The jewel of Fiserv Forum, the Panorama Club, sits near the rafters on the northeast corner of the newly opened home for the Milwaukee Bucks.
In the past two months, plenty of fans found their way to the gathering area. Dozens shoot selfies every night on the outside porch that provides spectacular views of downtown.
But while it’s a striking physical space, the Panorama Club lacked something. And that’s where hospitality experts Joe and Angie Sorge stepped in.
“It didn’t have any vibe,” said Joe Sorge.
The Sorges tweaked the lighting, jazzed up the music and worked with the bartenders to speed up service.
The space now has a “chill night club feel,” Joe Sorge said. And more people are hanging out and pausing to enjoy a beer, rather than just coming to sightsee.
The modest changes boosted revenue from the space. It also helps the Bucks in their pursuit of a naming rights sponsor for the club.
It’s an eye for these kinds of improvements that led Bucks President Peter Feigin to bring the Sorges onto the Fiserv Forum team as consultants.
The couple recently sold to Marcus Investments their stake in Hospitality Democracy, the company that they built around their local restaurant group that includes AJ Bombers, Smoke Shack, Holey Moley doughnuts, Onesto, Swig and Blue Bat Kitchen.
“These guys know what it means to be best in class,” Feigin said. “I wanted to borrow their brains to do it for the arena.”
Both Feigin and the Sorges said the couple isn’t being asked to “fix” the food and beverage operation.
“They ‘get’ the food and beverage customer, and they ‘get’ the Milwaukee customer,” Feigin said.
“They have the ‘hospitality quotient’ baked into in their DNA,” Feigin said. “They’re perfectionists who can see an issue and correct it.”
The couple is helping the Bucks optimize their massive new building without getting in the way of Levy, the company that handles food and beverages in the building.
They Sorges are trying to get the pizza, burgers and beers in the hands of customers as quickly and pleasantly as possible. Time is of the essence, especially during basketball games.
“We’re super careful about how we work with their systems,” Angie Sorge said of Levy. “We want them to see us as providing added value.”
The Sorges patrol the concourses of the arena during virtually every event. It’s a combination of secret shopping, crowd watching and looking for things that are out of place such as a merchandise table that gets in the way of fans.
Walking through the arena in a recent quiet afternoon, the Sorges paused on the north side of the main concourse. With two bars, several food stands and nice views of the basketball court, it’s a hot spot during games and concerts — almost to a fault. Crowds gathered, and the concourse was clogged by beer lines that stretched too long.
The Sorges changed the way that customers line up, improved training of bartenders and the service speeded up. The lines stopped blocking traffic,
“We’re trying to find ways that the various areas and facilities can come together to make this not feel like an arena,” Joe Sorge said.
Another project for the Sorges lies at the top of a long escalator at the southeast corner of the upper concourse. There’s a nice space there, framed by soaring windows.
“This is going to be a candy store,” Angie Sorge said. “We think it will add something special to the building.”
At the “Candy Lab” customers can fill bags with treats, weigh them and check out.
The Sorges got a taste of the stadium business when the Milwaukee Brewers made their restaurants a key part of the $20 million Miller Park concession upgrade. There are 28 concession stands with the various Hospitality Democracy brands.
Minding their company’s operations at a stadium — or free standing bars and restaurants — is different from looking at the overall hospitality service at an arena.
The Sorges say there’s a common denominator.
“Our focus was always on providing a great guest experience,” Angie Sorge said.
Bucks president Feigin says happy customers buy more, have a better time and will return for another event.
“What they are doing has a real rate of return — you can quantify it.”
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