Restaurant Rockstars Episode 356
How to Deliver Epic Hospitality with Epic Leadership
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Hospitality is the foundation of our business, and much of that depends on your team’s personality, approach, and guest interaction.
Like any seasoned sports team, exceeding expectations and winning the game takes true leadership and effective training!
In this episode of the Restaurant Rockstars Podcast, I’m speaking with Jeff Caldwell, V.P. of Operations for the Encore Boston Harbor Hotel. Jeff is a hospitality veteran who cut his teeth at Wynn Resorts; the company known for transforming the rebirth of Las Vegas into the world-class destination it is today.
Listen as Jeff shares his passion for hospitality and Leadership including:
- The importance of mentorship and inspiring others to their best performance
- His career challenges and triumphs
- How passion, pride and relationships lead to amazing guest experiences.
- How to keep a close eye on the competition and then blow them away.
- A company culture of teamwork, respect, and recognition
- What it takes and how to prepare to become a leader in a hospitality organization
And of course, his inspirational mantra from an early mentor: “It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about guest satisfaction”!
This episode is all about the “right stuff” and best practices that lead to greatness in the hospitality biz!
Watch or listen, then go out there and Rock YOUR Restaurant!
Connect with our guest:
LinkedIn: Encore Boston Harbor
I’d say after 15 years working with a company, what our culture really is providing the best service no matter what. And I know that’s a very simple phrase. But I’ve worked for companies in the past and I won’t name them always being fully that are great companies, but they are willing to accept things that are wrong. And, and change has always been our constant but our change is always guest focused.
Welcome back. Thank you once again for joining me on the podcast. Today’s guest, Mr. Jeff Caldwell, has built an illustrious career in the hotel space. And it began with an early mentorship in Virginia after college got so inspired with hotels, moved to Las Vegas and worked for many, many years for arguably the leading Hotel Resort company that’s literally transformed Las Vegas into what it is today needs no introduction, I’m talking about Wynn Resorts. And now Jeff is the Vice President of Operations for the encore Boston Harbor hotel by Wynn this episode is all about leading by example and what that word leadership means it’s about true hospitality and over delivering on very high guest expectations. Whether you have a small restaurant, single independent location, a Restaurant Group, a small inn or hotel, there’s so much we can learn from Jeff’s approach to inspiring, motivating his team, recognizing rewarding and just doing your best every day. Now, Jeff is inspired by a mantra. And it’s not about right or wrong. It’s about guest satisfaction. And that says it all. You’re not going to want to miss this episode. Stay tuned. Thanks so much to the sponsors of this week’s episode. Now, listen on.
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Jeff, thanks so much for being on the restaurant rockstars podcast. Welcome to the show. How are you today?
I am outstanding. Thank you so much for having me.
Well, you know you’ve got such an infectious personality and it’s really all about pride and passion for hospitality. Where did it all begin for you?
So it was actually a weird path. I was not originally in hospitality. It was actually focusing on finance and go all the way back to after my first year of college and a local recreation center, one that I went to with a kid and play tennis and swam couldn’t keep a General Manager, they all kept quitting because their staff was high school kids. And they hated dealing with high schoolers. And my father, who had been a principal for goodness, better part of 40 year career, had been dealing with high school kids. And I said to him, Hey, why don’t you go apply? We knew that people there, what a better opportunity. And he started. And sure enough, that summer, his managers quit. And so he actually called me and he said, Hey, I need help at the Recreation Club. Can you come and join me? So I went, and I was his assistant manager for that summer? And I fell in love with it. So I literally went back to Virginia Tech, my college and I walked into my advisors office, and I said, is there such thing as a hospitality degree? And can I get it? And they said, Absolutely, you can. It’s part of the business school. I transferred right there on the spot. And then at the time, there’s a hotel called the inlet in at Virginia Tech and Skelton conference center, it’s actually managed by Hilton, I walked next straight to there walked in the front door, this is back in the day before online applications, I just walked in and asked to see them see the manager and asked for a job. And they hired me working in the convention center, nothing prestigious, I was putting the candy dishes and you know, the pens and pads and things on the tables and setting everything up. But that was the start.
