Downtown restaurants prepare for March Madness surge

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Restaurants across downtown Indianapolis are expecting big crowds throughout the rest of the month as the March Madness Tournament begins in the coming weeks. Navigating this spectacle in the midst of a pandemic is going to be new for many businesses downtown expecting to see a surge in sales since they were able to reopen nearly a year ago. 

Joel Reitz, owner of Prodigy Burger Bar located at 910 W Tenth St. downtown used basketball terminology to describe his preparation for the influx of business. 

“In preparation, by comparison in basketball terms, we’ve put the best team on the court and have spent many hours in the video room,” Reitz said.

Reitz’s restaurant got a preview of what to expect for the NCAA Tournament during the Big Ten Tournament a week prior to the announcement of the March Madness bracket. 

“The Big Ten Tournaments brought many to Indianapolis,” Reitz said. 

With the Big Ten Tournaments bringing much needed business, Reitz explained how he has seen a rise in dine-in, carryout, and delivery sales and expects to see more of it throughout the duration of the tournament, which ends at the beginning of April. 

Other veterans in the restaurant industry seem to be a little on edge when thinking about the increase in clientele during the tournament. 

Brionna Wray, lead server at St. Elmo Steak House in Circle Centre Mall downtown, is weary about the surge in business.

Increasing the restaurant's capacity right before the tournament has been the main challenge for Wray as of late. 

“This month has me stressed,” Wray said. 

“From a server's perspective, It’s harder to regulate people with certain restrictions being lifted,” Wray continued. “Also, we have been more busy than what I have been used to in the last year which has been mentally exhausting.”

Restaurants are now able to seat at 75% capacity and St. Elmo has opened up bar seating as another way to bring in additional revenue. 

“We haven’t seen this many people downtown in over a year, so we are staffed a little heavier than normal,” Wray said. 

The popular Steak House has also begun providing carryout options for teams and coaching staff that are currently in the bubble, increasing the restaurant's overall sales. 

With March Madness bringing in much needed business for those who have been struggling due to the pandemic, patrons seem to be anxious because they believe a return to normal is on the horizon. 

“Their(guests) anticipation has been encouraging for restaurant staff because we have been financially suffering for a year,” Wray said. 

“I think there will be a period of time where certain populations will be weary of coming out, but business will ultimately be good,” Wray concluded. 

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