A Great Dining Experience Begins Well Before the Food Is Delivered

Great Dining Experience

Understanding the role that F&B plays in your guest experience

A great dining experience begins well before the food is delivered, the server greets the table or the guest enters the casino. Pardon the pun, but knowing what sets the table, specifically for quality and consistency within your food and beverage venues, defines your ability to consistently deliver to your standards and ideally exceed your guests’ expectations. From my perspective, food and beverage is easy, however … for many, easy is hard. Knowing the key components of setting up your food and beverage team is essential to delivering a consistently great dining experience for your guests.

My growth in casino management is far from the normal path that most casino leaders take. Nineteen years ago, I opened the Winds Steakhouse at Grand Casino Hinckley as the executive chef. Today I lead a team of over 1,350 Associates as general manager of Grand Casino Hinckley. Throughout my journey, I have gained a unique perspective about the role that amenities have within gaming operations.

When I joined Grand Casino Hinckley, the food and beverage department seemed as though it was an afterthought. Food and beverage was something that most casinos had, but no one understood the role they played in our players’ experience at our property. I was lucky, since the team that lead Grand Casino Hinckley’s food and beverage had the forethought to understand the importance of food and beverage and the role that it played in our guests’ visits to our property. I will reluctantly admit that at some core level, it is as simple as food is fuel for gamers. That being said, I believe it is so much more. Today our guests, our gamers, are paying more for their experience, their time at our casinos. With that, departments like food and beverage are charged with doing more and delivering an experience that adds value to the guest’s visit and, ultimately, time at the casino.

As I think about it, I was lucky when I joined the Grand Casino Hinckley food and beverage team, since there was already a super solid strategy in place. It’s all about the people who you do business with. As I grew with the company, I learned even more – it’s about relationships and partnerships. I have heard many stories of casinos that shop their food and beverage distributors on a weekly basis, looking for the best pricing. I would challenge that those operations are focusing on short-term gain at the expense of long-term success.


Pricing is an important part of the food and beverage strategy, but just as important is consistency, reliability and quality. The only way you guarantee these key aspects is to have relationships with the people who you do business with. At its core, it’s a partnership and ideally a long-term relationship. Finding a distributor that wants to partner with you and consistently meet or exceed your expectations for product quality and delivery service has more value than one may understand. When you build a relationship with vendors, whether they may be a local egg vendor, meat vendor, produce supplier or a regional food service supplier, you build a bond that focuses on mutual success. A strong relationship with the vendors you use on a daily and weekly basis is essential for your restaurants’ success.

Establishing standards by which you do business, such as delivery timelines, quality standards, product sourcing and preferred manufacturers, sets operators up for consistency and quality. Establishing standards is only the first part. Having a regular cadence of checking in on performance, including quality and service levels, with your key vendors is essential in keeping lines of communication open. We call these Business Reviews and, depending upon the vendor, they may happen quarterly, biannually or yearly. This is a great opportunity to talk about what is going well, where challenges are, fiscal performance and, probably most importantly, key strategies that are important to you in the coming period. These conversations allow your best partners to up their game and share how they may help you meet the goals that you have.


I would also suggest an investment in the brands of products that you do business with. Many casinos have a unique position within the food and beverage industry – volume. The more we are able to do business with one manufacturer, the more we are able to establish our expectation for quality and product specifications, as well as drive pricing down. It is imperative that we utilize this advantage to set our operations up for success. Whether it’s leveraging volume to stock an item with a distributor or establishing a business volume expectation to drive down pricing, we as operators should be maximizing that advantage.

“Ship Building” is the calling card of a friend and mentor of mine; he says that he has built his own personal brand on friendships, relationships, partnerships and sponsorships. I believe this thought process is key to consistently delivering quality to our guests. Establish relationships with your vendors, build strong partnerships by clearly communicating your expectations and take ownership of your business by managing to the expectations that you have established.


Challenge short-term gain over long-term success

Build partnerships with a distributor

Adhere to regular business reviews with vendors

Leverage your overall volume

Mike Engel 2 Articles