drinks at a set price. It has partnered with local businesses to organize nights where 30 to 50 people start at a bar for an appetizer and a drink, eat dinner at a nearby restaurant and follow up with a nightcap or dessert at a third venue.

Participants usually attend in groups of friends or as couples and are given bracelets to identify them as “Tangooers.”

Tangoo founder Paul Davidescu said the idea behind the business was developed a year after the excitement of the 2010 Winter Olympics had waned and the city’s empty nightlife legacy returned.

“We realized the Olympics weren’t coming back,” he said. “A lot of our nights out were unfulfilling with a lot of hassles. It felt stagnant. We were always going to the same place around the corner, and it started to seem like an expensive habit.”

Davidescu and co-founder Henry Heeney hit up their social network for a soft launch of the business last February. They continued to work on their programming by holding grassroots invite-only events during the summer, before finally opening Tangoo to the public in late October. All four nights in November and December sold out.

Davidescu said one of Tangoo’s challenges has been convincing restaurants that its clientele is an ideal base of customers who are focused on the social aspect of dining, not the cheap deals.

“First of all, you have to tell them that you’re not Groupon. There’s definitely a stigma about bringing in new customers because the way it’s been done in the past has been very unstable for businesses.”

Davidescu added that Tangoo’s target customers are mostly young professionals.

“They’re an energetic bunch, they’re early adopters, and they want something new. They’re willing to buy a bottle of wine with their meal, because they’re not there for the deal; they want the experience.”

Katherine Wearing, marketing manager for the bar 131 Water, said Tangoo events have been good for business.

“It’s a great crowd; a lot of people didn’t know we were here,” she said. “They’re in and out in about an hour, and it’s just so easy.”

Wearing said the only disadvantage of working with Tangoo is offering them a discount. “But it doesn’t matter very much because it’s been a slower season anyway.”

Dishcrawl’s business model is similar to Tangoo’s, but it has a slightly higher price point and is aimed more at the affluent “foodie” professional.

For $60 per person, customers get food at four restaurants but drinks must be bought separately. Tangoo offers a $50 package that includes a drink, appetizer, dinner and dessert or nightcap.

Dishcrawl is now in more than 45 North American cities and expanded to Vancouver at the end of last year.

“Our simple mission is to bring people together over food,” said founder Tracy Lee. “The concept really resonated with people as we started introducing it. People come for the food but stay because they love the social aspect.”

Lee said that Dishcrawl’s nights are popular with both couples and singles between 30 and 55 years old, although on some Sundays the average age is closer to 75.

“Restaurants love the fact that we bring in the exact demographic of who they’re trying to attract,” said Lee. “It’s really low effort for them to get people in the door.”

Lee said that one of the biggest challenges is making a profit. “We can’t do everything we want to do because we don’t have the funds, but that’s OK. We’re a sustainable model and everybody is happy.” •

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