Bye bye coffee shops?

There’s an article in today’s LVRJ about casino coffee shops being replaced by chains:

We've said goodbye or nearly so to dressing up for a night out, all-night buffets, free lounge entertainment and 99 cent shrimp cocktails. The latest Las Vegas icon to fall victim to changing market conditions: traditional coffee shops in locals casinos.The changes have been most prominent at properties owned by Station Casinos, which has or is in the process of replacing all of its coffee shops with Coco's Bakery Restaurants, Denny's or the Original Pancake House, and Boyd Gaming, which has replaced the coffee shops at the Gold Coast and Sam's Town with TGI Friday's and added Friday's restaurants along with coffee shops at the Suncoast and The Orleans.

So far, reactions have been mixed.

“I think it’s horrible,” said George Maloof.

So much for mincing words. But Maloof, owner of the Palms and Palms Place, said replacing coffee shops with chains endangers a great Las Vegas tradition that goes back to the ’40s and ’50s.

“There’s something special about a great coffee shop,” Maloof said. “When you turn it into a chain, it no longer becomes special.”

But Kevin Kelley, chief operating officer of Station Casinos, said the changes are a response to customer demand and are part of a larger trend.

via TRADITION AT RISK: Many locals casinos choosing familiar chain brands over traditional coffee shops – Taste –

This really isn’t a new story–I was on a panel that discussed this very issue at last year’s G2E–but it’s definitely one worth discussing.

All of this, of course, comes down to money, something that many people lose sight of. Casinos are operated to make a profit, and the people who run them have a responsibility to try to make a profit. If running your own restaurant gets you more customers, that’s what you do. If opening a Denny’s does, then that’s the best choice.

As with anything else, there’s never going to be One Right Way to operate a coffee shop. Some owners, like Maloof, will want to retain control over their operation and build their own brand. Others, like Kelley, will seek the familiarity of national chains.

This isn’t a new phenomenon–it goes back to 1985 and the opening of the first chain fast food restaurant in a casino, the Burger King at the Riveria. I wrote about this in a paper I presented at the National Conference on Gambling and Risk-Taking last May, and which is hopefully coming to an academic journal someday soon (it’s currently under review). Basically, Jeff Silver, who was running the Riv at the time, noticed the same thing that Kelley did: big crowds of people at chain restaurants, not so many at casino restaurants. So he put in the Burger King, and the experiment worked.

Personally, I prefer the charm and idiosyncrasy of a home-grown restaurant. But evidently others don’t, and casino owners have to be responsive to their customers. The ones that cater to them best will do the best.

I haven’t seen anyone make a fairly obvious connection: what we’re seeing now at the low end is exactly what’s been going on at the high end for years. Spago? Emeril’s? Nobu? Joel Robuchon? These are all, to one extent or another, international “brands” that have supplemented “native” casino eateries. Whether that’s good or bad is certainly in the eye of the beholder.

If you want a quick refresher on casino restaurant history, check out 50 Years of Dining on the Las Vegas Strip.

On a similar topic, there’s a neat LVRJ article about a Klingon gathering at Valley of Fire last weekend. Apparently they drank beer, blood wine, Gatorade, and root beer…no prune juice? Everyone knows that’s a warrior’s drink.

9 thoughts on “Bye bye coffee shops?”

  1. As homey, quaint and comfortable as casino coffee shops can be it does seem true that franchise operations pay-off better. The Palms’ food-court is full of franchise operations…from MC Donalds to Nathans to Panda Express and others. And after about 2 and 3AM, the Palms’ McDonalds seems to get much more traffic than their coffee shop.

    I have to say though that their coffee shop serves great looking plates – staked high with good food and really nice looking fruit garnishments.

    Still, lots of people prefer the ‘McDonalds experience’ at the Palms. And it doesn’t just seem to be about cost…cuz, the other night I saw a ‘late-night guy’ order two Big Macs and all the rest and the bill must have been around $9 or more.

    He could have gotten a beautiful Pastrami Sandwhich Dinner or a Giant Cheese-Burger in the Palms Coffee shop for the same price, but chose to eat in the food court instead….and spent as much time sitting there as he would in the coffee shop.

    There must be some logic behind why he made that choice. (possibly because the ‘girl-watching’ is much better from inside the
    food-court). haha.

    The ‘Wild West Coffee Shop’ though, seems to do good business all 24 hours of the day (probably because it has such easy access from the parking lot…and offers a lively atmosphere).

    Miscellaneous Coffee Shop Info:

    * The Hard Rock’s ‘Mr. Lucky’ Coffee Shop offers a good, late night deal (that isn’t on the menu – you have to ask for it). Their ‘Steak and Shrimp Special’ for $7.77. It comes with a huge salad and more mashed potatoes than any one person can eat.

    * Orelans’ ‘Courtyard Coffe Shop’ has good ‘Midnight thru 6AM’ Breakfast specials. Biscuts and Gravy for $1.99, Sausage & Eggs for $2.99, Ham & Eggs for $3.99 and Steak & Eggs for $4.99.

