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Creative events and package deals let operators take advantage of fall tourism

This year has been especially challenging for restaurants that depend on travelers for a good percentage of their business. But the year’s not over yet, gas prices are falling and savvy operators can still take advantage of the fall-color season to bring in customers.

“You have to really get creative,” said Bobby Bowers, spokesman for Smith Travel Research in Nashville, Tenn. Hotels and resorts with food and beverage components may benefit from putting together value-added packages to include some meals, spa treatments, golf or other amenities, he said.

Michigan, which has become a major wine-producing state, has many wine-focused special events this fall, including a harvest wine weekend at the Homestead Resort, built on 350 wooded sand dunes on the Leelanau Peninsula. The resort package includes a tasting tour of three area wineries with lunch provided and a five-course wine dinner at the resort’s flagship Nonna’s restaurant.

Adults who are serious aficionados of wine and food also gather at the end of October at The American Club resort in Kohler, Wis., for the annual Kohler Food & Wine Experience. The three-day event throughout the resort features celebrity chefs, winemakers and authors who conduct cooking demonstrations and wine tastings.

Attendance at this fall’s festival is likely to surpass last year’s, which was a full house and included guests from 35 states and six foreign countries, said Ulrich Koberstein, director of culinary arts. Sales at the resort’s restaurants year-to-date are up between 5 percent and 12 percent, he said.

Families with young children may prefer the Autumn Magic Festival at the newly renovated historic French Lick Resort in Southern Indiana, which features musicians, puppetry and magicians every weekend in October, along with seasonal restaurant treats. The now family-friendly resort was originally built in 1902 and became a major attraction for celebrities and politicians.

Wineries in and near Hermann, Mo., located a little more than an hour west of St. Louis, are grouping together to promote Missouri wine country this fall with winery tours and Oktoberfest celebrations. Stone Hill Winery, which dates back to 1847 and is on the National Historic Register, also is promoting its Vintage Restaurant, which serves German and American cuisine in a restored carriage house and horse barn.

“Tourism has been affected,” said Thomas Held, Stone Hill spokesman, estimating that sales are down at least 10 percent from last year at both the Hermann and Branson, Mo., locations.

Stone Hill has stepped up its Hermann fall events this year with weekend live music and a bratwurst stand and a little extra advertising.

“People are nervous about the economy and are staying home more and dining out less,” Held said. “We hope people settle back in and start enjoying life a little bit again.”

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