How MGM's Number-One Buffet Wins Guests
Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Mississippi masters the most guest-satisfying buffet in the brand.
The difference between uninspired, poorly executed casino buffets and those that deliver true satisfaction—and thus become a hook for repeat visits—isn’t rocket science. Though if it were, the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi likely could just catch some good vibes of the latter in the wind from NASA’s Stennis Space Center 60 miles east across south Mississippi.
“The Buffet touches the most hearts at the property,” says Director of F&B Murat Akan. And by “most” he means that on average 2,700 people dine daily at The Buffet. Winning over that many hearts is the product of differentiating the Beau’s buffet, which has been rolling since 2011, from its competitors with close attention to tried-and-true fundamentals: fresh-made foods and a keen ear for feedback.
In fact, it’s the number-one buffet in MGM Resorts’ portfolio, per guest satisfaction/NPS scores, and gets more feedback than any other MGM F&B space, says Akan. Open until 2:30 p.m., The Buffet plays a pivotal role in a dynamic offering of restaurants at the Beau that includes BR Prime (steakhouse), Stalla (Italian), Coast Seafood & Brew (local seafood and craft beer), Jia (Pan-Asian), Terrace Café (three-meal, 24/7), the Pool Bar & Café (poolside casual), The Roasted Bean (coffee shop), and grab-and-go. The Buffet strives not just to outdo typical casino buffets but to compete with other Gulf Coast restaurants. Akan says The Buffet, located near the front of the casino with elevated seating, generates about 30% of total F&B revenue.
“The majority of our guests stay for multiple days, and with the variety of restaurants, they can plan their meals around our restaurant offerings and hours,” says Jeff Sagan, VP of hotel operations at the Beau. “Most guests love to eat at a buffet at least one time during their visit,” and the quality of the outlay “helps ensure the guest experience is one to remember.”
One fundamental piece of the buffet satisfaction for guests is that the Beau produces housemade food and rarely uses anything purchased pre-made—a major undertaking, considering the volume.
“We don’t buy much at all,” says Executive Chef Kristian Wade. The self-reliance is possible in large part because of having a cook-chill facility on the property, down the hall from The Buffet. “In that, we can produce large batches safely,” Wade says. “We’ve got a 200-gallon kettle and a 150-gallon kettle that can cook or do chilled food, so we can make all our dressings, soups, and sauces. We’ve got a cook tank to do all of our protein. We have a machine that cuts our vegetables.”
It’s not just any machine, either. Wade offers a point of reference: “The Progresso company has two of these machines to do their whole line of soup across the country,” he says. “We can produce cut vegetables for the whole property in a fraction of the time it would take to use a smaller machine or hand-cut them.”
Also critical are three food banks or big walk-in coolers. “The outlets put in orders, and it’s filled like it’s coming from a commissary,” Wade explains. “The cook-chill’s number one function is the buffet, that being our largest ‘customer.’ We can really control quality and cost, because we take a lot of things out of the hands of unskilled workers. The product comes in a bag and can be reheated in a pot of water, and it’s consistent, every time the guest comes.”
Six different kitchens supply the buffet: the buffet kitchen, the main kitchen, the cook-chill facility, garde manger, pastry kitchen, and butcher shop. It takes about 150 staff each day to execute The Buffet, serving about a million people a year.
The fresh-made approach manifests in regionally inspired menus, another key element of The Buffet’s draw, for hotel guests and drive-in visitors from the coastal region from Mobile to New Orleans. As for the guests from around the country and world, “we want them to know who we are and what our cuisine is here on the Gulf Coast,” says Wade. “We also provide some level of international cuisine, with a large Asian station, a live-action gyro station, and some international favorites people enjoy. But our main focus is local, regional cuisine. It’s Cajun-creole cuisine; this area is very in touch with south Louisiana.”
Wade posits that the odds are a guest staying at the Beau will eat at the buffet before eating anywhere else, and it’s a destination dining experience for the drive-in clientele as well. The menu changes with daily promotions, the most popular of which is the Seafood Extravaganza on Saturday nights, featuring items such as fresh oysters, gulf shrimp, and Alaskan crab—which is one of the only items not sourced locally. During the season, Wade says, they get crawfish from local ponds, along with Mississippi farm-raised catfish and clams from Alabama, which are served stuffed. There’s also crawfish etouffee and seafood gumbo. Most of the chicken comes from Forrest County (about two counties away). All vegetables are local from Mississippi, south Louisiana, and south Alabama.
Besides the Seafood Extravaganza on Saturday night, the Champagne Brunch on Sundays is also big, with Champagne, Mimosas, and Bloody Marys. Wade says it is the most successful Sunday brunch on the Gulf Coast. Also popular are Senior Wednesday and Military Monday.
Wade says The Buffet evolves seasonally, except for favorite dishes such as fresh boiled shrimp, Wade’s award-winning seafood gumbo, fried green tomatoes, fresh fish, and crab legs. Every season sees at least 13 or 14 new additions, such as the crawfish and barbecue smoked shoulder clod. Asian cuisine appears year-round; October brings German cuisine; and summer months highlight Jamaican/island cuisine, for example. Different menus are showcased at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day bring tweaks. The Buffet fed about 5,000 people last Thanksgiving on prime rib, crab, traditional turkey fixings, oyster dressing, and more.
Ears to the Ground
It’s no coincidence that the MGM buffet with the most feedback is also the company’s most highly rated. Listening intently to guests helps them not just add things they lack but also quickly reverse bad decisions.
“We were serving freshly made waffles, and we made a change to where we decided to make them in the kitchen and put them out (on the buffet), for faster service, so the guest doesn’t have to wait for waffles,” Akan says. “We started getting feedback from our guests, such as ‘Where is the lovely lady who was making waffles?’ She was still there but was in the back. They wanted to see her face and see the waffles made before their eyes.” They put the action station back, and it turned out to be a win in the BOH too, because when producing the waffles in the kitchen, they found they sometimes produced more than they needed.
With one ear to the guest and the other ear to the outside world, the Beau Rivage keeps The Buffet vital as a main F&B attraction in the area.
“Our buffet continuously evolves; we never really stop tweaking,” says Wade. “We keep up with trends and work with those trends.”
This feature originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Hotel F&B. It is one of our best-read Reader Favorites and is updated regularly.