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Restaurants, hotels plan strategy for the big week


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Restaurants, hotels plan strategy for the big week

With Super Bowl 10 months away, some are booked while others wait for best deal.


The Times-Union

Hotel rooms are hard to find, but reservation books at Jacksonville-area restaurants are still wide open for Super Bowl week.

The first week of February, when the city will host the big game, could be a boon for area restaurants and may prompt a need to increase hours and add extra staff. Some owners remain cautious, however, saying that although it will be a busy week, record sales will depend on location, location, location.

Corporations, as well as the National Football League and the Jacksonville Super Bowl Host Committee, have contacted many area restaurants, but nobody's inking reservations yet. Most restaurants sampled expect to entertain large groups visiting for the game but won't make any firm commitments until later in the year.

Located on the river across from The Jacksonville Landing, the spacious River City Brewing Company would seem an ideal place for a corporate party. Because of the restaurant's potential, general manager Anthony Candalino said he's going to wait until June or July before deciding whether he will open for just one huge party per evening or host several smaller ones during the same day.

"As they are feeling us out, we are feeling them out," he said of initial inquiries.

Other restaurants are following suit.

Tom Gray, chef and co-owner at Bistro Aix, said he's been in talks with groups such as ESPN, America Online and Gatorade, but "we aren't guaranteeing anything yet."

Companies had better talk to Matthew Medure, owner of Matthew's in San Marco and the upscale Restaurant Medure in Ponte Vedra Beach. He said he's ready to sign some contracts.

"I imagine, with how aggressive the calls are, that we'll be booked within the next four to six weeks," he said of his plan.

However, he'd like to leave open a night or two for his local customers who may want to entertain that week as well. "I don't want to turn away the customers who take care of us all year round," he said.

Hotel rooms scarce

Unlike the restaurants, many Jacksonville-area hotels were booked as soon as the big game was announced.

The Adam's Mark, Jacksonville's largest downtown hotel, will be NFL headquarters for the Super Bowl. That means the league books the hotel's 966 rooms from Thursday through Sunday of Super Bowl week, General Manager Ben Soto said.

Several weeks before the game, the NFL plans to take up nearly two entire floors of the hotel with temporary offices, he said.

Adam's Mark also isn't booking any group events because the NFL is doing all of that, he said.

The hotel's regular restaurant will operate as normal during Super Bowl week. However, Soto said groups have asked to rent out the hotel's fine-dining Bravo Ristorante and no decision has been made on that yet.

The Super Bowl will be Soto's first experience with an organization taking over his entire hotel. He observed the behind-the-scenes action at the NFL headquarters hotel during this year's Super Bowl in Houston.

"After seeing it in Houston, that was helpful," Soto said. "I feel good about being able to pull it off here. There's just going to be a lot of people."

At the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, Dale Haney, vice president and general manager, said the hotel will be fully booked. In a typical year, the hotel has about 65 percent occupancy.

But they can handle the rush, Haney said.

"Having the TPC in the area every year helps us quite a bit in understanding what we should expect [for the Super Bowl]," Haney said. "We feel pretty confident and are ready for next year."

Banking on location

With an estimated 100,000 visitors expected to flood Northeast Florida, some restaurant owners are planning for record-breaking business during the Super Bowl. And it doesn't hurt to have your restaurant located close to the action.

Since it opened in the fall, the Amsterdam Sky Cafe, which sits in the heart of Jacksonville's sports complex, has been paying its bills by fans coming from the Jacksonville Barracudas hockey games at the Veterans Memorial Arena.

General manager Craig Barfield said he's expecting much more during the week of the Super Bowl, however, especially because his restaurant is in close proximity to Alltel Stadium and the planned temporary entertainment district.

Already, Barfield is taking phone calls from private groups and even NFL players on renting out the facility.

No decisions have been made yet on who will ultimately book the place or for what amount, but Barfield expects the restaurant will do the best business ever.

"I think the Super Bowl will showcase what we have," he said.

Other restaurants aren't counting on that week to pay many of the bills for 2005. Andrew Gabet, general manager of Copeland's of New Orleans in the Tinseltown district on the Southside, thinks it will be business as usual for his popular restaurant.

"It has been my experience in Super Bowl markets that if you are not within a few miles of the action you won't get a lot of play out of it."

Working for tips

If business is booming, most restaurants will need to hire more help.

Places like the Tree Steakhouse that normally only serve dinner are considering opening for breakfast and lunch functions that week. This possible need for extra staff could bring employment opportunities.

Bistro Aix will most likely extend its hours. Gray has already had offers from friends in the business in other cities to come in and help that week. It's common in the business for chefs to network with restaurants around the country to collaborate during big events and charity functions.

"They want to be here for a once-in-a-lifetime event," Gray said.

Not everyone will hang "help wanted" signs. For example, waiters looking for extra work shouldn't aim for the upscale restaurants.

"We are going to be staffed to handle maximum capacity," said Carol Kimsey, sales and marketing manager at Morton's of Chicago. "I don't think we will go the temporary route. We have a strict training process before we let them loose on the floor."

Times-Union writers Christopher Calnan and Jordan Rodack contributed to this report.

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