Shooters Waterfront: Dining on the ICW

The amount of convenient parking a restaurant has available often impacts the amount of business it receives. Being located next to a body of water – be it a lake, sea, or river – gives restaurants a unique opportunity to let guests arrive by boat in addition to car, bike, and foot. Being a dockside restaurant comes with a unique set of operational benefits and challenges, so we talked to Peter Lopez, director of operations for Shooters Waterfront, a restaurant located on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to learn more.

Eating on the Intracoastal Waterway

The ICW is an inland waterway that provides a safe, navigable route along more than 3,000 miles of America’s eastern seaboard. Fort Lauderdale has earned the nickname “Venice of America” because of its position on the ICW and the series of canals in the city that supports its booming boating industry.

“The Intracoastal here in Fort Lauderdale is a huge means of travel and leisure and sport,” says Lopez. “It’s a major part of our operation. You have anywhere from 400 to 500 boats going by in front of you every day.”

Shooters Waterfront is also one of nearly a dozen stops on the Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi route, so a new load of potential customers is dropped off at Shooters once or twice each hour in search of food, drinks, and entertainment.

“Most restaurants only have one entrance,” says Lopez. “We have a 340-foot dock space, where we have 340 feet of entrance space onto our restaurant and property. For us, it adds an extra revenue center.”

Because of the boat-up restaurant’s south Florida location, the dock is a year-round source of revenue, rather than a seasonal amenity, though it’s busiest from November to July.

“The fall slows down a little bit, but in winter, the snowbirds come down,” says Lopez. “We also have the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show here the first week of November, and that brings a lot of boats our way because they’re brought down here and they go right by us to go to the boat show.”

The restaurant has more than 500 seats, but the property also includes a catering and banquet company, Grateful Palate. There may be dozens of boats tied up at the dock at one time, which can often be the most challenging aspect of operation.

“Sometimes you have a $4 million yacht that doesn’t want another yacht tied up to them, and you’re three or four deep already,” says Lopez. “We have dock masters that are here that work with the yachts to bring them in. You have to have all the right skilled people to be able to work the dock.”

The dock at Shooters attracts guests who want to enjoy private parties and special events, like the September 5 cocktail party for the season five premiere of Below Deck, a show on Bravo TV about yacht employees, as well as a popular summer concert series. It also brings in guests who want to show off their boats.

“It’s a showplace for a lot of our guests,” explains Lopez. “There’s some very unique yachts that are here, one-of-a-kind customs. Every weekend it’s kind of like your mini boat show.”

The boating lifestyle in Fort Lauderdale means the majority of visitors are aware of how to dock without inconveniencing other guests or Shooters employees.

“Definitely there’s etiquette when you’re parking or pulling up: no wake, obviously, is the first one, and then abiding by the dock masters’ rules where they’ll load you up and dock you,” says Lopez. “Most of the time, some of the larger boats, the nicer boats, they’ll call us before and reserve a spot. That way we know we’ve got a couple 100-footers or 60-footers and 40-footers coming in, and we can kind of play around with the other boats as they pull up so we have space for them whenever they come.”

In addition to the logistics of docking each visitor’s vessel, being a dockside restaurant comes with one very important consideration: insurance.

“The insurance is the biggest thing because you’re on a waterfront, but that comes with any waterfront property,” says Lopez. “There’s certain insurances that you have to have, obviously, when you’re doing business off of your property. You can’t have your servers go onto the boats. Lots of times the boats will come up and they’ll want to be served on their boat; we can bring the food up to their boat but not onto their boat.”

Insurance also covers incidents that may occur on the dock. Although that isn’t a common issue, guests do sometimes jump from one boat to another, particularly during the summer concert series when as many as 50 boats are tied up at a time.

Because the dock at Shooters is built from concrete instead of wood, it requires less upkeep throughout the year, although there are still some necessary maintenance tasks and associated costs.

“The normal wear and tear that we have are replacing some of the boat bumpers, and you have to clean the scaling on the pylons,” says Lopez. “You have to have permits for the docks and to pay X amount to civil engineers that do the upkeep to the Intracoastal [but] our dock is probably built for the next hundred years.”

Ariana Keller
Ariana Keller

Ariana Keller was raised on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in south Alabama, where she learned to fish and love football. She moved to Knoxville with her family when she was 12 and later graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in English. Passionate about Marvel Comics, Critical Role, and all things geeky, she spends her free time playing tabletop and video games, collecting beer caps from craft breweries around the country, and passionately rooting for mediocre sports teams. She is an advocate for animal rescue and lives in Knoxville with her husband and their two adopted pets: a hound dog named Beau and a Maine Coon mix named Vesper.

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