It really shows initiative on a young person’s part when they sort of see something that they think lights them up, and they want to be a part of it. And they’re not afraid to pick up the phone, walk in the door, introduce themselves personally, and say, Here I am, what can I do for you. And and it’s obvious you can tell as a leader in any organization, when someone truly cares, and that this could be an outstanding new team member. And, you know, this is what we look for every day in hospitality people with that, you know, either pride or a passion or a guest service, pension, or whatever it is. And that demonstrates it right there. So that’s a really good story. So tell us about the career trajectory after that, like you stayed in hotels, and you worked in restaurants also.
I stayed in hotels, I was working for that hotel, through college, and for one year after kind of gaining experience work through convention, started with front services and Bell services. And I had a mentor who let me know, they said, you know, if you’re in small hotels, you’re gonna have to move around a lot and opportunities for advancement can be few and far between if you’re not willing to move I actually really funny. I remember talking to the front office manager, that hotel, she was a wonderful woman. And she and I said to her, you know, I love your job one day. When are you planning on being a general manager and moving up to a director of rooms and she goes, You know, I’m really happy with this. I think I’ll do it till I retire. And I really I realized in that moment, man, I she’s gonna stay in this job till she dies. So if I want to move up, I’ve got a move. And at the time, the big hospitality cities were in New York, Orlando, and of course, Las Vegas. And New York was just too expensive to move to when I was trying to work the numbers. Orlando seemed very humid and Vegas seemed like a great opportunity. And I’d been there before and love the city. So I was very fortunate. I could stay with Hilton Hotels and move to Las Vegas. We’re actually I went into timeshare for a while, which was a very interesting version of hospitality. One that I did for a few years before the Wynn Resorts stole me away to open encore there.
You know, that’s also fascinating story as well. And this brings you back I was probably 15 years old the first time I went to Las Vegas with my parents. We ended up staying at a hotel I’m not even sure if it’s there relevant anymore. It was called the flamingo.
Yeah its still there with the flamingos and everything.
This is long before there was you know, an MGM Grand and an Excalibur and any of the Wynn Resorts and obviously, Steve Wynn transformed the city starting with a golden nugget, but I mean, this is and not that the 70s were that long ago they were that dates me, right. But I still remember going to the circus for the show because it wasn’t yet a family oriented town. You know, that came later. It’s still all about high rollers and gambling of course, but Las Vegas at one point decided we really need to bring in families as a draw, and all that sort of thing. And my uncle was a huge gambler and he was a big dunes guy and the Dunes is long gone that got destroyed. But it’s like he’d come back several times a year from the dunes and sometimes he’d win and sometimes not but it’s like he was so into the scene and that’s just part of my childhood. So you’re kind of bringing me back.
Well, it’s funny that was my generation was when they targeted families which drew me to Las Vegas I so I when I was younger, I went to Treasure Island back when I had the original pirate show and I remember that the arcade that I swear must have been an acre it seemed almost as big as the casino. So I was back in the days of Siegfried and Roy when they had that at Mirage before the days of Bellagio and really the rest of the strip taking over. Yeah, yeah.
And look so are they say you could see that beam of light into space. If you were up at the International Space Station or just orbiting the earth it’s like I can see the look source light you know,
you know I can tell you from living in Las Vegas for a while, I don’t know if you can see it from space. But if you’re ever lost in Las Vegas, and you need to know where the strip is, you can just follow the light. Either that or the stratosphere. It’s so flat there, you can just use them as landmarks.
Exactly. So did you spend 10 years in Vegas or longer? Was that about a time you were there?
Yeah, it was a little bit longer was 10 years with the wind organization, but I think I was there just under 15 years total.
Okay, terrific. Now, you mentioned an early mentor. Did you have any other mentors in your career along the way in?
