MTR Gaming Group owns and operates three casinos in the very competitive gaming markets of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Besides gambling, and to complement it, MTR Properties offers a variety of other enjoyable features that significantly add value and fun to the guest experience – the most important of which are food and drink. In fact, the value and variety of food beverage offerings at a casino play a critical role in packing customers in, day after day.
“By offering value, quality, and fun dining options that are second to none,” MTR President Joseph Billhimer says, “our casinos continually attract new customers but also keep current customers happy, loyal and coming back.
“Food and drink is an integral part of the experience; no one visits us without experiencing some form of food or drink. The actual experience leaves our guests with a pretty good impression of who and what we are all about. As we compete for discretionary dollars in this tough economic climate, we feel it’s important for guests to understand and experience what a regional gaming company like MTR can offer,” Billhimer says. “Unlike destination casinos located in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, MTR Gaming Group caters to regional customers – customers who visit more frequently and expect consistency.”
Amid the lights, bells, slots and blackjack, golf courses, luxury hotel rooms, spas, pools, and entertainment, MTR is very careful about its food and drink offerings. It’s always on the lookout for top culinary talent and uses its executives to scout culinary workshops, schools and event sessions and accomplish that goal.
MTR Gaming Group operates 26 eateries at its three casinos: the Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in Chester, W.Va., Scioto Downs in Columbus, Ohio, and Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie, Pa. They include fine-dining chop houses, casual clubhouse eating experiences for patrons who are watching racing, and bars, buffets, snack stands and room service.
The dining selections are diverse, ranging from ice cream shops and full buffets to the 1920s-style bar Zelda’s and high-end Sensory 3 steakhouse, which is known for its surf and turf. Among other dining options, there’s Big Al’s Deli & Pizzeria, the Riverfront Buffet, the Java Joint with Starbucks brand coffee, the Mountaineer Club and Dash Café for a quick bite before returning to the gaming floor.
MTR searches the local area for potential employees and vendors to provide the best food product and staff with the greatest culinary potential. The company employs more than 300 people in foodservices.
“Our La Bonne Vie Steakhouse is known for its quality steaks, interesting food and five-star service,” Billhimer says. “It’s a staple for many local area diners, and it’s so good that some people drive two hours from Cleveland just to eat there. In fact, it could be one of the best steakhouses in the Midwest.
“From its inception, La Bonne Vie was designed to offer guests the highest-quality dining experience possible. A well trained staff and finest quality food products, along with a creative mindset, ensures La Bonne Vie will continue to offer one of the very best dining experiences around,” says Walter Coffee, Mountaineer food and beverage director.
With culinary interest at an all-time high across the country competing for the best labor, finding the right people can be a challenge. MTR Gaming Group has top culinary talent as well as up-and-coming stars. Top MTR talent includes Rob Osborn, head chef; Greg Porter, executive sous chef; Harold Cooper, LBV sous chef; Rob Gurule, Gatsby sous chef and Ralph Randolph, sous chef. The majority of team members are hired for potential and developed internally. Most positions are filled by internal promotions based on demonstrated skills.
MTR Gaming Group’s approach to foodservice is different from most other restaurants. At MTR Gaming Group’s casinos, the restaurants are just one component in an overall strategy for success. This means that starting with the hiring process, MTR Gaming Group emphasizes a high level of guest interaction, service and quality because “it is how people work in MTR restaurants, that set us apart,” Billhimer says.
All MTR food and beverage managers serve as trainers, coordinating their efforts through a manager whose responsibility is to ensure consistency and understanding of brand standards. It uses internal and external shoppers to measure performance of staff and focus on all areas for improvement.
Rising food costs and health insurance are MTR’s top challenges. MTR has found, however, that “happy customers generate more revenue,” Billhimer says.
“MTR will not compromise on the quality of food it offers or the guest experience. The challenge of consistently meeting the expectations of guests is what our business is based upon so lowering the quality of food offerings to offset cost will never be an option that we would consider.”
The way it offsets escalating costs is through performance and by increasing revenue – by making a promise to guests they will have an enjoyable, fun experience every time they visit a MTR Gaming Group property. Every time it does that, the company cements loyalty and drives more frequent customer visits which translate to more revenue.
In the future, the MTR Gaming Group might consider third-party restaurant deals or plans for new brand-name eateries in its casinos to add excitement, increase revenue and attract more customers. In the past, Billhimer has seen success with introducing branded concepts in a gaming environment.
MTR has had discussions about two or three such deals in the Columbus market and wouldn’t be averse to other brand-name food offerings at its properties, Billhimer says.
“It just provides another calling card,” Billhimer says. “We are looking for something that might be the right fit – a branded-type offering with a recognized service standard. We’ve been talking to different third-party operators and are fairly close to naming something soon.”