Interviews

Insider view on the complexity of megahotel F&B

What does it take to run the Food & Beverage operation of a Las Vegas megahotel? Click. speaks with Tim Ryan, Vice President of the MGM Grand Resort, to learn more

Tim Ryan is Vice President of Food & Beverage (F&B) at the 6,852-bedroom MGM Grand Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada. Under his watch some 2,900 F&B staff serve 120,000 meals per month including over 3,000 litres of soup and nearly 400 kilos of buffet salad per day. How does this huge operation all run smoothly and what lessons can a mammoth set-up like MGM Grand teach smaller properties?

Click.: What do you find are the challenges in running F&B for a mega-hotel like the MGM Grand? Ryan: I'd say prioritisation is certainly one. Between the hotel, the MGM Grand Garden Arena events space and our conference centre, there is always a lot of activity at our property. Communication and coordination with our teams are critical to ensure we're covering all bases, such as planning, logistics, and execution, along with delivering a world-class guest experience.

The other is balancing efficiency of scale and personalisation. Our restaurants and banquet teams serve over 5 million meals a year. With such a high volume it's important to us that each guest has a memorable experience that is personal to their visit. We focus our training to ensure front line team members are empowered to hear our guests' stories...and deliver "wow" moments that will make them want to return.

Click.: You often work 13-hour days that involve lots of meetings – what are your tips for keeping them on schedule and being productive? Ryan: Because of the huge scale on which we operate, I’m a big fan of process systems: templates that help guide how we review the topics. If it’s a larger project there’ll be a critical path associated with that, so the expectation is people come prepared to provide meaningful updates. If it’s a business review, we have formats we give to directors and department heads to make sure they’re providing a higher level of summary and also coming with enough detail to provide support to the conversation. Preparation is the number one expectation, and not letting the meeting get off-track, along with prioritisation.

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Photo: MGM Grand

Click.: Sustainability and animal welfare are increasingly important for guests. How do you balance those with the need to keep purchasing costs down? Ryan: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the core value of our company and it’s a competitive advantage for us. We have some really big sustainability programmes that we support in terms of recycling and redirection of food and food waste. We have an oyster shell recycling programme for example, which is an interesting one because we’re in the middle of the desert. But we found a partner in Maryland that’s passionate about restoring oyster beds. One of our suppliers from there was bringing oysters to us but going back with empty trucks so we partner with them to take oyster shells back, where they go through a pasteurisation process and then return to the ocean to help the aquaculture. Our hotel alone purchases about 125,000 oysters a year.

We redirect a lot of our food waste to local pig farms. And we’ve just started with one of our local community partners, Three Square, to do a banquet food donation scheme. Previously, when we prepared food for banquets or buffets a lot of the leftover food couldn’t be saved, but now we can save and redirect a lot of our prepared hot foods.

We put a lot of training into front of house staff so they can comfortably guide guests as to the different possibilities

Click.: Has there been a big increase in recent years for diets that include, for example, vegan food and gluten-free dishes? Ryan: Yes, those are definitely on the rise especially with our business travellers who are looking for healthy and diet-specific options. For long-term food planning we work with our banquet teams and individual chefs to make sure those options are on their menus. We put a lot of training into front of house staff so they can comfortably guide guests as to the different possibilities. We don’t want guests to feel they have to make compromises because of their dietary needs.

Click.: What do you see as some of the big food trends on the horizon within the hotel industry? Ryan: The good news for us is that we see an increase in F&B spend. Consumers are spending more on dining out and expectations go up along with that. Concepts with authenticity are growing, which might mean being able to order from a celebrity chef and have it delivered to their home, and people want that same level of access when they’re travelling. We have very educated customers, they want to know where their food is from, they want to know the chef and the story behind the dish.

Technology is going to continue to grow, both in terms of consumer behaviour and our hotel operations behind the scenes - especially when it comes to mobile phones. From our end, we need to make sure our outlets provide customers with the Instagram-able moments that we know customers are looking for. Guests increasingly expect to use their phones to order food, whether they’re in their rooms or out by the pool.

Click.: What advice would you give to a small hotel owner when it comes to F&B planning? What are the similarities that a massive hotel like yours has with one that maybe has just five or 10 rooms? Ryan: Don’t let your ego or fads drive your creative process. Make sure you know who your customer is and listen to your guests. Often when you’re thinking about your creative planning as it relates to concepts or menus it’s easy to let what’s cool get in the way of that. Get good at testing and measuring: before you make the big bets test things out in the best way you can and measure the results. Make sustainability and CSR a core part of your planning. Make sure you hire passionate, hard-working staff and invest in their training. No matter the size of the operation, hospitality brands are still built one experience at a time.

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Hero image: credit to Fabrizio Magoni on Unsplash

Takeaway
  • It doesn’t matter what size you are: make sure you know who your customer is and listen to your guests
  • Make sustainability and CSR a core part of your planning
  • Guests want both great food and Instagram-able moments
  • Technology is increasingly important to the growth of F&B. Guests want to use their smartphones to order food whether they’re in their bedroom or by the pool

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