When the Republican National Convention descended on Tampa from August 27 to August 30, local restaurant and chain owners geared up for an influx of delegates, celebrities, and media into the Florida city. But with the tourists came Hurricane Isaac, and companies found themselves over prepared for a disappointing week.

Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant overstaffed in preparation for convention business. “We were expecting to have a big boom,” says general manager Steven Jackson. “But we actually did worse than we would have probably done on a regular week.”

Jackson says the restaurant went into the week prepared for at least a 25 percent boost in sales. Instead, they were down 10 percent. He attributes some of the decline to private parties in the Ybor City neighborhood.

“A lot of the people in the business have talked to each other to ask ‘Are you getting anything? Where are they all going?’ and they weren’t going to our places,” he says. “From what I hear, marketing and catering companies were filling up spaces for events and they weren’t using our local people, which was kind of a bummer.”

Nick Vojnovic, president of Little Greek Franchise Development, had a similar decrease in business in his restaurants.

“I think it was partly due to the hurricane, or the security, and people were out of town or weren’t eating out,” he explains. “The locals hunker down.”

Intense security and traffic kept visitors inside their hotels or to a strict schedule, and the locals stayed at home.

“Most of these big delegations didn’t have cars, they flew in and were shuttled back and forth,” Vojnovic says. “Once they were in the hotel they would travel by bus from the hotel to the convention center and back for receptions at the hotel. Hotels were the ones that benefitted.”

August and September are the slowest months of the year for Tampa, Jackson says, and they were expecting the convention to help significantly.

“If they would say, ‘Do we have your vote in this?’ again on whether to have it here, I’d say absolutely not. It’s a headache,” he says. "It was just a dud."

A week later in Charlotte, businesses were hesitantly optimistic about the September 4 to September 6 Democratic National Convention. The staff at The Palm hoped for help in what would typically be a quiet week. They increased their hours and stayed open all day Labor Day, says general manager Joey Profeta. For the first five days of September, business was up 23.62 percent.

“It’s not traditionally a busy week in that regard, so it actually helped us,” he adds.

The Palm is located in the SouthPark neighborhood, a few miles from uptown and the Time Warner Cable Arena where the convention was held.

“The impression was that the heavy action was uptown, and people chose to stay in that perimeter for convenience and security purposes,” Profeta says. “We were on the more fortunate spectrum, although we certainly would have liked to have more.”

Uptown was able to take advantage of the crowds that Tampa never seemed to experience. 5 Church in uptown opened for breakfast and extended its hours from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. The extra time paid off, with nearly three times more business than usual, according to Alejandro Torio, a partner in 5 Church and head of marketing. The restaurant hosted private parties and visiting celebrities during the week. On Wednesday, 5 Church was bought out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including a meal for the mayor of San Francisco, Torio says. The exodus of delegates and spectators from the arena each night kept uptown packed.

“There’s just so many people walking around the area at around 11:30,” Torio, a native of New York, says. “It felt like New Year’s Eve in New York City.”

By Jacqueline Kantor

Industry News