Steamboat Springs retires the ‘mozzarella cheese index’ that helped restaurants prepare for weekend crowds | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat Springs retires the ‘mozzarella cheese index’ that helped restaurants prepare for weekend crowds

Mazzola’s Italian Restaurant server Andreas Andersen takes drink orders from the Bergo family, of Fort Collins, at the restaurant.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs City Council member Scott Ford recalled that Tracy Barnett was animated on a summer day in the mid-1990s when she walked into the Steamboat Springs Visitor Center to announce some bad news.

Her Italian restaurant had run out of mozzarella cheese.

"When an Italian restaurant runs out of mozzarella, that's a big problem," Ford said.

Barnett, who owned Mazzola's Italian Restaurant with her husband, Cooper, at the time, did not have enough of the ingredients to serve all the customers who visited the restaurant on that summer weekend.

She wasn't expecting that many customers.

"As a restaurant owner, we had no idea back then what was coming up (in town) and what to expect and how much food to order and how to keep our schedules," Barnett said this week. "The town would be booked, and we, as restaurant owners, wouldn't have any idea that was the case."

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So she went to the visitor center seeking a way for the city to let businesses know just how busy it was expected to be in town on any given weekend.

Thus, the lodging barometer was born.

Ford, who quickly invented the tool that relied on calling a handful of lodging properties in town to see what their occupancy was looking like days in advance of a weekend, still refers to the tool as the "mozzarella cheese index."

Businesses quickly embraced the tool to help them know how many employees to have working on a given weekend, and how much mozzarella cheese to have in the fridge.

For more than two decades, the tool evolved. And a formula, which Ford joked looked like it came all the way from Pluto, was later developed to calculate the number of visitors in town based on how many “pillows” were going to be occupied at hotels.

Ford said while the tool was originally utilized to predict visitor magnitude, it became a tool trying to measure exactly how many visitors were going to be in town on any given weekend.

Ford doesn't think it was very good at doing that, and sometimes, he said business owners and former heads of Steamboat Ski Area would express frustration when they didn't see the lodging barometer’s predictions come true.

"We tried to get more meaning out of this tool than what it was intended for," Ford said.

With a large number of Steamboat visitors not staying in paid lodging, predicting the number of visitors in town by just calling lodging properties was not very accurate, Ford said.

He prefers to use a combination of lodging tax revenue, average daily rate and data that indicates how long someone’s trip was to estimate how many visitors were in town.

He added that, in recent years, the pool of properties being surveyed for the lodging barometer reverted to a more classic lodging set that perhaps wasn't representative of the lodging stock.

What will business owners do without the mozzarella cheese index?

The Steamboat Chamber Resort Association, with the help of the city, has purchased a new lodging forecasting tool provided by Destimetrics.

The report utilizes lodging data to indicate what nightly stays are on the books for the next 60 days.

Community members can gain access to the reports by subscribing to a newsletter from the Chamber.

Ford said he thinks businesses have found other ways to predict how many employees they will need in a given weekend.

"They're tracking their sales volumes and plates served," he said.

But Barnett, whose frustration with selling out of cheese spurred the creation of the tool, hopes the communication between event organizers, lodging properties and businesses continues.

"There probably are better ways to do it than we used to do it," Barnett said of predicting the number of visitors in town. "And if they've done that, that's terrific. I'm thinking most businesses don't have the time to spend (looking at previous years' sales volume) and analyzing those kind of things."

She said it would also be helpful for businesses to be in the loop on what events are going to be in town, so they can plan accordingly.

"Are they doctors or baseball players coming to town? Because they eat differently," she said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.