What will Formula One's impact be on the local hospitality industry?
Last Thursday afternoon, the Austin chapter of the Texas Restaurant Association hosted an information seminar at Carmelo's with a representative from the Circuit of the Americas. We showed up because we're as curious as everyone else about the potential impact this new phenomenon is likely to have on the local hospitality industry. This meeting was one of several information sessions the COTA folks are having around town with transportation professionals, hotels, and the city. A representative of their guest services department walked us through details about the event and everyone left with a flash drive filled with info from her presentation. While I don't see myself attending any races, I am hoping there's at least a media tour of the facilities at some point in my future.
My impression was that the meeting was much more about how restaurants could answer questions about COTA for their own guests, instead of providing a sense of the impact restaurants might expect, but we did pick up a few morsels of information. Corporate food service giant Sodexo has the food service contract at the COTA track, as does Budweiser. There will be several food and beverage outlets on site, including an international food court that will include Salt Lick BBQ and Mr. Gatti's Pizza and an area with local food trucks, including East Side King, Chi'lantro, Peached Tortilla, and Fresh off the Truck. The venue will continue to provide food, drinks, and musical entertainment for a few hours after the qualifying round on Saturday and the race on Sunday afternoon, but will be closed by 6:30pm. Guests should be back in town to party in the evenings. Hotels in San Antonio and surrounding small towns are doing a brisk business because Austin hotel prices have been perceived as too high.
Of the 116,000 tickets already sold as of last week, 15% have been to international guests, mostly from Mexico and Canada, with 1,000 from France being the largest European contingent. So, although most of the ticket sales have been in Texas, California, New York, and Florida, there still may be several thousand guests who expect to eat very late and smoke everywhere.
In addition to crowds, the most likely inconvenience for Downtown business owners and local residents will be the street closures, some of which will run from Nov. 14-19. Plans call for street fairs and outdoor concerts during the race weekend, which could be dicey, weather-wise, here in mid-November. Local Texas Restaurant Association chapter president Skeeter Miller of the County Line summed it up to me this way: "This first year is going to be a lot like the first year of ACL; we'll just have to get through the first one and then we'll have a better idea about what adjustments to make for next year." Although rumors are swirling about Arab sheiks and/or international jet-setters offering to buy out whole restaurants for the evenings before, during, and after the race, we don't have confirmation on any of that; if your restaurant has been approached with some such offer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me all about it!
Look for all this week's restaurant news in our On the Range blog.