Most foodservice operations specialize in a style of food, whether it be fast food, quick casual or white tablecloth. But the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley offers all types of food in its eight venues, including ethnic specialties.
“I’ve been in the casino business a little over 20 years,” Vice President of Operations Jim Boutcher relates. “I’ve seen the food and beverage part of the business really change from something that was necessary to something that our guests want. A lot of guests come here just to dine. We are an amenity for our guests – we consider ourselves a destination resort.”
At the Hollywood Casino – which is about an hour from Washington, D.C., and Baltimore – customers’ tastes have evolved over the years. “They’ve changed quite a bit since I’ve been in the business,” Boutcher concedes. “Being so close to D.C., visitors here are knowledgable about food and have a much higher expectation of the food product and what we serve. They want to know they are having a quality experience. We really pride ourselves on the level of food and service we provide to our guests.”
From the award-winning Final Cut Steakhouse to the food court, none of the casino’s foodservice is contracted to third-party vendors. “Our Final Cut restaurant has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for four years in a row,” Boutcher declares. “We have about 300 bottles of wine. We present our wine list and all our offerings – specialty cocktails, beer – on an iPad.”
The Food Venues
The largest foodservice facility at the Hollywood Casino is the Skyline Terrace, which seats 800 patrons and has a view through glass of the track where horses are raced year-round. Small television screens at each table show each race as well as replays of them.
“When people come to the Skyline Terrace restaurant, they watch the races from the table,” Boutcher explains. “They really have a table for the entire night.” To keep the food coming to customers throughout the evening, the Skyline Terrace offers a buffet and an a la carte menu.
The Epic Buffet also serves food continuously and seats approximately 340 guests. It has American cuisine including a soup bar, 50 hot dishes, Asian and Italian specialties from their own food stations, desserts and an on-site bakery that supplies the entire casino with fresh-baked desserts and pastries. “We change at least monthly to add new food items,” Boutcher says.
Nine Dragons features Asian cuisine and a sushi bar. The Skybox Sports Bar is elevated above the casino floor and offers pub grub. It serves from 15,000 to 17,000 Buffalo chicken wings monthly. Below it in view of the Skybox is the H Lounge, which provides weekend entertainment with a full-service bar. Longshots is a small quick-service hamburger and hot dog restaurant in the off-track betting area.
The food court has five quick-service venues: Zen Noodle, Via Tuscany, Celebrity Subs, Café USA and The Creamery, which serves coffee, sandwiches, salads, ice cream, pastries and desserts.
To provide the freshest herbs and produce and reduce its carbon footprint, employees of the Final Cut Steakhouse maintain their own vegetable garden. “It’s outside on our property,” Boutcher says. “We’re in the Shenandoah Valley, a rural area that also makes it somewhat unique. This is such a beautiful area; it’s gorgeous.
“Our Final Cut staff – the chef, the wait staff – are all involved in the garden. They really enjoy it. They bought into it. They maintain, plant, harvest, prepare and serve the produce.”
The Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races is part of the Penn National Gaming empire of 27 casinos nationwide. Its storied past includes the racetrack’s founding in 1933 and its addition of slot machines in 1997 when Penn bought it. Table games were added in July 2010 when the casino completed its renovation of the gaming floor in a glamorous 1930s art deco Hollywood style. Today, the casino resort features close to 100 table games, 2,750 slot machines, year-round live and simulcast thoroughbred racing and a luxury hotel in addition to the dining amenities.
With all this gaming action, patrons have high expectations for the food. “The days of the 50-cent breakfast are over,” Boutcher announces. “People are becoming much more sophisticated with their palate. With the rise of celebrity chefs and what they’re doing in food offerings, it’s become a big part of casinos, and guests have become much more savvy.
“Our chefs are very creative, and our regulars in part are looking for that special meal, that something different,” he concludes. “Our guests are looking for a quality meal, and if it’s a quality meal and quality service, they’ll pay what they think is fair. That’s our value proposition: If you provide an outstanding experience, people will pay for that experience.”