Yeah, I, the one that I’ll go back to is Brian Cole brands. And he’s with a wind organization. He started I want to say about two months prior to me with a wind organization at the opening of encore back in 2008. And he was actually the one who hired me in as a hotel manager. To this day, funny enough, and just pass my monitoring looking, I still have quotes that he said, from back in the very, very beginning on my wall right now, from from literally, you know, at this point 15 years ago. You know, his visions of hospitality, the way that he thinks about things, is just so uniquely different and it can be applied to any scale, which I love as well it can be applied to small luxury can be applied to large luxury. And I’ve been fortunate enough to work with him the entire time I was in Vegas. And then he came to encore Boston Harbor when we opened encore Boston Harbor as our VP and then our president, so they will stay with him for a little bit longer when he moved here. Now he’s over when North America so all of North America is actually in house right now while we’re here. So it’s been good to see him for a few days while he’s visiting.
You’ve got our attention. There’s something inspiring on your wall that you turn to frequently just can you read us any of those, I actually one that really sticks out you
I can actually show you because one of my team leads totally made it for me into a placard now the actual old piece of paper is still there on the wall. But it’s not about right or wrong. It’s about guest satisfaction. It was a quote that he had said when we were first opening my team and I live by it. And and I still have the original piece of paper I doodled on, actually taped to the wall and not in the frame. Nothing nice. That wouldn’t be the style, it was that same old crumpled piece of paper that’s going to stay with me for my entire career.
Well, that’s history, you know, it’s wonderful to have those things that means so much yet you continue to practice those philosophies today. And you’ve probably come up with plenty of your own as well. But it’s awesome. When you can have a mentor, you can learn something that you continue to apply that really changes the whole course of your life and your career. And it sounds like you’ve had that that’s great. Yeah. Is there such a thing as a day in the life of the VP of Operations at Encore Boston Harbor. Um,
but typically, I mean, I, you know, there’s every day is different, which is part of what I love about hospitality. So, you know, I tell people who are doing the same thing every single day in and out and hate their careers, when we want something where change is always constant, you never know what the next day is going to be. Hospitality is for you. But honestly, most days are relatively similar. You know, try and get out there on the floor, walk the areas, talk to the team, as much as I can actually scheduling time out is vitally important for anyone who’s moving up in hospitality, you’ve got to block that calendar, and have that time. And then of course, you know, as you get up to the VP level, it’s a lot of finance, a lot of contracts, a lot of reviewing budgets and things like that, and that’s a few hours per day. But then it’s also still making the time for customers. And every single day I block out at least one hour, whether it’s talking to customers who are happy, or the occasional one that had an inconvenience, who needs a little reassuring, I just love hunting down people to talk to. And I have a soft spot for teachers, I think they do an incredible job in our country. And both my parents were educators. And I knew a lot of educators growing up. So I’m always hunting for a teacher who’s on summer vacation or holiday or something like that, and trying to do something special for them because they take care of our future and our children and I want to take care of them. So that’s my soft spot. But I love the people.
Yeah, I think if we look back in our own childhood in history, we all had people that made a real big impact in our lives, whether that be in, you know, in elementary school, or middle school or high school or even in college. It’s like I can go back to almost every school and remember one special person that meant something to me that did something special that I tried to take a little bit of that with me. And I don’t forget, even though a lot of them are long gone now it’s like you don’t forget those things. So that’s that’s a wonderful thing to recognize people, you know, even if they are outside the industry because of the impact they make. Thanks for sharing that. That’s great. You know this, this just triggers a thought. And I’m a huge believer in leadership. And you obviously lead by example. I absolutely get that impression. We’ve had a couple of conversations. I don’t know you that well, but there’s a difference to me between leadership and management, and delegation and empowerment. And, you know, a true leader who leads by example, recognizes talent and others, and they nurture that talent, they develop that talent, they have an open door policy where, hey, you got a great idea, I’d love to hear it. And maybe one of those great ideas will improve the business. And I’ve always believed that, you know, people that are really close to their jobs, unless they’re encouraged to share something, they’re either too embarrassed, or they just don’t care to share because they don’t think their input is valid. But I’m getting a sense that you, you absolutely are that kind of a leader?
