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Dining Is Key Ingredient in Casinos’ Business Mix

Barona Resort & Casino, ranked No. 1 on the San Diego Business Journal’s Casinos list, views a wide range of dining options and excellent customer service as an essential part of the casino business.

“Head count has never been better and food is an important part of the mix — everyone eats,” said Troy Simpson, executive vice president and assistant general manager at Barona. “Our goal is to provide a quality product, at all price points, with the greatest value to the player.”

The list, ranked by the number of local full-time employees as of June 1, 2011, reported 10,268 employees at the local casinos, down just 2 percent from 10,510 in 2011.

Barona has the largest number of employees at 3,000 people. Keeping employment levels high is an intentional strategy on Barona’s part to provide excellent service to its guests to help fulfill the mission of its slogan, “making fun happen with our friends,” Simpson said.

Simpson added that Barona’s buffet is recognized as being one of the best among the local casinos. Specialty foods such as Thai Banh Mi sandwiches and authentic taco stands, where the preparers put on a salsa flipping show (yes — salsa), are just part of the offerings.

“We’ve been famous for some time for our ‘fun bites,’ which is food brought to the players where they are,” said Simpson. “The local player has a limited amount of time to gamble and they don’t want to waste that time sitting in a restaurant.”

International Cuisine

Pala Casino Spa & Resort, ranked No. 2 on the Casinos list with 1,977 local employees, has 10 options for dining including continental, Asian, Italian and Mexican.

“Our Oak Room is our fine-dining restaurant with tablecloths, comfortable seating and a fireplace,” said Roy Hillis, vice president of food and beverage for Pala Casino. “The space was recently remodeled and features a wine room.”

Pala also has a resortwide approach to the guest called “Impactful Impressions,” which educates the staff to go out of their way to make a positive impact on the guest at every opportunity.

“The guest can have a fantastic experience during their stay and if the last person they deal with on their way out wasn’t positive, that impacts the entire stay,” said Hillis.

Viejas Casino, No. 3 on the list with 1,600 employees, is opening its seventh restaurant this year.

“We want to make sure that our guests have a lot of options in dining,” said Steve Robbins, director of food and beverage for Viejas. “All of our guests have to make the dollar stretch in this economy and we want to create as much value for them as possible.”

Setting Themselves Apart

Robbins added that gamers have a lot of choices and that the company goal is to create a value perception for them so they choose Viejas. “Food is a great way to do that.” Viejas also stresses the value of customer service with a casinowide philosophy of “one guest at a time.”

Harrah’s Rincon Casino & Resort, No. 5 on the list with 1,182 employees, has seven restaurants with an additional seasonal poolside option.

“To some degree our strategy is different from others and that is our buffet, which was recently remodeled and drives gamers and nongamers,” said Shannon Upson, director of hospitality. “We also have the upscale Fiore restaurant, which includes the Oyster Bar.”

Upson said that Harrah’s recently brought in Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs, a Los Angeles-based hot dog manufacturer. “Sometimes the line can be as long as an hour to get one,” said Upson. “They’re fantastic.”

All four casinos agreed that the economy has stabilized and most are seeing modest growth, but nothing like the levels seen prior to the recession.

“We think we’ve seen the bottom, even though it can vary month by month, consumers have more confidence now,” Upson said.

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