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Osteria De Medici has hosted celebrities and former U.S. presidents, has a long list of loyal, moneyed customers and has been a go-to restaurant for Calgary's corporate parties for almost three decades.

But when owner Maurizio Terrigno describes the outlook for Calgary's high-end dining scene, he has a sombre assessment.

"It's a disaster," Mr. Terrigno says, fizzy water in hand at his family's imposing Italian restaurant just across the Bow River from downtown.

Corporate diners account for about 70 per cent of his business, and Osteria De Medici's total year-over-year sales were down about 35 per cent. Christmas party bookings were down by half.

While Mr. Terrigno says Osteria De Medici is established enough to weather the downturn – and will even open an on-site private club in 2016 – the collapse in the price of oil and the resulting job losses in Calgary have hammered the city's swank restaurants.

"There's going to be a lot of blood on the streets," he says.

Across the board, downtown Calgary restaurants with fine linen and plush chairs are seeing their sales plummet. Holiday parties were cancelled or downsized, executives are ordering a beer instead of a fine bottle of wine when they go out, while white-collar workers with clipped expense accounts are bringing a bagged lunch.

Calgary's unemployment rate in November, 2014, was 4.6 per cent. One year later, unemployment hit 6.9 per cent, with no relief in sight. With the belief that oil prices are likely to stay low in the near term and more layoffs will hit in the first quarter of 2016, even those who still have money won't be spending it on upscale dining, say restaurant owners. While thousands are losing their jobs, anything perceived as ostentatious is out.

"Fine dining as we knew it is dead. It no longer exists," says Lance Hurtubise, chief executive of the Vintage Group, which owns five downtown restaurants.

"The problem is corporate people are laying off people, so they can't go out and celebrate Christmas and stuff – because the dynamics of that are just terrible."

High oil prices over much of the past decade brought a corresponding boom in restaurants, many with high-end prices, and many of them catering to corporate Calgary.

But the low price of crude has brought about a massive change in the restaurant industry in the past 12 months. Owners say they have also been hit by the low Canadian dollar and the rising costs of food, alcohol and other supplies, as well as an Albertan minimum wage that is being gradually increased until it hits $15 an hour in 2018.

A number of higher-end restaurants from established restaurateurs closed their doors this year – including Brava Bistro, Il Sogno, Corbeaux Bakehouse and the Vintage Group's Rush Ocean Prime.

Not all of the closings were pinned directly to the downturn in the economy, or the downturn in corporate Calgary specifically, but many restaurant owners say it was a major factor.

"We closed Rush because it was built for corporate sales, and corporate sales are down," Mr. Hurtubise says.

He says his other restaurants – which include a downtown steakhouse and bar and grill-style eateries – are still doing relatively well, and then pauses to clarify. "When I say 'well,' I think flat is the new up in Calgary."

Mr. Hurtubise's restaurants used to host Christmas parties for 50 to 200 people. But this year, the types of parties they saw were for 10 to 12 people. And "it used to be open bar and now it's drink tickets."

Joe Mathes, co-owner of La Chaumière, says the French restaurant still had decent volumes during the corporate Christmas party season but many of the extras – an end-of-the-night cognac, for instance – have gone missing.

"We created a really loyal clientele, and that's what helps us in bad times," he says. "But you know, the corporate stuff, you still feel it it – the smaller parties."

He says prebooking for January is down 20 per cent compared with the same time last year. La Chaumière has attracted Calgary establishment types since it opened in 1978, and Mr. Mathes has seen oil busts and booms hit Calgary before. He thinks this particular downturn "will be as tough as the tougher ones we've seen."

But in the downturn, beer halls – or anywhere else serving less-expensive food – are still managing steady sales.

Jeff Hanna, owner of Barcelona Tavern, says his downtown Spanish-styled eatery serving "affordable" tapas and mains is busy. He says his restaurant has served many groups of newly laid-off workers, who have got together to eat, drink and commiserate.

The tavern's signature promotion this year has been the "Time to Wine about Oil" deal, which gives 20 per cent off every bottle of wine between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., every weekday, until oil hits $70 (U.S.) a barrel again.

Mr. Hanna says when he began offering the tongue-in-cheek deal in January, he thought it would last for three or four months.

"Little did I know."

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