Lets start with the basics and fundamentals:
While they dine, you must give them a great time.
We are in the food and service business so let’s get the basics right: food needs to look good (color, presentation, volume in the plate, etc.), taste good and then service needs to be very good. It’s that simple! On top of this, everything needs to be consistent all of the time, over and over again and all of this needs to be served with a smile, sincerity and a warm sense of hospitality.
When I visit my favorite restaurant, I always ask for the quail farcie with fois gras with mashed or butter potatoes. I’ve jokingly complained to the executive chef that the menu doesn’t change enough, but let’s face it – they are so consistent and everything tastes so good, that it works for them, and they don’t need to change a thing.
The same is true with beverage. Everybody orders a drink at a hotel bar or restaurant expecting it to be a pleasant change from the drinks served in other bars so your wine and cocktail list needs to mix well with the food and overall identity of the restaurant. The restaurants at The Venetian and The Palazzo understand this concept well – Carnevino offers the best Bellini; Fusion Mixology Bar presents a Pisco sour that transports you to Peru; and Dos Caminos serves an out-of-this-world margarita. We want to make sure our guests remember their drink and ask for it the next time as well as recommend to their friends.
When it comes to hiring your staff – do not compromise. Take the time to hire the best, and then train the team until the restaurant’s standards are met and exceeded in order to deliver the experience and the attention to detail that is expected.
No one is exempt from this formula, regardless of how small or large the restaurant is. Let’s take TAO Asian Bistro at The Venetian, the highest grossing restaurant in the country. They do up to 1,800 covers on a Saturday and the execution is flawless. The place is jam packed, the bar is busy, the place is pumping, the energy level is high and people are having fun. It is more than just a good dinner; it is an experience.
Before they dine, you must reach out.
My first confession is that great food and beverage isn’t enough (although a really bad experience could be the end of it.) It takes more than good food and good service to be successful these days.
A strategy in the industry that has become increasingly popular is the partnership with celebrity chefs. Celebrities in general drive covers, suite nights, ADR, press, etc. How many restaurants does Michael Mina run these days, or Tom Colicchio, or Jean George? For the guests that are familiar with the Chef, the brand is a sign of quality and they know they won’t get disappointed. Let’s face it – these guys know what they are doing.
At The Venetian and The Palazzo, we understand the value in this concept and have Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Luciano Pellegrini, Joachim Splichal and Sam DeMarco all under one roof, to name a few.
Probably the most popular marketing strategy in the industry, especially in Las Vegas, is giving people deals they simply can’t pass up. Restaurant week, happy hours, two for one, buy one get one, 10,20,50% off, complimentary dessert…the list is endless and the channels of distribution are growing such as Travelzoo, Groupon and Four Square. Everyone is doing it. What is important is to measure what works and what doesn’t and ensure it drives incremental business and repeat customers.
I have been against promotions for a long time as I saw it as brand damaging. However, in reality, good promotions work and this is what guests are looking for during low demand period. Summer in Vegas can be challenging – lower occupancy, lower rates – and driving guests in means giving deals.
We implemented a bar hop program where guests could visit five bars in one night and receive a sample drink in each venue for a very low price. The bet was on the guest buying an additional drink and visiting us again and they did so the promotion was a complete success.
However, all of these marketing efforts are surely futile if nobody hears about them. Advertising via cover pages and TV ads cost a fortune but having a truly engaged PR team who works closely with the F&B department can produce so much buzz, free press and magazine coverage at little to no cost. With the changes in technology happening faster than we can imagine, it’s imperative for the PR team to stay ahead of the game. The traditional marketing strategies aren’t enough anymore and promotions need to be communicated through social media as well including Facebook, Twitter, Four Square and Yelp.
This summer, I did an event with the Nevada Restaurant Association at The Pools at The Palazzo. About 1,000 guests attended, mingling with Las Vegas’ 50 top restaurants and sampling what each restaurant offered as a signature taste of their cuisine. The event was very successful and NVRA was able to raise some dollars for their association. The following day, I stopped by CUT after work to grab something to eat before heading home, and decided to sit at the bar and order their sliders (fabulous by the way.) A few minutes later, a lady sat beside me, recognized me from the event the previous night and started a conversation. I asked her where she was from, how she found out about our Epicurean event and why she decided to attend. She basically told me that she was travelling on her own, staying at The Palazzo (good move so far) and didn’t know what to do on her first night. She decided to check out Yelp and saw a lot of tweets on the Epicurean affair, about how great it was and where to get the tickets at the best price. Due to the traffic and interest that this event created, she decided to attend and had a great time. Amazing, right? These social media sites are becoming essential to our business and driving guests to venues – a kind of e-word of mouth! Since that day I have been taking social media seriously. It works! (Follow me on Twitter! @silvestriLV)
Finally, it is always advisable for industry leaders and/or restaurant owners to be involved in community events. Learn to participate in and contribute to social activities, whether or not they relate to the industry. Be present in the social scene! Food and beverage, like other things, are about building relationships. If people know you and like you, they will most likely want to get to know your business.
After they dine, you must follow up.
There are two important things you can look at to know if you’ve made business or not. First, will that guest come back? Business is made when you’ve satisfied a guest enough for him or her to return to your restaurant. This is why customer feedback is important. Staff members must be attentive to customer feedback, whether spoken or not, and report it to their managers. Happy customers equate to a successful food and beverage program.
For the unhappy campers, have a recovery program in place. Don’t let anyone leave with a bad taste in their mouth – literally or figuratively. Look at complaints as gifts and learn from them.
In the long run, dedication and passion are most important in running a food and beverage program. A significant amount of time and energy is expected to meet customer demands and to deliver this special experience. All the long hours of hard work are worth it when you have created guest loyalty and they have experienced the finest things in life, a memorable dining experience. After all, we strive to achieve only the best.