Restaurants on both the north and south ends of Hilton Head Island say business could not have been better during this year’s RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing golf tournament last week.
Not only did they outdo themselves compared with previous years, some restaurant owners believe this might have been the most profitable Heritage week they’ve experienced.
Why was this year better than most — and maybe even all — Heritage weeks?
Several positive factors came together to create the perfect scenario for success.
First, there was the parking.
In recent years, changes to the parking system at Heritage affected customer behavior.
For years, parking was always available in several lots throughout the Sea Pines community. However, due to heavy rain in 2014, the decision was made to move parking to Honey Horn, a change that became permanent the next year.
Unlike the 2015 tournament, though, when south-end businesses complained they lost revenue because parking had been moved out of Sea Pines to the north-end’s Honey Horn, this year’s Heritage provided parking at the Hilton Head school complex on the northern part of the island and at Coligny Plaza on the southern section with transportation to Harbour Town.
While north- and south-end parking and shuttles were available in 2016, spectators really seemed to have acclimated to the change this year.
Tom Reilley, co-owner of Reilley’s Grill & Bar, said the restaurant in Reilley’s plaza on the south-end of the island just outside the Sea Pines gates improved business by 15 percent over last year’s tournament. He said most customers were either locals or attendees of Heritage and that the plaza became so packed that guests even filled up the parking lot across the street.
“I can’t judge other businesses, but I know our business was fabulous,” he said. “We just had a huge increase in business.”
In 2015, Reilley was one of the few south-end businesses to tell The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette he didn’t have issues with the parking, and said again Thursday he didn’t believe parking had any affect.
“Restaurants are destination places,” he said. “I don’t think that aspect changes everything.”
Another factor that contributed to this year’s success was the weather, which was undoubtedly favorable, with sunny skies and temperatures ranging from mid-70s to 80 degrees throughout the week.
Add to that, this year’s Heritage fell during Easter Sunday.
Representatives of RBC Heritage have not finished calculating this year’s attendance levels, however, Angela McSwain, director of marketing and communications, said roughly 130,000 guests attended the tournament in 2016 and 110,000 in 2015.
Many are speculating that the 2017’s numbers will be even higher because of the holiday weekend and the beautiful weather.
Andrew Carmines, owner of north-end Hudson’s Seafood on the Docks, said the island felt like it was “summertime busy.”
“We love Heritage and I’m just so happy it’s still here,” he said. “It’s just a really amazing island tradition and something we need to fight to keep.”
But Carmines said he also credits his success this year to another aspect of the weekend: fish. He said Easter, Palm Sunday and Good Friday are three of the busiest days of the year for Hudson’s.
“Easter and Heritage kind of pushed it over the edge,” he said.
Jane Bistro in Shelter Cove Towne Center, a novice to the RBC Heritage after opening in July 2016, also experienced incredible business, co-owner Anne Sergent said. She attributed it to the tournament, the holiday and spring break.
“You had people who were here for the tournament, as well as vacation,” she said.
Leslie Stewart, co-owner of Palmetto Bay Sunrise Cafe, a popular breakfast spot on the south end, said her restaurant in the Palmetto Bay Marina actually broke a record for the amount of business it raked in Easter Sunday. She agreed with Carmines and Sergent that combining RBC Heritage and Easter Sunday made business soar compared to years before.
“We had a great experience with Heritage, we were very busy,” she said. “Heritage for us is usually very busy, but nothing like Easter.”
Of the trends she noticed, Stewart said the restaurant seemed to have more golf fans than in the past and April 14 was the busiest Friday she’s ever personally attended at Heritage. Most restaurants started wait lists for dinner starting as early as 5:30 p.m., she said.
Not only did it seem like more people were on the island, but visitors were also spending more money, Stewart said.
And she thinks Hurricane Matthew might be the reason.
“I don’t know if people were curious to see what the island would look like after last October or they just knew the situation it was in and wanted to support it,” she said. “Because of how October came through, and you know how people kind of walked around ... in a daze after that, I would say I felt like people’s perspective had changed about the month of January.”
She said RBC Heritage was needed and helpful in the continued rebuilding after the storm.
Beyond that, most people seemed to be in great spirits, she said.
“(Heritage) helped this community come back together,” she said.
Madison Hogan: 843-706-8137, @MadisonHogan