    The coffee costs $2 though. I suppose that’s where they make their profit.

    Last night I got a New Book from the library that has another great ‘play on words’ title:

    * Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress (2009).

    It’s very insightful, especially regarding the (sometimes) drudgery of the work and the occasional rude customers these ladies have to diplomatically deal with. The book will sure make me think twice about ever placing too much additional burden on waitresses.

    Back when I was a teenager, me and (maybe)4 friends would go Dennys and sit down and all ask for individual checks, and way too many other things…without even realizing what a hassle a boothful of young-kids can be for the ladies. If I could relive my teenage years I’d be much more considerate of them.

    In an hour I take my mom to the Palms buffet, cuz they sent her a two-for-one coupon…meaning we both can eat for a total of just $8.99. What a good deal. The atmosphere, waitress and service people at the buffet are great. I hope Vegas buffets stay around forever.

  2. PS. It is interesting to see (on your ’50 Years of Dining’ website) that ‘Don the Beachcomber’ and ‘Benihana’ were the first chain restaurants in LV casinos. There’s a lot of really good info on that site that I hadn’t seen the last time I looked.
    PPS. 30 Klingons in the ‘Valley of Fire’. Possibly the start of a new ‘Burning Man’ style event….by 2020.

  3. I think the national chain restaurants and coffee houses are probably a lot more numerous in casinos that cater to locals in Las Vegas which means Boyd Gaming and Station Casinos would have the majority of these. As Las Vegas has grown tremendously the last 20 years or so these chain restaurants ( an example is TGIF Fridays) and coffee houses ( an example is Starbucks) have popped up all over the Las Vegas valley and continue to do so. Some people are familiar with these places from wherever they are from and continue to patronize these places because they enjoy them.

    I prefer small, independent restaurants and that is what me and my friends go to in Chicago (where I live). I don’t drink coffee (I drink orange juice in the morning) and I am amazed at how many coffee houses are located in Chicago.

  4. American Gaming Guru

    I know it is a bit off-subject, but I could not help but think of a new coffee shop in AC! The recently opened Teplitzkys presents a retro look and wonderfully done coffee, apps and meals. It is located in the now appx. 1-year old Chelsea hotel (no casino) and appears to have really hit its stride this past summer (with much of the rest of the hotel). I have personally experienced its late-night menu and spectacular breakfast. It is a prime example to me of what a good coffee shop should be although a bit more up-scale. My friends all seem to enjoy it as well.

    While only one pic is here, it might give you an idea of what it looks like:

    I have enjoyed Teplitzkys typically on weekends where I am staying another night and have time to kill. When I need to head out of town, its usually The White House or McD’s on the way out.

  5. American Gaming Guru thanks for sharing pictures of Teplitzky’s coffee shop in Atlantic City. I like the look of the place. Those plaid chairs at the restaurant counter look pretty comfortable. If I’m ever in Atlantic City I will definitely check the place out.

  6. We’re forgetting one great legacy of the coffee shop from “old” Vegas. This is where the “boss” used to park himself and everyone would report to him. He’s have a phone wired to the corner booth and take calls all day. Only occasionally would he walk the floor but for the most part, everyone would report to the coffee shop to talk shop….

    And yes, AGG, Teplitzkys is a great throwback coffee shop in the Chelsea. Great place overall. Very much old AC!

  7. I was happy to see the Coco’s in Santa Fe Station a few weeks ago because the northwest hasn’t had one since the one at Buffalo and Vegas went under years ago after failing (if I remember it right) to obtain a liquor license from City Hall. So I went a few weeks ago and blast it, their dessert selection is lame compared to a “real” Coco’s! I love one of their cheesecakes, and where was it? Nowhere that I know. Even the Station cafe that used to be there had a better selection under the glass.

    Casino-operated places, particularly locals/downmarket, bother me a bit compared to the chains because they mean casino-owned training/guidelines that can sometimes backfire. An example: Station and Boyd cafe/buffet will ask you after your first glass of a free refillable if you’d like another glass. As though I’m going to go to a buffet, drink one glass through half of my first plate, and stop? They should go at least four glasses before asking you if you want another. If they can’t remember then just bring out another.

    M does it, Bellagio does it, Wynn does it. It’s one of those small touches that means a lot and given the costs of soft drinks wouldn’t make much of a dent at all.

  8. (for clarity’s sake, I’ll just correct that to say that M/Wynn/Bellagio just automatically bring you more drinks. In the case of the latter two the wait staff often doesn’t even need to confirm what you were drinking because they usually have a knack of knowing what everyone at every table was having.)

  9. American Gaming Guru

    dave202: “This is where the “boss” used to park himself and everyone would report to him. He’s have a phone wired to the corner booth and take calls all day. Only occasionally would he walk the floor but for the most part, everyone would report to the coffee shop to talk shop….”

    I did not know that….and love it! Thanks.

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