Gainesville residents and restaurants deal with congested city on game weekends
Gainesville resident Elizabeth Scott chose not to attend the University of Florida’s home football opener in September, having dealt with what she called the game day “laughable nonsense” for 19 years.
But this didn’t stop 90,799 other fans from attending the home opener football game and contributing to the new fan count record in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Attendance for UF’s homecoming game Saturday, when the Florida Gators play the Missouri Tigers at noon, is expected to reach a similar record turnout.
Gainesville hotels, restaurants and city residents plan ahead to accommodate the influx of out-of-town visitors and locals on game days.
Visit Gainesville, the visitors and convention bureau of Alachua County, collected data from the Hotel Smith Travel Report and the Alachua County Tax Collector office that showed the economic impact of visitors to Gainesville on game weekends.
The report indicated the six football weekends in Gainesville during the 2021 season brought in $14 million in revenue, while the remaining six non-football regular season weekends generated $5.7 million. The estimated direct hotel impact from UF football game visitors was $8.1 million for the season and $1.35 million per game in 2021.
With more people staying at hotels, restaurants also reported reaping the benefits. Ryan Prodesky, who has owned The Swamp Restaurant for 27 years, said every restaurant and entertainment venue in the city sees increased sales on game weekends because of the visitors. This was something he considered when he closed The Swamp Restaurant for two years to renovate and reopen in a new location.
He said the preparation of food and setup at his new venue, which opened in August, changes slightly on game weekends. The dining room is arranged differently to maximize seating capacity, and more employees are scheduled to work, chefs especially, to ensure food is prepared in a timely manner.
Prodesky said The Swamp Restaurant also attempts to grab fans’ attention visually on game weekends by changing the staff’s uniforms and adding decorations to the dining area.
The restaurant also uses a scaled-down menu on game days to get food out more quickly, he said. One of the restaurant’s customers and Gainesville resident, Matthew Burke, is not happy with this change.
“I am a vegan and the vegan power wrap is not on the game-day menu,” Burke said. “I no longer eat at The Swamp on game days, and honestly it upsets me because a lot of my friends like to go there, but there is no vegan meal option for me on the menu.”
Prodesky said that putting out good food for the customers is and always will be the restaurant’s priority whether there is a football game or not.
The Swamp Restaurant will continue its current policy of no reservations on game days, according to Prodesky, because it is easier on the customers and the staff. He said the restaurant will consider doing call aheads and catering in the future.
Another business in Gainesville that has benefitted from game days is Uppercrust, a bakery located on Northwest 16th Boulevard.
Ben Guzick, Uppercrust’s owner, said his business has been around for 40 years and has seen many large crowds descend during UF football game days and game weekends.
Uppercrust prepares specials, such as Gator-themed sugar cookies and cupcakes, every game day for its customers, Guzick said.
Bakers need to come in earlier on game days because production quotas are higher, he said. The bakery also has one additional server working in the morning to provide the same level of service regardless of the occasion.
Uppercrust takes call-ahead orders, especially for larger orders, on a game weekend, according to Guzick, who encourages customers to place their orders three days in advance. He said the store also takes day-of orders on game days, but only for items that are in stock to help guests avoid long lines at the bakery.
“There are no current parking issues at the Northwest location that I know of,” Guzich said. “I am happy about this because then most of the regulars and visitors are still able to come to the bakery on game days.”
He mentioned that he would not be shocked if regulars decided to stay away due to the number of people in the city.
Richard Bex, a Gainesville resident and self-proclaimed regular Uppercrust customer, said he avoids the bakery on game weekends because it takes too much time to get there, find parking and then wait in line.
Bex said the parking lot is packed on game weekends because The Flying Biscuit, another breakfast place, is located near Uppercrust. He said he also gets annoyed on game weekends because it normally takes him 15 minutes to get to Uppercrust from his house, but on those days it takes him at least 25 minutes due to the backed-up roads.
“Avoid the roads on game days,” he said. “If I am not going to Uppercrust for my Saturday morning pastry, then I am not going anywhere.”
Bex said now that he knows the bakery does call-aheads for orders, he may consider going more often on game weekends so he can try the game day specials.
Gainesville traffic and overcrowding on game weekends is a common complaint.
Scott said the main reason she does not attend UF football games anymore is because she is tired of dealing with the traffic and the large number of people. Scott said she encounters the most traffic around Southwest 24th Avenue and is frustrated with the city of Gainesville for making it a two-lane road.
“I have difficulty getting to work, and the amount of parking is honestly laughable,” Scott said.
Instead, Scott said she stays at home, watches the game on her big-screen TV and drinks a mango-flavored White Claw. On days before or after the game she said she doesn’t venture downtown much because she knows the traffic will be bad and restaurants either don’t offer reservations or they are already booked.
The only restaurant she would commit to on game weekends, she said, is Dragonfly or Spurrier’s. Dragonfly doesn’t take reservations, though, and Spurrier’s requires reservations months in advance, according to Scott, who prefers to relax while her husband uses his Big Green Egg grill to barbecue. If they are feeling lazy, they order from an Indian street food restaurant.
“Myself and all of my friends think game weekends are a struggle based on firsthand experiences,” she said. “The lack of infrastructure is a pain in Gainesville. It is not always best to be at the game in person.”
Scott said she wants to remind other residents that, even though the games are fun, staying at home is fun too. With her approach, she said, she is almost guaranteed a parking space.