At 7:30 p.m. on a Friday, the dining room at Canteen Modern Tequila Bar on Tempe's Mill Avenue is packed with groups of stylish young people. Servers hustle out Latin fare, and indie rock plays in the background.
At 11 p.m., the dining room is still packed, but with gyrating couples. Sexy scruffy bartenders rapidly fire off tequila shots and a DJ plays Top 40 dance tunes, from Cee Lo Green's "Forget You" to "Raise Your Glass" by Pink.
In increasing numbers, this is the newest face of Valley nightlife, with a small-but-growing percentage of restaurants converting into dance clubs. As the effects of the recession linger, restaurateurs are working harder than ever to get the most profit out of their buildings.
"A lot of this is mandated by a poor economy," said James Spiers, senior lecturer of marketing at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business. "Restaurants that were cruising along all of a sudden now had to think, and be creative. 'How can I survive? What else can I do?' So they tried to utilize the time they wouldn't be open and offer something specialized, whether it's dance nights or cooking classes."
At Canteen, it's working.
"We had planned to have DJs on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from the get-go, but we didn't expect it to catch on as quickly as it has," owner Julian Wright said.
Wright said his profits have doubled since opening, and nightlife sales are growing more quickly than dinner.
"We need to transition gently," Wright said. "We slowly start turning the music up in the bar areas from 9:45 to 10:45, and keep it down in the dining room. By 10:45, we put the pedal to the metal."
The idea of restaurants transitioning into dance spots has been around as long as owners have paid rent or mortgages. But owners are getting much more strategic.
Many Latin and Mediterranean restaurants, such as Pepin in Scottsdale and the Olive Branch in Tempe, host salsa nights. Lessons start after dinner, followed by DJ'd salsa dancing until 2 a.m.
The dance night must match the restaurant's concept, and must be marketed as an extension of the brand, said Donna Hood Crecca, publisher and editorial director at Nightclub & Bar.
"You can't just throw up a dance floor, bring in a DJ and expect the guests to flow in the front door," Hood Crecca said.
In Phoenix, Heinrich Stasiuk started throwing late-night dance parties at his restaurant, Black Forest Mill, in 2009. The DJ-driven parties were runaway successes that made up in liquor sales what Stasiuk was missing in slumping food sales.
When he opened the Brick Pizzeria & Wine Bar in downtown Phoenix in 2010, Stasiuk brought along the concept. Brick has a lounge feel even during lunch, so staff just move tables and switch on mood-setting blue lights to create the Cheap Thrills atmosphere. The party routinely packs the restaurant.
"The night has exceeded my expectations," Stasiuk said. "With the amount of volume we do in liquor sales, it's like adding another day."
Stasiuk then launched a jazz night at his Sedona restaurant, Ken's Creekside American Bistro.
As general manager at the District American Kitchen and Wine Bar at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, Stasiuk introduced Valley DJs on Friday nights; the party is still strong.
"Any restaurant can do it," Stasiuk said. "They just have to do it right."
But it takes a lot to lure dancers into a spot used for dining.
In 2008, Lyte Lounge & Bistro in Old Town Scottsdale served sophisticated dishes from celebrated chef Justin Chacon by day, and by night became a beat-bumping club with bottle service. It closed after a year.
"I really believed in the idea and thought it had a decent following," Chacon said. "But maybe it was too far out. . . . And then the economy just ran it down."
Even now, managers struggle.
Primebar at Scottsdale Quarter hosts bands and DJs every weekend on the dining room's oversize stage.
"When we first started, we had a few bands that did detriment to our business," said bar manager Sean Snelling. "So we try to change it up on Fridays, and have a contract with EastonAshe on Saturdays, who are one of the more popular cover bands in town."
The concept can be pricey and time-consuming, but worth it financially.
At Tuscan Oven in Glendale's Westgate City Center, general manager Cody Lewien not only hires DJs on Friday and Saturday nights, but hosts a ladies night on Wednesdays, salsa dancing on Thursday and an industry night on Sundays. To make the transition, candles are lit and staff members change into dressier ensembles - corsets for waitresses, suits for doormen.
Now the late nights account for 40 to 50 percent of the restaurant's profits.
"In the environment we are in financially, we have to do a lot of different things to diversify, and to maintain and keep guests coming in," Lewien said.