One part dining experience and one part guided tour, Taste the City offers up a new way for diners to experience some of Calgary’s finest restaurants in fun, affordable, and surprising ways.
The experience, which launched several weeks ago, takes diners on a self-guided, five-restaurant tour with the goal of getting to try an iconic dish or culinary showpiece from each—along with a bit of added mystery as the next location isn’t revealed until after the meal is complete.
Taste the City is the brainchild of founder and CEO Joanna Pariseau, who wanted to bring the ease and experience of a culinary tour to diners, without the pressure and cost of having to hire a tour company.
“You simply come onto our site, pick your booking date and time, and then you’ll get a message with your first location. We’ll guide you through going to taste five different… all within one, two-and-a-half hour period,” said Pariseau.
“When you arrive, you say you’re from Taste the City, show them your code, and then they’ll see to provide you with a sampling item. You stay for about 20 minutes and then we prompt you with another message as to where your next location is.”
She said that while diners get to experience the surprise of where to go next, each of the restaurants knows where they are in the experience order and has worked to tailor their offerings to complement an evening out.
The first restaurant on the Taste the City experience might offer a mocktail and appetizer, while the last will offer a dessert, with various dishes in between.
“One of our favourite features, and one we get feedback from our tasters on, is that they absolutely love that part that they don’t know where they’re going or what they’re going to eat. So it truly is an adventure,” Pariseau said.
“It’s pretty fun and everybody’s really enjoyed it. The feedback we’ve gotten is ‘I can go out, and I don’t have to think about it. It’s already curated and done for me.'”
The typical cost for a Taste the City experience is $89, which includes gratuity for each of the locations and can be booked at www.tastethecity.ca.
All of the tastings are alcohol-free, but diners can purchase drinks extra at each location if they wish.
“We find that there’s not a lot of things that you can do in Calgary that start first as a non-alcoholic option, and then move into something that you would add on to it. The mocktail addition has been really great feedback from our tasters on that portion,” Pariseau said.
Great for guests and restaurants
Devin Rigaux, General Manager for Milpa, said that being a new business on 17th Avenue SW meant that getting new customers through the door was very helpful.
“It really helps. It also gets people to try one of our favourite dishes, and I think gives them the chance to see the space, see our style of service, to go to the menu, and hopefully come back,” Rigaux said.
“Just based on numbers alone, there’ll be quite a few different people coming in.”
She said that having Taste the City diners meant that they could have 30 guests turn over at a table during an evening.
Rigaux also liked the aspect of customers coming to try out restaurants without knowing exactly where they would be going next.
“Because you don’t know where you’re going to be going, people aren’t selecting necessarily based on the style of restaurants that they usually choose. So it kind of pushes them out of their comfort zone, which could be great for some people,” she said.
Pariseau said that the Taste the City way of getting customers into multiple restaurants was an easy lift, especially for locations that are still having lower than pre-pandemic sales and visits.
“After Covid, a lot of restaurants started putting a time limit on a regular reservation—like you had two hours to come and sit down. So they started to see how much power it was to be able to turn over a table,” she said.
“It’s one thing to know when somebody’s coming, but to know when somebody’s leaving, there’s a lot of power in that.”
She said that for restaurants knowing that someone would only be at a table for 20 minutes meant that they could fit in diners when there might be an opening between reservations, but it also means taking away other uncertainties like what meals would be ordered.
“That gives the restaurant a ton of power ahead of time just to be able to already know what they can offer, and at the same time, be able to have less of a labour lift because they don’t have that back and forth of payment or anything else,” Pariseau said.
From Italy to Victoria
Pariseau said that the idea for Taste the City came about as a result of doing a study abroad course in Italy after returning to university as an Urban Studies major during the pandemic, and her working to help organize one of the city’s hackathons.
“I started to plan some of Calgary’s hackathons, and throughout that process, I really just started to figure out and get a tech mind for how I could leverage digital technology to enhance space and enhance an urban experience,” she said.
“I went on a study abroad to Italy and I didn’t want to pay for the 120 Euro, three plus hour food tour. I was like ‘I can do this on my own, I can find all these places.’ I did a bunch of research and ended up getting hopelessly lost. I realized in that moment that we needed something that would help people facilitate being able to easily go and access top spots in a seamless manner in a timed way.”
She said that she began in Calgary by mapping out various top restaurants, and then seeing how long it would take to walk between them while also trying out single dishes.
A resounding success with some initial beta testers, Pariseau turned that experience into one that could be done through technology.
“Because this is really, it’s a new concept, explaining it to people doesn’t always do it justice, especially for the restaurants,” Pariseau said.
“The first weekend that we actually rolled out bookings and tasters started showing up in the restaurants using our app, it was so easy, so seamless—everybody had a great time. The restaurants were super happy to accommodate us for the foreseeable future, and want to continue to be a part of what we’re doing.”
Part of Pariseau’s plans for the future is to expand to other cities across North America, using the lived experience of people who know their food scenes best. Victoria and Toronto are two of the cities close to being added to Taste the City.
“We put a call out for curators to anybody in any city anywhere. It doesn’t even need to be a city if you’re in a tourist destination such as Banff where you have a great foodie scene.”
Curators, she said, would in return receive a percentage of all of the tastings for their Taste the City location.