The state of casino dining rooms
By Sharon Harris-Zlotnick

Photo courtesy of Isle of Capri Casinos Inc.

Remember those lavish restaurant meals that lasted for hours? In the early days of gaming, casino customers expected multiple gourmet options in every location. Many still do, but these days, diverse activities, relaxed dress codes and varied food tastes demand a different approach if you want to capture their dining dollars. Casino operators have reacted by transforming many fine dining options to more informal sites, where increased customer traffic volume generates greater profits and reduces overhead.

David Rittvo, Director, food & beverage division of The Innovation Group consulting firm, reports the shift began several years ago. Earlier research from Ypartnership, a dining, hospitality and entertainment consultant firm, reveals that 60 percent of “gamers” chose moderately-priced restaurants as the most important food and beverage attributes; 45 percent preferred buffets; 33 percent desired one-of-a-kind specialty restaurants, and a third chose brand name eateries.

“Although I doubt a rebound to prior levels, a smaller version of gourmet dining rooms will always be available. Operators must accommodate rated players and players’ club guests,” says Rittvo.

Isle of Capri Senior Vice President of Operations Arnold Block agrees, confirming a change within the dining scenario throughout his 15 properties in six southern and Midwest states. The Isle surveyed its customers, also discovering most wanted a more casual menu.

Block says, “Our weeknight gourmet room counts averaged 12 dinners. The large portions and $70 average check scared off many customers, so we rebranded several of our gourmet rooms.”

The Isle renamed their new restaurants Otis & Henry’s. “Our renovated comfortable atmosphere priced our entrees from the high teens to under $30. More composed and balanced platters, without heavy sides, resulted in increased cover counts and cash,” says Block.

His statistical tracking bears out this data, revealing a dramatically increased meal count year over year. Block states, “We are careful to maintain quality and do not mirror lower-priced steakhouses. Also, eliminating table cloths and altering the experience requires fewer service people.”

Similar changes have occurred in Las Vegas. The high-end Wynn Resort recently closed its luxurious Alex restaurant, but its remaining restaurants still offer quality in more informal settings. Other Las Vegas properties have followed that lead, although gourmet dining rooms operate throughout the city.

On the East Coast, Atlantic City’s regionally diverse demographic creates varied dining issues and marketing opportunities for casinos. Under new management since November 2010, Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. seeks to change course in all areas of its locations. The three sites offer multiple casual and fast-food choices, but maintain fine dining venues.

New Corporate Vice President of Operations Mike Mellon emphasizes the need for the Taj Mahal’s three upscale restaurants-Il Mulino New York, the Safari Steakhouse and Dynasty for Asian dining. “We attract a younger, hipper Philadelphia, North Jersey and New York retail clientele who seeks weekend fine dining, fun and entertainment.

Our valuable rated players also expect superb restaurants. Both are necessary for us, especially because of the limited retail customer traffic we see on weekdays during the winter months. We must offer sophistication and quality food from our chefs. On weekdays, we often offer fixed-price menus to appeal to convention attendees,” says Mellon.

No matter the ambiance or pricing, a dining room’s cuisine must always present itself to reflect an excellence in quality and service. Every customer expects no less.