Graduation season: How Tucson hotels and eateries handle the increase of people

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Carly Markovich | The Daily Wildcat

Windows reflect onto the facade of the Marriott hotel on 2nd Street. The hotel is conveniently close to University Boulevard which has a variety of restaurants to choose from.

As graduation season approaches, businesses surrounding the University of Arizona prepare for the incoming crowds. 

The UA is no stranger to this, as they hold annual commencement ceremonies for about 9,000 students. With a large graduating class, many families from out of town come to stay near the university to attend the ceremonies.

The Graduate and Marriott hotels are two locations that families book around graduation. Restaurants like Caruso’s and bakeries like Woops! Bakeshop also see an increase in reservations and orders. While some would panic at the increase of customers, these places have a system as to how they handle the influx.

Ande Motzkin, the general manager of Caruso’s, knows how to handle the boost in business around May. With the restaurant being one of the more popular places to eat, she knows how to prepare.

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“During the regular season, we can take reservations for up to 40 people. During the month of May we reduce that to 12 as a maximum. Another thing that we do is we have started taking deposits for reservations because a lot of times plans will change at the last minute and with the shortage of staff that’s happening all around we’re having to compensate servers to come in on their days off or work on days they don’t normally work,” Motzkin said.

Caruso’s has been in Tucson since 1938. It is popular due to its location on Historic Fourth Avenue along with its delicious Italian food and unlimited garlic bread.

“Normally we allow people to choose their times, but what we’ve done is take-in [dining] from opening to closing. So, we make two-hour blocks for our tables that we reserve and that’s all we can take, so we leave a few tables open for people who walk in or didn’t know we take reservations,” Motzkin said.

Besides restaurants, bakeries are another popular place for orders to celebrate with family and friends. Ellie Lippel, one of the owners of Woops! Bakeshop, knows what items sell the most around graduation time.

“We are known for our macarons, and during graduation time, also gifting. We have very cute wraps for the boxes. It’s an indulgent gift and treat so people like gifting them for graduation. We get several orders for those people that are having parties at their homes or their sororities or wherever. Anything macaron based is the big seller during graduation,” Lippel said.

Woops! Bakeshop is still fairly new to Main Gate Square as it opened around six years ago. Lippel made connections with customers and shared great stories and memories with them.

“There was a family a couple of years ago, they were having a big graduation party, they ordered a pyramid, we made it customized for them with the UA logo on top and made it all nice and it was great. Then, a couple of years later, they came back for us to do their wedding,” Lippel said.

It isn’t just restaurants and bakeries that handle the increase of customers for graduation–hotels do as well. The Graduate is one of the closest hotels to campus.

Ivan Garcia, the food and beverage supervisor, knows a thing or two about handling the sudden arrival of guests, especially in the bar and restaurant.

“What we normally try to do is keep our bar lounge open seating but when we have a large demand of guests we will put a sign where we seat guests so that they are seated by us and we have a controlled flow of guests as well as have servers help provide the service,” Garcia said.

While the Graduate is known for the rooftop bar and restaurant as well as the heated rooftop pool, it also is the closest hotel to the downtown area as well as the UA. Due to these benefits, once bookings fill up there is no more vacancy.

Right next door to the Graduate is the Marriott Hotel, also known as Tucson Marriott University Park

Jill Nghiem, the general manager at the Marriott, knows how to prepare their location for an increase of guests. 

“We ensure we have enough supplies on hand like shampoo, toilet paper, etcetera and schedule as much staff as we possibly have at all times and stop accepting bookings once all two hundred and fifty guest rooms have been sold,” Nghiem said.

Even with COVID-19 protocols starting to lift, Nghiem still takes precautions with the staff as well as the guests during their stay.

“Marriott has changed their policy in all hotels regarding cleaning guest rooms during a guest's stay. Not only is it because of staffing shortages, but it is also much better for the environment not to clean and change linen every day,” Nghiem said. “In food and beverage, we have streamlined menus and implemented ‘ordering at the counter’ to make things quicker and more efficient. We also encourage guests to check in using the mobile app and use their mobile key, which will eliminate the need for them to stop at the front desk.”

All four of these businesses had two common pieces of advice: be patient with the staff as COVID-19 and staff shortages have changed many workplace protocols, and order, reserve or book ahead of time, as far back as a couple of months before the date to as close as three weeks before the date. 


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