When it comes to casinos, the overall goal is to keep the gamers playing for as long as possible, and diverse restaurant lineups have been successful in accomplishing this.

BT-Steakhouse entranceIn the past, casino foodservice was more about free buffets for gamblers than it was about menus or quality offerings. As the gaming industry continues to evolve and grow to include more cities and states, the restaurants in these facilities continue to become more diverse and more focused on food. In fact, today's casino foodservice offerings tend to be as diverse as the clientele they serve, ranging from fine dining to branded quick-service restaurants and everything in between.

"If people want to be comped by a casino or redeem points from gaming, they see food and beverage as a highly valuable reward," says Mark Healey, senior vice president of foodservice at Ovations Food Services, located in Lutz, Fla., which manages casino foodservice operations across the country and in Canada.

Due to the evolving gaming industry, statistics are scarce on casinos, but a report by the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which includes nonrestricted Nevada gaming licensees reporting $1 million or more in gaming revenue for the period ending June 30, 2011, says food comprised 14.8 percent of revenue for the fiscal year 2011. Beverages totaled 6.8 percent. Gaming revenue on the Las Vegas Strip represented only 38 percent of total revenues in fiscal year 2011.

"This percentage has decreased significantly over the years, as fully integrated resorts on the Las Vegas Strip have evolved and offered customers from around the world other amenities outside of strictly gaming," says Michael Lawton, senior research analyst at the Nevada Gaming Control Board. "This was done out of necessity, as commercial gaming has now expanded into 22 states and tribal gaming currently operates in 38 states."

As a result, other revenue streams like hotel rooms, food and beverage, shows, spas and retail have grown significantly. "In looking at 2011, gaming revenues only grew by 6 percent, while nongaming revenues increased by 11 percent," Lawton says. "Furthermore, over the past 21 years, gaming revenues have grown at a 4 percent compound annual growth rate, while nongaming revenues have grown at an 11 percent compound annual growth rate."

One result of the growing opportunities in casino foodservice has been a greater proliferation of brands.

"Looking back into gaming foodservice over the last 20 years, most restaurants were a vanilla box," says Healey. "Now we're starting to see more brands coming in that blend proprietary products."

Ovations typically uses brands that franchise on a national or regional level, and combines these with the company's proprietary brands. "The way we approach branding gives us the flexibility to change, because in gaming it's all about keeping pace with the competition," Healey says.

Ovations also utilizes commissaries in many of its casino operations, which helps conserve space and maximize productivity and efficiencies. The result is a broader, more diverse menu in its installations.

An in-house design and construction team specifies Ovations' foodservice equipment and assists field operators in obtaining new, up-to-date items when necessary. "Some equipment may be fantastic but is not suitable for a particular concept," Healey says. "There's also the debate regarding the space needed for production equipment in rebuilds based on current capability and what changes may be needed in the future."

Key Equipment

  • Convection oven
  • Broiler
  • Range
  • Fryer
  • Steam table
  • Bain-marie
  • Walk-ins
  • Refrigerated prep table

E&S Considerations

  • Speed of Service: Casinos want to keep gamers on the floor as long as possible, so restaurants in these facilities need to provide fast turnaround. High-output equipment can help speed up the production process.
  • Durability: Gaming operations generally operate 24/7, and many of their restaurants keep these hours as well, so equipment has to hold up to heavy use and high volumes.
  • Versatility: With increased competition, casinos constantly need to revamp, renovate and overhaul their foodservice operations. Equipment that can adapt to changing menus provides added value to operators.

Case Study: BT Steakhouse at Boomtown Casino, Biloxi, Miss.

Q&A: James Johnson, regional director Comanche Red River Casino, Devol, Okla.

Q&A: Michael Doocey, executive director Wild Horse Pass and Lone Butte Casinos, Chandler, Ariz.