Milwaukee restaurants must prepare for huge crush coming during DNC

SURG Restaurant Group co-owner and president Omar Shaikh speaks at the 2015 BizTimes Get Smarter Talent Development Conference.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:21 pm

SURG Restaurant Group co-owner and president Omar Shaikh.

When the Democratic National Convention attracts an expected 50,000 visitors to Milwaukee in July 2020, there will be no shortage of diners for area restaurants– and that’s an understatement.

“Nobody really understands what’s coming,” said Omar Shaikh, co-owner and president of SURG Restaurant Group. “This is going to be a situation where nobody is going to be fighting for business, where we’re going to be pulling our hairs out calling each other saying, ‘Can you get this party? Can you fit that party in?’ We’ve had a lot of large events in Milwaukee– nothing like this, nothing to the magnitude of this.”

But luckily, there are roughly 480 days to prepare.

As the chair of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association’s Milwaukee Kitchen Cabinet board, Shaikh plans to inform other restaurant owners and operators of what the convention means for them.

“Nobody is going on vacation– all hands on deck and you might have to hire up people for this,” he said.

Visit Milwaukee will also play a role in ensuring the local dining scene is primed to handle the unprecedented amount of demand.

The organization is already taking steps to educate restaurants about the event at large, namely what the DNC is and what its delegates will be doing at the convention, said Visit Milwaukee’s president and CEO Paul Upchurch. 

Restaurants will also be trained in best practices for booking tables in the midst of high-volume demand. Those trainings will be held next summer closer to the event, Upchurch said.

“Restaurants need to know what to anticipate, what to expect, and that they are doing what’s best for them to maximize their profit,” he said.

While the convention has claimed Fiserv Forum as its main venue, venues across the city will house some of the 1,500 to 2,000 convention-related functions, such as rallies, meetings, breakfast events and dinner parties, set to take place during the four-day event.

Larger groups will book mainstays like the Summerfest grounds, Harley-Davidson Museum and Milwaukee Art Museum, but smaller events will find their ways into Milwaukee’s many restaurants– Visit Milwaukee’s website lists almost 350 of what it deems the “best” eateries.

Upchurch said restaurants are already getting calls in “high-volume,” with inquiries about dining reservations and private events. However, he thinks Milwaukee is more than capable of executing the largest convention the state has ever landed.

“Milwaukee is a city that during summer weekends and big events seems to know how to handle a lot of people, and well,” he said. “This is something we do pretty regularly. We can handle it.”

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

No posts to display