This week, bar owners have pre-ordered hundreds of extra pounds of chicken wings, rolled in more kegs of beer, and hooked up new and bigger televisions. Fans will start arriving in droves early Sunday to reserve their seats for the day, so they can watch the American Football Conference championship.
The stakes are high for the team: If the Ravens win, they go to the Super Bowl. And the stakes are equally high for bar and restaurant owners, who know that a winning team prolongs the football season and makes fans happy — and more likely to spend more money on food and drink. The championship game will spark the biggest revenue-generating day of the year, some bar owners say, with the exception of St. Patrick's Day.
"It's big-time," said Bill Blocher, owner of Red Brick Station in White Marsh. He bought a 108-inch high-definition projection TV system that he'll set up at the restaurant, which also has more than 20 flat-screen TVs and seats several hundred people.
"We will fill up. The bar will be full and overflowing," Blocher said.
In the run-up to the big game, chefs are pre-cooking wings and readying special menus that will steer customers to other favored football finger foods, such as sliders, nachos and steamed shrimp.
Blocher's kitchen staff will start pre-cooking the most popular football dish —wings — on Saturday. Padonia Station in Timonium and Mother's Federal Hill Grille started prepping their wings Friday, while Looney's Pub tried to get an early estimate of takeout wing orders by offering a 20 percent discount to patrons who order in advance.
(By 5 p.m. Friday, three locations of Looney's Pub in the Baltimore area were swamped with orders. In Canton, the bar had orders for 1,300 wings; Looney's in Columbia had 2,000 wings ordered; and the Looney's in Bel Air had 2,800 wings ordered.)
Area bars do brisk business during home games, but many of the most loyal Ravens fans are usually at the stadium, several owners said. Bar owners pull in bigger crowds and make more money on the Ravens' away games, they said.
This Sunday's Ravens matchup will be more intense than usual, and some bar owners believe a game such as this one will generate more revenue than the Super Bowl itself.
In the run-up to the Super Bowl, fans like to watch a team at their favorite sports bar, said Bill Larney, co-owner of Looney's Pub in Canton. But more people host or attend home-based Super Bowl parties, he reasons. Either way, a winning team helps overall sales, he said.
"When the Ravens win, our sales are three-quarters more for the day than when they lose," Larney said.
Doreen Gatewood, a manager at Padonia Station, said Sunday will probably be the biggest day of the year for the bar in terms of sales. On Sunday alone, the bar is prepared to sell as much as 800 pounds of chicken wings, she said. It's an all-hands-on-deck moment for the establishment and its staff, she said.
"We staff up; we know it's coming," Gatewood said.
The NFL playoffs come during a buoyant period for the bar and restaurant industry. According to the latest Department of Labor figures, the nation's economy added 24,000 jobs in food services and drinking places last month.
In fact, restaurants and bars have added an average 27,000 employees for each of the past five months; and last year, total nationwide sales grew by more than 6 percent — a positive sign for consumer confidence and consumer spending, economists say.
As big as the NFL playoffs are for area sports bars, many of the Irish-theme pubs point to a bigger day each year: St. Patrick's Day.
Slainte, in Fells Point, expects to have a large crowd Sunday because of the two National Football League games in the afternoon. But the pub also shows soccer matches on television.
And it just so happens that there are two big games in England in the morning, so the pub expects to be crowded both early and late, according to Slainte's marketing and social media director, Willy Dely.
"We'll be busy," he said. "But St. Paddy's day is our biggest day."
On Friday, staffers at Padonia Station received around 20 cases of wings, each weighing about 40 pounds. The kitchen staff started to pre-cook some of the wings, so that on game day, all the staff needs to do is toss them in a fryer for several minutes before serving them to customers.
The big sellers on game days are wings, nachos and chicken bites, said Gatewood. "We probably will double our orders. It's the single-biggest day of the year. If the Super Bowl hits us [with the Ravens playing], then that will end up being our biggest day."
At Mother's Federal Hill Grille, co-owner Kelly Rather said the chef has ordered 350 pounds of wings in preparation for the weekend. The bar/restaurant is a well-known haunt for Ravens fans. During last week's playoff game against the Houston Texans, the wait for a table started at 8 a.m., she said.
Because the restaurant serves breakfast, Rather said, fans will come early and eat breakfast and lunch before the football games begin. And if the Ravens win, they'll stay for dinner, she said.
She expects Sunday's sales to increase by 50 percent over a regular-season Ravens away game. That's because the Ravens start their game at 3 p.m., and fans will want to start hanging out early at the restaurant, she believes.
"I'm expecting people will come out early to get their spot and stay all day," Rather said. "Once people have it, they don't want to give it up."