Yeah, that actually, you know, it’s the leadership. And it’s my team’s leadership as well, which is why I can be on this podcast with you this afternoon and not be out front dealing with concerns or issues because the team is empowered, and they can do their jobs. And they can support the line level who really impact the customer, right. And we still to this day, about every two weeks, I do skip level meetings, and I love it. I meet with line level employees, one from every one of my different teams. And the trick rule is that my teams can never send me the same person that way. They can’t send me that person, they’ve pre selected or figured out, I’m gonna eventually get to everyone over the course of time. And they send me someone and we just literally ask them, you know, what are we doing well, what could we do better? And tell me your great idea. And I look at them and I say, You know what I am I understand that day to day, I do not get to spend my entire day with our customers, which means I am a little bit out of touch. And your department heads, it’s the same way they don’t get to be with a customer all day long. But from a from a line level perspective, those employees are the ones who actually make the difference. Those are the people who see the guests every day, and so many incredible ideas have come come from them. of changes. I love talking about housekeeping, right? I know too many hotels where somebody goes into housekeeping. And they saw that the housekeepers had maybe taken a pole and stuck some sort of duster on the end of it and duct taped it together. And they were using that I’ve known people have said, Hey, that’s not a tool. You can’t use it instead here, particularly when we say we’ll go make you that tool. So you’re not having to put it together. Because if you figured out a better way to do it, then why would we fight you? Why don’t we just make your life easier, give you what you need, but sometimes we don’t know, tell us what it is. And if it doesn’t exist, we’ll find it. Right. It’s just so important to get that information to the top and then more importantly, recognize them for that innovation. Never taking credit for what other people came up with. letting them see that spotlight letting them feel that excitement of their idea being taken.
Now we’re talking true hospitality, and everyone has their own definition of that. So I’d like to ask you what your definition of hospitality is.
You know, I think it is treat, you know, I hate to go to that basic, but it’s treating others like you would like to be treated. But more importantly, it is treating others with an experience that they find memorable. And that was worth the time. There’s time is the one thing that we can’t get back, we can earn more money, we can make friends, we can lose friends, we can have jobs, we can lose jobs, but we can’t get back time. And if somebody is willing to give their time to come and stay with us. And I think we owe them every second to be something that they look back on. And they remember in a great way no different than, you know, I’ve got my honeymoon coming up in September. i That’s time that I can never get back. And I I would want that same experience during that time. Just something memorable for me and my wife at that point forward.
Congratulations. I certainly give wish you all the best and hope you thank you every ounce of hospitality in that special time.
i We are looking forward to it will be all over Italy checking all the Italian hospitality and more importantly, the food.
Oh, I know that well. I had a wonderful opportunity when I was in graduate school to live in Milan for a summer. And so I got to travel pretty extensively and learn some Italian and I got particularly fond of Tuscany and all those hilltowns And it was a big fan of Kiante in the Kiante region the food you’re gonna you’ll you’ll get to all that I’m sure. Terrific. How many staff do you have on site, Jeff?
So in Boston we have right now we’re running around 3200 full time equivalents on regular we have some extra part timers, which really about 3200 individuals.
Okay, so a lot of them are on the frontlines interacting with the guests every day. So how do you first instill that hospitality, whatever their definition is, but a true understanding of that, but how do you disseminate that message so that they’re delivering because your guests obviously have high expectations, your luxury property, people have those expectations. They expect every detail to be taken care of. And that’s really, really challenging, not just with existing staff, but new staff. So there’s got to be a magic formula. What’s your formula?
You know, I’ll tell you our formula starts before we even hire them. It starts with our human resources. department that does an incredible job in recruitment of behavioral interviews. And so I can teach anyone to use opera, very common system, right, you can teach anyone to use Microsoft, it’s all repetition and memory, you can’t teach someone to genuinely care about others. And so we use interview techniques that get to the root of does this person really want to serve others. And if they do, then there’s an opportunity here. From that point, it’s our orientation, which is been crafted over the years. And obviously, a lot of background coming from Las Vegas, because they’ve been doing it far longer than we’ve been doing it in Boston, but bringing them into our core values and our promises, most of which align with many of the luxury organizations like Forbes, and bring them into those small things that they can do every single day that our customers care about to really reiterate that fact about caring about others, we have guest speakers who come through actually, every single week, I do a segment with them on customer service. So every week, I’m there on Tuesdays, working with them, and then we get them into the departments. And it’s really hands on training. It’s letting them pair up with some of our best and helping them understand what happens, how to interact, how to answer common questions, but keep them excited. And so there’s a lot of follow up during this entire process. Are you happy? Was the job what you thought the job would be? Are there any questions? Is there anything that we need to retouch on? We know that people learn in different ways, so some people are more hands on, some people like to take notes and write things down other people, they can just hear it or watch it. So we really try to cater that training through the buddy training program to the individual learning needs of the individual. And then honestly, we get them out there and we let them be themselves. We’re not scripted. So yes, like you have to use the guest name, but I’m not going to tell you exactly how to do it. Because if your personality doesn’t come through, then what was the point? Right, if everybody’s just a robot out there, it doesn’t make any sense. We want your personality within the guidelines of what we teach you to do.
