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.
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.