Foodservice Equipment Specification Tips from Casinos
Published on Wednesday, 24 July 2013
Written by Amelia Levin, Contributing Editor
While they may want their customers to roll the dice, so to speak, casinos do exactly the opposite when specifying foodservice equipment. Their approach can best be described as thorough, calculated and effective. In this article, a veteran foodservice design consultant shares 10 characteristics casinos look for when buying foodservice equipment.
Best to learn from the pros. When it comes to gaming, seasoned consultants in this segment know what clients look for: large-scale or small, each have needs unique to other types of foodservice operators. Steve Carlson, FCSI, president of Robert Rippe & Associates clues us in to the top 10 characteristics casinos look when it comes to foodservice equipment and design.
1. Equipment service is more important than features. This is the case particularly in Native American casinos because they reside in remote areas. Casinos want to know if they can get access to service agents when they need them. And they want to know who the service agent is because they’re not all equal. Sometimes, the casino may use its own staff to service the equipment. If that’s the case, the operator is not interested in the latest and greatest model, but rather, specific equipment models that are easy to fix and their parts are well-stocked, even if these items do not represent the most efficient options available. Standardization is more important than having the latest and greatest.
2. Casinos know what they want. Many casinos have already tested a number of manufacturers and models because they need to make sure the foodservice equipment they buy can handle 24/7 operations, which is how these gaming operations roll. These casinos are particularly knowledgeable about banquet carts, warmers and other equipment they use on a regular basis because they have usually selected the specific model that works for them and want to stick with it. I have even seen casinos that have done extensive research on castors because they’re moving equipment around all the time for flexibility and cleaning.
3. Carefully consider controls. There is a wide variation in terms of what type of controls casinos want. Sometimes the chef wants a combi with the latest controls because he wants to use it in a banquet system where he will cook the food in the combi, and then blast chill and reheat it for later use. There are others, though, who just want an on and off switch because the kitchen employees speak a variety of different languages and have different levels of training and experience. Some don’t want digital controls at all because of the complexity, and also because many casinos spray the equipment down at the end of the night.
4. In large buffets, “flames and spinning wheels” are in. Among operations that seat 400 to 600, casinos want “flames and spinning wheels,” such as a charboiler with open flames. And they position these items up front, where they can to add visual appeal. I have also specified charbroilers and other cooking equipment that rotate around in an open kitchen. In these larger operations, casinos usually have enough volume and labor to justify a piece like that in order to create a unique experience for the guest.
5. Smaller, regional casinos are more concerned about labor. In a 250-seat buffet, for example, a casino may have just one action station that they can roll in and out of the open kitchen line so it doesn’t sit there dark when not in service. These operators also tend to prefer mostly self-service applications with a carving or omelet action station set up just on weekends when they get busy.
6. Casinos prioritize performance. Casinos want the basics — they want the cold food to stay cold and the hot food to stay hot. It’s all about continuous performance without all the bells and whistles.
7. Casinos are concerned about up-front costs. While hospitals and universities tend to think further down the road, especially if they’re going for LEED certification, casinos on the other hand are more concerned about initial cost. As a result, there is not a whole lot of conversation about energy- and water-saving features. They mainly just want to get open as fast they can for the lowest cost so they can quickly pay their debt and investors. They don’t have a 20- or 30-year horizon; they like to make their money back in as soon as one to five years. Many have more than one property, so if they can show a quick return they are more likely to get the same investors to invest in a new project. This is especially the case in a high tax state like New York or Indiana where there might be added gaming taxes and margins are thin.
8. Casinos want affordable, not cheap. Though concerned about initial costs, casinos still want the most bang for their buck. They don’t want cheap equipment, but pieces that will do the job. One area where we have been able to specify more efficient equipment that might cost a little more up front is in the exhaust. If a casino has a lot of hoods as a result of island display cooking, then their savings are greater in terms of the exhaust volume if they choose individual, efficient pieces.
9. Some casinos are looking into unique added service stations. Many casinos in the 400 to 600 seat range are adding more customized action stations like noodle bars, juice bars and specialty coffee stands. I have seen one even open up an ice cream and cotton candy station. These casinos tend to be in a market where there might be five or six other casinos so every year they have to tweak things to try and stay new and exciting.
10. Many buffets now offer liquor. Some larger casinos, even some of the Native American ones, are adding liquor in the form of beer, wine and cocktails. We are working on a number of projects where we have added draft beer and wine-dispensing systems. Some are also trying to squeeze service bars into the existing casino floor to open up new revenue streams without losing any gaming space.