Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of blog posts by Dave Eckert about Las Vegas.
I knew it only as the MGM Grand Casino and Resort, the big green building down toward the end of the strip with the huge lion in the lobby.
What I came to learn is that MGM Resorts International, the parent company, is one of the largest gaming companies in the world, responsible for half of the properties on Las Vegas’ famous Strip.
That’s a lot of rooms, a lot of visitors and a lot of meals.
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So of course I wanted to know about the meals — how were they able to feed this army of gamblers and non-gamblers, foodies and non-foodies, families and gaggles of girls or groups of guys?
Each property has its own food and beverage director. Since I was staying at the MGM Grand, I visited Jason Shkorupa, vice president of food and beverage.
I had been in Vegas less than two hours when Shkorupa and I sat in Hecho, the MGM’s Mexican eatery, for a wide-ranging discussion of all things food and beverage at the MGM. It was fascinating.
“I’ve been with this company a long time,” Shkorupa said. “I opened two properties, including this one, as a chef. In 2005, I crossed over to the dark side, and traded in my toque for a spreadsheet. I’ve only been back here six months, but I’m obviously very familiar with the property.”
Shkorupa has a huge job. How huge?
I reached out to the MGM’s public relations staff — they have 20 in the department — for some numbers. They are both impressive and daunting.
Here’s a sampling of what Shkorupa oversees:
MGM Grand serves 18,000 to 20,000 meals a day. This does not include the conference center, which alone can serve an additional 23,000 meals a day.
The highest volume restaurant is the MGM Grand Buffet service, with 2,300 to 3,000 meals a day
The employee dining hall, which isn’t open to the public, serves the most meals each day — 5,000 to 6,000.
For a recent group in the conference center, MGM Grand served 23,000 meals a day for three days straight for a total of 69,000 meals. That included 75,000 chicken breasts.
MGM Grand uses 3,800 eggs a day.
The hotel MGM Grand uses almost a ton of coffee a month.
Those numbers along would be enough for me to cry uncle, but Shkorupa sees it as a challenge to do better.
“We’re doing things far differently as a company than we did before, thanks to our C.E.O.,” Shkorupa said. “We’re really working together, moving our customers from one property to another where as before everyone use to be in their own silo. It’s much more open and collaborative these days.”
No doubt about it, the sheer number of diners has grown, but that’s not the most important aspect, according to Shkorupa. It’s the experience those diners are seeking.
These days, Shkorupa said, resorts have to offer the whole package and it better be at a high level or the guests will find it somewhere else.
“If you look at the wallet share of our customers in these resorts, they’re spending more money on the amenities,” he said. “It’s an experience for these people. The gambling is only 40-percent of things.”
It’s the dining, the shows and the spas that’s attracting the majority of people, he said.
“I think also what we’re finding in our market research is that people are going to do things in excess here and there’s going to do things that they wouldn’t do at home,” Shkorupa said. “They’re not going to pack in three celebrity chefs, $200-plus ticket shows and so on. I mean where can you go and have lunch with Michael Mina and this evening go have Robuchon or Collichio or Wolfgang or Emeril, and by the way, they’re all in this building?”
Moving forward, Shkorupa says he expects even more diversity, even higher “spends,” and the need for better, more dynamic and more varied dining options. He said he sees room for improvement.
“I think in Vegas, we’re great at copying, taking a concept and recreating it here,” he said. “But, if we really want to be considered a great food city, we’re going to have to lead as well, creating concepts and making them our own.”
If that happens, Las Vegas’ restaurant and food scene will have it all. I, for one, can’t wait.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.