Thank you for sharing, you know, you brought up another point, when I owned restaurants, I made it a point to make sure that every person interacting with a guest introduce themselves by name immediately, because that builds that instant rapport with the guests. It’s a relationship, it’s not like you said, just a robotic person that you know, is going to take an order or serve a meal or a drink or sort of thing. And, and it’s quick how if someone really understands hospitality, how quick some guest will take a shine to that person and become loyal to that business, that restaurant, that hotel just because of one person. And we’ll come back again and again and ask for that person. And people need to understand when they’re on the front lines, they are brand ambassadors for your business. And they can either build that business for you or they can do something that leads to a negative review. And that’s all part of the training, too, I’m sure but you’re right. It comes from the heart. And it comes from genuine desire to serve the public, for sure they’ve been,
they’ve been saying for a long time, people make people happy. And that’s what matters. And so my job and my team’s job is to make our team members particular line level happy because happy people really make people happy. And they focus because at the end of the day, like a slot machine is a slot machine. At the end of the day, a blackjack table is relatively a blackjack table, no matter where you go. But it’s the dealer or the attendant or maybe that valet or the people at the food and beverage outlets who you interact with coming in and out that make it worthwhile Disney, honestly, I’m gonna steal from Disney, they said, Yeah, if you’ve ever if you’ve never gone to one of them, the Disney training on customer service programs are outstanding. And we’ve gone to one to see the differences between our programs and theirs. And one thing they said is, at the end of the day, you have to make the experience worth the credit card bill that they get 30 days later. And it’s truthful. When they get home and they get that bill for that stay or that vacation or that restaurant, right when they’re paying that bill at the end of the month. Was the experience worth it. And in my opinion, the people make the experience worth it. Yes, you have to have good food or you have to have a good product. But at the end of the day, if the people weren’t a part of it, then they’re not they’re not going to feel like there was a value.
Now there are several luxury properties in Boston. It’s a world class city. It’s not the largest city on the planet, but it’s obviously one of my favorites, but it is world class and there are several other competing properties to yours. It seems obvious that your casino operations would be an advantage. But do you have many guests that come that really don’t care about gambling? Or does everyone just end up in the casino regardless, and that’s all part of the design of the property.
So you know, we are here to cater to everyone. And if you actually look at the design of our property, we have a number of customers who do come here in Boston and never gamble but they never set foot on the gaming floor. If you were to ever look at a map of our property off of our website, you’d notice there’s kind of a dividing line. And so there’s the front half of the resort in the back half of the resort the back half has the gaming operations has many of the food and beverage the nightclub. The front half has the convention space our retail more food and beverage in the hotel So for those customers who don’t want to experience the gaming, they don’t have to, they don’t have to walk through the gaming floor, which is different than if you’ve been to Las Vegas. You know, we I hate to say we force you, but you kind of have to walk through the gaming floor to get
anywhere. Most casinos were designed that way by does well by design by design. Yeah, of course, exactly.
They wanted the gaming floor here, you don’t have to. And so do we do get a big mix, I will say that in the summer, it’s more of a mix of guests who are staying here because of the food and beverage, and big just because of the quality of the room product and our service, that aren’t interested in the gambling. But that’s also the tourism season for Boston, right. So you’re gonna get the summer guests, and you’re gonna have guests into the fall looking at the beautiful colors and leaves and apple picking. When we get into the off months, we do find more of a casino focused customer. Because at that time of year, the tourism in Boston has kind of died down. And so it’s people who are coming for that casino experience, which gives us a huge advantage on the market having that entertainment option?
