Food & Beverage

Rethinking Food & Beverage

Of all the issues facing casino leadership, there is no greater quandary than solving the food & beverage equation. Restaurants in particular, present a host of issues. They are notoriously expensive to operate, consuming copious amounts of labor and product costs. Rarely do individual outlets post a profit and departmental profit is often dependent on beverage sales. High levels of customer satisfaction can be difficult to achieve, given that many players visit the same restaurant outlets on each visit, and in turn get bored with the menu selection. Perhaps the hardest aspect is balancing the needs of very frequent players while using food & beverage as a tool to attract new customers. Given all this, it may be time for casino operators to rethink their food & beverage programs.

Both commercial casinos in regional markets and Indian casino operators have historically adopted the same basic restaurant strategies, offering a buffet, three-meal room, quick-serve outlet and perhaps a more upscale steakhouse/ special occasion restaurant. Before undertaking a wholesale redesign of food & beverage outlets, it is important to understand how this basic suite of restaurant products came to be and then ask if those products meet the needs of the business and the preferences of today’s customers.

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The 5 Ps of F&B Success

In today’s business environment, casino operators must find ways to enhance and maximize the appeal and gross operating income of their food and beverage venues. An effective food and beverage strategy should not only attract and retain gamers, but generate profit through proper pricing and planning.

Las Vegas Strip operators have clearly demonstrated how profit can be gleaned from F&B operations. Bars and restaurants today are a significant generator of EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) for many Vegas resorts. Outside Vegas, many operators have discovered how well-run restaurants and bars with quality food offerings can benefit the bottom line.

While regional casinos differ substantially from those on the Strip, they can apply the same practices to turn a profit from dining.

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Planning for a New Buffet

As casinos expand from simple gaming centers with limited amenities to multi-faceted gaming entertainment destinations, gaming operators often increase the number and size of food and beverage operations as part of their expansion programs. Very often such expansions include a two-meal or three-meal buffet operation. There is a generally held belief that a casino should have a buffet in order to appeal to a broader base of gamers, feed large groups of people quickly (such as buses), give gamblers a quick meal option and to create an additional attraction to people who might gamble but have not yet demonstrated an interest in visiting the casino. Conversely, there is a belief that buffets, if designed and executed poorly, do little more than increase food costs, attract a marginal segment of the dining public that has little interest in gaming and place an undue burden on overall profitability. It is for these reasons that prior to starting construction of a new buffet the casino operator must first thoroughly research the market, develop a buffet business strategy, and then develop a predictive model that forecasts food revenues, expenses and incremental gaming revenues that would be derived from diners who gamble in the casino.

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Designing the Right Amenity Mix

When leadership decides to commit to an expansion of its gaming facility or a wholesale replacement of its casino, the first step is to determine the proper size of the proposed gaming operation. This exercise involves examining the current utilization of the existing facility, the size of the primary and secondary markets that the casino will serve and the gaming behavior of those markets. While not a precise science, determining the right number of gaming devices, table game positions and casino square footage is based on proven mathematical models. Although
complex, these models can accurately determine the proper sizing of a casino.

The next step is to determine the appropriate mix of nongaming amenities that will support the gaming operation in order to maximize gaming revenue. Non gaming amenities are most often comprised of restaurants, hotel rooms, meeting and banquet facilities, entertainment venues, retail outlets and leisure/recreation operations such as golf courses, movie theatres, nightclubs, bowling centers, arcades and child care facilities. While determining the right amount of hotel rooms and banquet/meeting facilities is primarily an empirical exercise, identifying those other amenities that will maximize gaming revenue and best meet the needs of the market requires far more investigation.

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Casino Restaurant Pitfalls

It is a common sight. Tt is 8:00p.m. on a Thursday night and the casino is busy. Machine occupancy is at 60%; most of the table games are open but the restaurants are nearly empty. The buffet had a short line an hour earlier but the coffee shop is quiet and one of the waiters from the gourmet room is standing in front of the restaurant, rocking on his heels. His dining room is empty.

When this situation becomes evident to senior leadership and they ask for reasons why their restaurants are not busy, there is usually no shortage of finger pointing. The food and beverage director will complain that marketing does not give his restaurants enough advertising support. The casino manager will mention that his customers tell him that the restaurant prices are too high. Other managers who dine in the casino’s coffee shop will say that they see better quality and value at other restaurants in town and the service seems slow. More often than not, the solution is to discount the meals.

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