It’s a Thursday afternoon at a tapas bar called Koska. The waitress, a cheerful young woman with an Argentinean accent, offers customers a beer and a small dish — Piquillo pepper, rice sausage and a chili pepper on a piece of toast — for two euros.
Located on Blai street, this is one of several establishments participating in the Ruta de las Tapas de Poble Sec, a bar-crawling route in this Barcelona neighborhood between Montjuïc mountain and the Avenida del Paralelo.
Thought up by local restaurateurs as a way to attract more customers in these times of crisis, the event is into its fourth year and featured 15 participating bars offering a beer and a tapa for two euros every Thursday from 7pm onwards, with the final services taking place this week.
Ekaitz Sáenz, the owner of Koska and a member of the Ruta’s organizing committee, says that the route “has been growing continuously.” Other food industry associations have started similar initiatives elsewhere in the Catalan capital, driven by the need to drum up custom to make up for the fact that the crisis is keeping many people indoors. Eduardo, Sáenz’s partner at Koska, admits that the recession is good for them because people prefer the smaller tapas to the bigger dishes, in order to spend less. “Because we create a cheap, quality offer, we get people who would otherwise not come.”
People are sharing their dishes; they get the feeling that they’re spending less”
Certainly, small dishes have an edge during a recession, particularly if restaurants offer them at reduced prices and come up with initiatives to showcase special offers. “Restaurateurs want to sell. When they see an initiative that might help, they jump on the bandwagon,” says Gaietà Farràs, president of the Restaurateur Association of Barcelona. “We’ve never seen so many establishments with imaginative offers before.”
The tapas boom is something of a surprise in a city with no such tradition. Farràs explains that in Barcelona and Catalonia as a whole “the habit was not created because there was no demand for it.” But tastes are changing: “People are sharing their dishes. That way they get the feeling that they’re spending less.”
The Restaurateur Association of Barcelona is a pioneer in the field of tapas promotion and created a competition, called De Tapes per Barcelona, which is now in its sixth edition. Forty establishments participated in the first one, in May 2010; the last time around, there were 66 bars offering a beer and a tapa for 2.40 euros.
Bar owners in another Barcelona neighborhood, Sant Antoni, have followed suit and begun their own route, the Tapantoni, with 20 participating establishments.
In the last edition there were 66 bars offering a beer and a tapa for 2.40
Meanwhile, the popular area of El Raval has been doing this since 2009. Josep Maria, who runs an old-looking place called Els Tres Bots, caters to a group of elderly patrons who seem fascinated by a program showing on a television screen over the door. Josep Maria says that some new customers have returned after discovering his bar. He remembers a couple who came “about a week ago, asking for the same tripe that they’d tried when they came during the Tapantoni.”
But this type of promotional event does not come for free. The restaurateur association notes that the two events it holds each year cost “around 200,000 euros” for expenses such as printing route maps for visitors. The association receives funding from the city of Barcelona, the local chamber of commerce and from the Damm brewery. But nothing guarantees success. Alberto García, in charge of Bar Ambar in El Raval, says that “few people stay afterwards. Those who return were already regulars.”