NEW ORLEANS — Since 1918, gourmets have walked across the Italian mosaic tiles to dine under the crystal chandeliers of Arnaud's, seeking the savory Creole dishes for which the restaurant is renowned.
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They come in droves — except in July, August and September, when New Orleans' steamy temperatures and the threat of hurricanes keep residents and tourists alike at home.
"It seems to go down in July and not really pick up again until October," Arnaud's executive Chef Tommy Digiovanni said of the business. "I'd say we see about a 70 percent drop in business in those months."
Now Arnaud's and many of the city's other top restaurants, including Commander's Palace, Galatoire's and the Bourbon House, are intensifying their efforts to fight back, offering their famous fare at cut-rate prices to lure diners.
In August, restaurants offered bargain meals as part of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau's longstanding "Coolinary" promotion, in which two-course lunches for $20 and three-course dinners for $35 were available.
This month, they plan to kick it up a notch with the Louisiana Restaurant Association's new "We Live To Eat" promotion. Promoting the combination of New Orleans cuisine and Gulf seafood, it rolls out next week.
"Late summer is traditionally a slow time," said Tommy Cvitanovich, owner of Drago's Seafood Restaurant and a board member of the association. "There are fewer tourists and locals are busy getting kids ready for school. So it's a good time to remind them we're here."
The nation's prolonged economic downturn is another drag on business.
According to Jeff Anding, director of convention marketing at the convention bureau, the tourist and convention season in New Orleans traditionally mirrors the school year — beginning to build in late September and tapering off in late May. Since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 there has been a slight shift, with June business picking up.
The hot summer months are an annual deterrent.
"It's like going to Milwaukee in January," Anding said.
Anding said figures supplied by Smith Travel, show New Orleans hotel occupancy average peaks in March at about 78 percent then falls to about 50 percent in August.
In 2004 the convention bureau contacted New York City about its Restaurant Week, and decided to adapt it for New Orleans, said bureau vice president for Tourism Kim Priez.
"They were having a lot of success with it and said we might want to try it," Priez said.
That idea was expanded and grew into the Coolinary promotion, which ran for a month. "Actually things have been busier this July and August," Priez said.
The "We Live to Eat" promotion, which runs Sept. 12-18, features dinners and lunches from the regular menus of some of the city's best restaurants.
"It's a great chance for locals and visitors to hit all the restaurants they might not get to without the special deals," said Michael Gulotta, the Chef de Cuisine at August. "But the best thing it does is keep our industry visible."
The promotion also targets Louisiana seafood, which was hit hard by last year's BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the spill did not affect seafood sold by Louisiana producers, the image of oil-tainted product did. The recovery has been slow, promoters said, but steady.
All the menus for participating restaurants include at least one seafood item.
"We expect it to be another step in recovery," said Brian Landry of the Seafood Promotion Board. "People who eat during the week will love it and tell others. That spreads and that's what we need."
Go to http://www.welivetoeatnola.com/restaurant-week/ to find a list of participating restaurants.
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