Feeding frenzy!

Nov 20, 2006 3:37 AM

Buffets are a serious operation, so much so that it can take $10 million just for casino resorts to break even.

"That’s a lot of money to create a positive cash flow," said Adam Odegard, vice president of food and beverage at Treasure Island, during a seminar at the three-day Global Gaming Expo that concluded last week at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

"From that standpoint, it makes sense to make buffets attractive at the high-value big properties in order to realize a profit," said Odegard, whose chef background includes stints in New York, Paris, and the Middle East with Hilton International.

Odegard described Las Vegas as one of the world’s capitals for food and beverage.

"When we re-branded Treasure Island, we had to redefine the buffet," he said. "We have now transformed the buffet experience into an adult playground. We do favorite dishes and added a retail element. Fewer dishes has turned out to be better for us. We’ve made the buffet like eating in someone’s living room, only upscaled."

William Becker, a chef at Century Plaza (L.A.), Caesars’ Palace and some 10 years in Southeast Asia, said that buffets need to be done with expression in front of the public.

"It’s in your face action, an evoking style that works now," Becker said. "For example, the Carnival buffet at the Rio was successful for a while, but it grew stale and ran its course. You have to stay fresh in this business, usually updating after two years. It should be a full experience for the customer, especially in Las Vegas. Here, nothing stays the same past five years."

Becker said that buffet eaters are extremely loyal and dedicated, thus deserving the same full treatment customers receive in the high-scale expensive restaurants.

"We have people standing as long as three hours for a buffet at the Rio," Becker said. "That’s extraordinary dedication. Our biggest worry in the business is competition."

Rino Armeni, executive marketing director at Southern Wine & Spirits of America, said that ideas like the Food Court at Caesars Palace were added to raise the buffet experience.

"Paris Las Vegas offers one of the most beautiful French buffets around," Armeni said. "In New York-New York, they felt it didn’t make sense from a cost perspective to have a buffet. Harrah’s caters to slot players and they love buffets. Bellagio and Wynn are luxury markets that demand the best in dining.

"I remember how it was when they raised the cost of the buffet from $3.95 to $4.95 at Caesars," Armeni said. "But volume drives buffets."