I would think so. Let’s take gaming out of this for a second. I’m assuming that when you first moved to Boston, you experience some of these other luxury properties as a point of comparison, like it’s just smart to comparison shop, what are they doing? Right? What are they doing wrong? What did the guests really love? I mean, whether you’re in a restaurant or hotel or resort, it’s like it’s smart to do that. So based on those experiences, would you say that you’re you’re able to offer an elevated level of service and experience in terms of your rooms in terms of the quality of the food and beverage, the chef, the, you know, the mixologist that you have on staff? I mean, by design, you’ve probably done that, you know, what’s out there? And now we want to be a couple of steps above that, right?
Yeah, so that was a you know, I’m not gonna lie, that was not a tough couple of weeks staying hotels in Boston, you’re never gonna get me to complain when they were like, you know, you should probably go stay in all the competition hotels for for a week or 10 days and and see what they do. I will say the hotels have impeccable service. So the other luxury hotels in Boston, the service is unbelievable. And it was actually a little scary coming to town, particularly because they’re much smaller. And anyone in hospitality knows that when you’re limiting your capacity, and you’re only maybe 100 or 200 or 300 room hotel, it’s much easier to deliver consistently, that level of service. Now, that’s what we excel at when is doing luxury service on a larger scale. But what we found is that we really needed to differentiate with the product, right? A lot of older hotels are limited by the buildings in which they’re in. So you’re in this market, looking at a 300 340 square foot room. You’ve got suites that start at 500 square feet. We’re just under 700 square feet for our standard room at Encore. And so I don’t want to say that we’re a little unfair, but we put a Vegas style beautiful room, large rooms, 670 square foot room as our standard room in Boston, right? And so immediately the competition had no like, you can’t just rebuild there. Yeah, it’s there there. We matched all the amenities. And then, you know, fortunately, we’re able to upgrade the amenities a little bit further. And then we built the building with things that just make sense, logistically speaking because we’re larger. We have the ability, for example, for housekeeping lockers on every floor and things to make the staff staff life easier. In room dining kitchen right off the in room dining elevators with dedicated elevators instead of having to share elevators with guests. I’m sure many of the listeners have gone into hotels where they wonder what that second set of elevator doors on the backside of the elevators is, you know when they’re cross using it for service and front of house. So we just built it. It was built well, it was built the way that our wind design development company can. And then we matched or beat every amenity that we saw on the market. So it was kind of an unfair advantage. I’m not gonna lie because we came after.
I’ve got two questions for you. But first, I want to tell you a story. So I went to a 50th birthday party for one of my best friends just before the pandemic and we stayed at a boutique hotel just outside of Boston famous name boutique hotel, I won’t name names. So the landscaping was impeccable. You pull up everything, there’s not a blade of grass out of place, there’s not a fingerprint on the window, you walk through the door, the greeting at the front desk was impeccable as you would say the service is great. And that’s where everything stopped. We got into the elevator on our way to a room and we went up a couple of floors and all of a sudden somehow that second other door opens into a maintenance closet. And now here’s the mop buckets and cleaning supplies on the wall and it’s a bit disheveled in there. But it’s like that’s not what you want to see when you’re on your way to a nice room. So then the door shuts and we get to our room. We walk down the hall we turn the corner and outside of one of the rooms is probably all the linens that somebody just pulled off the beds all piled up outside the door. A little bit down the hall and now there’s room service dishes out side the room. And we’re thinking, This isn’t what you want to see when you’re on your way to your experience in a beautiful room, we opened the door, everything seemed in place. But the very first thing we saw was the windows had all these kids fingerprints, because they never cleaned the window. And we’re like 123 strikes. And it’s like, this is a nice property, and it wasn’t an inexpensive room. And those are the details in hospitality 1000 Details plus, I always say, and these are the things that happen. So I’m sure none of that happens at Encore. But that kind of leads to the question, Jeff, when you’re opening your property for the very first time, did you have a soft opening? How did you get the team up to speed so that you’re instantly delivering on all cylinders and giving amazing service because there’s a buzz around a new property, there’s a buzz around a wind property. And now here’s your grand opening. And people have those high expectations, but you got a totally new staff aren’t used to working together? Maybe not up to speed yet in their positions? How did that go for you? And what did you do to prepare for that?
