Biz Buzz: Night spots set to ring in new year

Experts predict that business will be essentially flat this year for New Year’s Eve dining hotspots across the country. But in San Luis Obispo County, “flat” means “full.”

“San Luis Obispo is really showing up for New Year’s this year,” said Amanda Clements, event coordinator at Novo Restaurant and Lounge in downtown San Luis Obispo.

As of Thursday morning, the restaurant had filled all dinner reservations, and already sold two-thirds of its tickets for a $20 two-floor dance party that gets many walk-ins. The restaurant was booked solid last year, as well.

Native Lounge in San Luis Obispo, offering a “Casino-Royale” event, had booked all its table service, which costs $400 per table.

Marisol restaurant at the Cliffs had reserved nearly all dinner seatings and sold out a $70 “Shagadelic” theme party in its ballroom.

Nationwide, restaurants are expecting a 1 percent drop in patrons today compared with last year. That’s about the same amount of decline in business for all of 2010, according to the NPD Group, though the drop has slowed from the worst years of the recession.

“Regardless of where Americans decide to eat their New Year’s Eve meal, the declines that the restaurant industry has experienced over the last two years are softening,” said NPD spokeswoman Kim McLynn. In 2009, business for the year was down 3 percent.

Part of the reason for the slowing decline was that restaurants offered discounts and less expensive meal packages. Fully 24 percent of restaurant traffic over the past two years has been from customers who were taking advantage of coupons and other deals, McLynn said.

But that trend doesn’t hold for New Year’s on the Central Coast.

Native Lounge raised its prices $5 from last year to $50 tickets at the door; discounted early bird tickets sold out.

“A lot of people save up for certain dates. New Year’s is a night where people feel comfortable spending a lot of money,” said Native nightclub manager Tyrone Galgano.

“We have a really successful party, so the price is the same this year as last year,” said Madonna Inn reservations manager Rebecca Jules. The Madonna Inn will offer seating in its steakhouse with an appetizer buffet, meals and live music for $150.

Unlike other popular New Year’s locations, the Paso Robles Inn will offer live music at its bar for no cover charge. The restaurant decided to drop the cover charge in 2008, but not because of the recession, said bar and banquet manager Rikki Hernandez.

“Fifty percent of our business is regulars. We didn’t want them to feel put off or not welcome even though they’ve been coming for 20 years.”

On Thursday, the inn had booked 60 percent of its steakhouse seatings, the same as last year.

— Julia Hickey, with contribution from the Los Angeles Times

David R. Booker, 65, who helped form American Perspective Bank and was its first chief executive officer, has become director emeritus, effective today. He will no longer serve on the board of directors but will continue to actively support the bank, the company said. The bank has offices in San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria.

— Tribune staff report