‘The economic conditions are real’: Organizer Scott Gurney battles to sell out Brewery and the Beast

The famed food and drink event used to have no difficulty in moving tickets.

The famed food and drink event used to have no difficulty in moving tickets 

Before COVID, selling tickets to Brewery and the Beast was just a matter of how fast the internet could process them. The all-you-can-eat-and-drink affair, put on Victoria-based 17 Black Events in Vancouver, Victoria and Calgary, features some of Canada’s most acclaimed restaurants.

After the pandemic, once inflation raged and the price of just about everything soared, Gurney and his team had to increase ticket prices by 50 percent to keep up with costs. But even then, customers came through. In 2021, the Vancouver event, which was half its regular size, sold out within a couple hours. In 2022, with a price increase of $4, it sold 80 percent of tickets in the first 48 hours, with the last 20 percent selling in the next three weeks. 

Of course, inflation—and particularly its impact on mortgage rates—has taken hold again. Brewery and the Beast isn’t increasing ticket prices this year, but consumers are feeling the squeeze tighter than they have in decades. When Gurney talked recently with BCBusiness, Brewery and the Beast was eight weeks into sales for the Vancouver edition with 85 percent of tickets sold. That’s still pacing for a sellout, but the change is noticeable.

“Regardless of the price of fuel or groceries, people are going to buy those, and the price of rent and mortgages—those who have the jobs are going to be able to stay housed,” says Gurney. “But they’re going to have to cut elsewhere, whether it’s a concert ticket, a weekend wine tasting, a trip to Seattle for a sporting event. We’re a luxury event, it’s a privilege to go to our events, not a necessity.”

If there’s one positive to come out of the economic conditions that are buckling his industry, it’s that there’s now an opportunity to reach more clientele. Before, if you weren’t ready to go at the purchase screen the second tickets were released, you didn’t get to go to Brewery and the Beast. Now, there’s room for people wanting to have that experience for the first time.

“Never let a good crisis go to waste—the fortunate part here is that we get to attract new people, that’s the bright side,” says Gurney. “As challenging as it’s been to initiate a marketing plan on short notice, we’re taking advantage of the opportunity to reintroduce the product to a lot of people.”

Gurney and company have also implemented an Afterpay program, in which customers can choose to defer payments. Pickup of the program hasn’t been extensive, but every bit helps.

Also on offer this year are some additional food and beverage names that keep the culinary standard sky high, like Vancouver restaurants Published On Main, Savio Volpe and Anh and Chi. It’s also the first time an Indigenous-focused restaurant will be in attendance, with Métis Bannock Queen slinging their take on the bread-based cuisine.

It’s meat, drinks and music, but there’s going to be a lot of fresh faces and a lot of fresh flavours,” says Gurney. “People who may have gone in 2016, or ‘17 that go, Well I’ve been before, I might not go again because money’s tight. I’m encouraging them to come because they’re going to get something they haven’t had before. The event has come a long way in six years.”