It’s the best time of year to eat out |

It’s the best time of year to eat out

Shauna Farnell
AE Billy's Island1 BH 7-7 Vail Daily/Bret Hartman

EAGLE COUNTY – From Labor Day through the ensuing two months, the Vail Valley transforms from a zoo to a ghost town. Local restaurants, like international airlines, are forced into creative competition for business.As the area is home to more than 500 restaurants, many of them high-end, the Vail Daily’s ads in the fall are packed with everything from 50 percent off entree specials, extended happy hours, two-for-one prices, multiple-course meals for a fixed price and wine-list discounts. And locals have grown to expect and look forward to the notorious season of fine-dining bargains. “I’ve been here for 32 years,” said Billy Suarez, owner of Billy’s in Lionshead, and formerly with The Ore House. “This time of year, people would begrudgingly give out their specials because they had to … because everyone else was doing it. We don’t see it that way. We’re happy to do it. It’s my way of thanking people for their business.”Billy’s, which offers surf’n’turf fare and is open for its third season in Lionshead, is offering 50 percent off all entrees except for its crab and lobster dishes. Suarez said the deal is likely to run until Thanksgiving.

“We found that it behooved us to offer the special, and not at the absolute last minute,” he said. “Some restaurants wait until everything completely fades, and they begrudgingly offer the specials. If I could, I’d close for two months to go surfing. But that would be the wrong thing to do for my locals who come in all the time. We see a lot of the same people, especially the ones that come down from Edwards and Eagle. We’re not putting money to our bottom line by doing this, but I’m keeping my servers and bartenders happy. And we’re keeping our doors open for people. It’s a big ‘thank you.'”Suarez said there is one man who appears religiously at his restaurant every week, only when the specials are running.Steve Virion, owner of La Bottega Italian restaurant in Vail Village, said he encounters the same scenario when his restaurant offers specials in the off-season.”The real downside is that you get people who come in and just have a glass of water and an entree,” he said.

La Bottega is offering 50 percent off its entrees Tuesdays through Thursdays, and in October, the deal will span five days a week. Virion sees it as a way to stay afloat among the competition more than as an opportunity to thank customers. “We started it about a year or two ago,” he said. “People look for those ads in the off-season, and if you don’t have one, they’ll go to a place that does. We’ve done a couple different things through the years. We’ve done a three-course special with a bottle of wine, or bottomless wine. We mix it up.”Regardless of what the deal is, Virion said off-season specials are necessary.”People started doing them, so if you don’t do them, you’re stuck,” he said. “People go to the places where you get 50 percent off. We still do it and try to live with it.”

Lancelot in Vail Village, which offers top-notch prime rib in addition to eclectic meat and seafood dishes, is typically one of the first local fine-dining establishments to offer specials when the off-season hits in autumn and spring. Currently, the deal is two-for-one entrees with the purchase of a bottle of wine.”It’s the third year for us,” said Lancelot owner Werner Schadl. “We do off-season specials to give something to the community. We like to get the locals in here, the tourists … whoever’s in town this time of year. There’s not many people left in town. It’s quite a lot off the price. We try to do something different each time. In the spring, we do an early bird special to get the hungry skiers in early. This (two-for-one) special will go to the middle of October.” Daily staff writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or

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