Seeking F & B Efficiency
by Steven Marlin
Seeking F & B Efficiency
Modern food and beverage technologies are finding increased traction in the gaming industry
It wasn’t too long ago that food and drink’s main role in a casino setting was to provide sustenance to players. By plying customers with inexpensive food and booze, the credo went, casinos could keep them from wandering off the premises.
Now the situation is reversed. Food and beverage today is being used as a magnet to attract patrons in search of gustatory pleasure. Whether it’s celebrity chefs, high-end restaurants, upscale buffets or ritzy bars, nightclubs and ultralounges, operators are striving for pizzazz by adjusting price, quality, and atmosphere to keep guests coming back.
In this modern era of food and beverage operations, demand is high to keep patrons interested—and spending. Higher customer demand means adjusting the way food and beverage operations have tradition-ally operated. Thanks to new technologies and strategic food and beverage mindsets, operators now have the opportunity to turn what had been a loss leader into a profit-generating part of the casino-resort-entertainment experience.
In Nevada, Atlantic City and other gaming destinations, the challenge of mass producing top quality menu items at a reasonable price has led to the adoption of new equipment and technology, some of it adapted from outside the gaming industry.
Cook chill systems, for example—a mainstay of hospital and prison commissaries—have taken a large role in casino food and beverage operations. With cook chill equipment, a smorgasbord of items—soups, sauces, stews, casseroles, salad dressings, cold salads, gelatins, pie fillings, whole meats, ethnic specialties—can be produced in larger volumes, in less time, and with better results than with traditional cooking methods.
All that’s required for a small- to medium-sized cook chill operation is a combi oven, a blast chiller or freezer, and a cold room for storing the finished product for up to five days or a freezer for storing frozen products.
At Paragon Casino Resort in Louisiana, the new Marketplace Buffet plays host to a variety of seafood, such as boiled shrimp, boiled crayfish and Alaskan King Crab legs. A rotating Lazy Susan allows servers to replenish it without guests being aware of the hustle and bustle necessary to refill. Behind the scenes, cook chill equipment from Cleveland Range enables the buffet to be stocked with Cajun specialties such as seafood gumbo, with high flavor and quality and minimal preparation costs.
Using cook chill technology, gumbo is cooked in a large kettle, pumped into bags, sealed, and quickly chilled in a big tank. The technology “gets product from boiling to cold in a couple of hours, extending shelf life and safety,” said George Burkhardt, Paragon’s chief operating officer. Costs have come down significantly, he added, enabling smaller operations like Paragon to afford the technology.
At Treasure Island Resort & Casino in Minnesota, a Cleveland combi oven-steamer has become a central part of operations. The equipment allows executive chef James Powers to change his bread pudding recipe in one day.
“In our convection oven, the bread pudding was difficult to get to rise,” said Powers. “Now in our combi, we steam first and then use the hot air mode to crisp the outside. The steam really lifts the product much better and stays moist. We can do 210 pounds of Alaskan King Crab Legs in 12 minutes.”
In most cases, the savings in food preparation and storage get passed along to customers. Offering more and higher-quality items at a reasonable price keeps guests happy.
“Food is the least expensive way to bring in customers and build repeat business,” said Ed Layton, VP of food and beverage and hotel operations at the Island View Casino in Gulfport, Miss.
Maintaining customer satisfaction
Layton is responsible for the daily operations of Island View’s 350-seat buffet, hotel room service and beverage service on the casino floor, as well as all front- and back-of-house hotel operations, including group sales, reservations and valet. He is also overseeing plans for the property’s 2007 opening of its second-phase food and beverage amenities, which includes a 24-hour steak house, multiple lounges, an additional 50,000 square feet of gaming space and an Emeril’s Gulf Coast Fish House.
Notable F&B Vendors
At Island View, where half of all guests frequent the buffet, the premium is on variety and quality. Each meat or seafood item has a catchy descriptive designed to whet the appetite, such as Cajun fried turkey, oversized Gulf shrimp, and free-range beef. “Each item has to be special. The more items we get the better we like it,” Layton said.
The buffet is one part of a triple-play strategy of food and beverage, the others being celebrity chefs and ultralounges. At Island View, for example, guests can visit the buffet for lunch, have dinner at Emeril’s, and gather for drinks and entertainment at an ultralounge.
Bar guests prefer to have their drinks poured freely as opposed to from beverage guns that have become popular among bar operations, said Bill Petersen, Island View’s beverage manager.
“Guests like the free pour experience; there is a guest perception about being served from a gun that is not ideal,” Petersen said.
But at Island View, patrons can still experience the free pour experience while the resort maintains the valuable cost controls that beverage guns can provide. Using Beverage Tracker technology from Capton, Island View can determine with absolute accuracy what’s going on in terms of drink preparation at the bar. The system uses RFID-enabled free pour spouts, with each spout containing an RFID microchip that wirelessly transmits pour data via radio frequency to a receiver. Every event including pours, placement on-bottle and placement off-bottle is date and time stamped and transmitted in real time.
Island View purchased Beverage Tracker for two bars in 2006 and will use it in three additional bar locations in its planned expansion. “The bartenders’ pours haven’t wavered more than a tenth of an ounce since the system was first installed in September 2006. We have a free pour environment and liquor cost control,” said Petersen.
Since most operations have relatively little flexibility in pricing, it would appear on the surface that rigorous cost control should be the single-minded focus. Yet slavishly controlling costs at the expense of providing an enjoyable guest experience is self-defeating.
“Most operators pay too much attention to cost containment and not enough on building customer loyalty,” said Marty Miles, president of Casino Food & Beverage Solutions, a consulting firm.
The first step in building customer loyalty is understanding their preferences, which can be obtained by capturing and analyzing information from the restaurant floor. Harrah’s Entertainment’s Rio All-Suite Resort Casino in Las Vegas, for example, uses Avero Slingshot business intelligence software to gather data on menu development, server productivity, and remembering individual guest preferences. The system provides important information about trends and alerts Rio to potential opportunities for improvement with a click of a mouse.
Avero Slingshot can easily track which menu items are most popular at all of the Rio’s restaurants and bars, so management can tailor menus and food purchases to ensure customers get what they like. It provides waiters, bartenders and servers with information on how to improve customer service, and lets the Rio keep track of frequent guests, and the restaurants and menu items they prefer. With this information from previous visits, Rio can surprise customers by asking them if they would like a specific item that they had during their last visit.
The business intelligence behind Avero Slinghot also provides insights for operators to make better business decisions, such as how to train servers on delivering an optimal guest experience, how to reengineer and appropriately price items on menusw to more effectively manage their labor costs.
Seminole Casino Immokalee uses Food-Trak software from System Concepts to enter inventories, invoices and purchase orders. The system is able to calculate ideal usage, and compare it to the actual usage information already being produced. The ability to identify the usage variances gives Seminole’s managers the information they needed to more effectively control inventory.
Instead of passing multiple spreadsheets between accounting and purchasing, inventories, pricing and recipe costs are located in one place. The integrated system helps the staff improve profitability and accountability.
For example, Price History and Purchase Recap Reports were used to spot discrep-ancies in a vendor’s prime rib pricing. The casino pinpointed the overcharges, took the report to the vendor and obtained a $3,000 credit. This would have been difficult to do with its previous system, which used nonintegrated, multiple spreadsheets and was weak at spotting vendor price changes and catching data entry errors.
As casinos get more sophisticated in the use of new equipment and technology, the bar will continue to be raised in providing new standards of excellence in food and beverage operations.