It was terrifying, but went okay. I’ll say that. You know, we were very fortunate we hired locally. You know, I think a lot of people think that when a brand like wind comes in that we’re just going to relocate people from other locations. And yes, there were a few of us that came to bring the culture of the organization and the experience. But we hired a lot of our teams locally. And we hired people who showed true leadership, aren’t you you love this? You know, I love housekeeping. You bet you’ll love this, we basically didn’t have to recruit for housekeeping. Because we hired leadership and housekeeping from around the city. And I mean, true leaders who knew what they were doing. And when they came over, guess who followed them, their quality assurance as supervisors and all their best guestroom, attendants, and so we had staffed or our housekeeping department at almost 80%, without ever really even having to publish the posting publicly. And yes, we had to go out there and supplement the few extra people. But these teams had already worked together, they already knew what they all knew. And so then bringing them up to standard was easier. Now, we get in the building a few weeks before we had temporary occupancy a few weeks before the official opening. And so the teams were able to get in their spaces, but there was no soft opening. We are either we are closed one day, and then we are open the next. And so the grand opening was the official opening, albeit we did have play days leading up to that. So friends and family, guests with ever United who were vital to us getting this property open came in for a three day weekend just before opening so we could kind of work out any of the last little kinks that were in the service delivery. And then I have to thank our family from Vegas because we did have a large contingent, almost 100 individuals from our Vegas team, from the operation side who all came out as well for anywhere from a week to two weeks just to help with those first, you know, couple crucial weeks when you’re figuring everything out
an element of excitement and a little bit of stress. Not sure how it’s gonna go and you hit it out of the park. And we’re off and running. That’s really exciting stuff, Jeff, we’re
gonna say off and running for nine months until COVID. shut everybody down.
Okay, that was about to ask what yeah, that was? Oh, wow. So literally 2019 Was it?
Yeah, it was for 2019 in the summer. And so we did not even get a full operational year, before we had to shut down due to you know, this, the health and safety regulations to protect the public.
Well, you know, similar story, I own many restaurants for many years and sold them all so long ago. And then just before the pandemic in 2019, July of 2019, bought another restaurant not knowing what was around the next corner. And literally, you know, so many months later up, we gotta shut down for so many months, because the state and now we’ve got to pivot at 50 times, because what a time that was, did you find that extremely challenging? And did your staff just rally around the experience? And it all got, I guess there’s a silver lining in every dark cloud. I mean, I’m sure you’ve got stories of, of other people stepping in and helping other people and just everyone pulled together to get through this unprecedented event in our history, right?
Yeah, I think one I’ve never felt so proud of the loyalty we had through our team through all of that, and the loyalty of our company, to our teams at the time, our president mathematics, said, You know, we can’t get these people back if we lose them and our properties were being closed due to regulation. And you know, for public safety. That is what it was. And so we actually paid the majority of our team, including what their tips would have been for 90 days during the initial closure. Awesome. Well, unfortunately, in some markets, that closure went past that. And so you know, that 90 days was our gesture. But I brought back about 88% of my pre COVID team. They didn’t relocate, they didn’t find other jobs. They knew is our dedication to them. And they were so loyal to us and they came back afterwards. But it was tough. I think the hardest part, though, was the ramp up and the uncertainty coming out of COVID. Because nobody wanted to over hire, right, nobody wanted to bring these people back. Or if they had found temporary work, take them away from that, to bring them back to maybe have regulation shut up and shut you down. Again, you know, we had that wave that came through after the initial closures coming around that next year in the winter. And so I think it was really tough, though, for the teams that came back in that middle part, to get done more with less, because we were being cautious about what business we were taking on until everyone was sure that COVID was done, and you could fully ramp back up without looking back.
And I think one of the biggest challenges was the degree of cleanliness and sanitation and perhaps things that went to the 10th degree, even more frequently than before, which made people’s jobs harder took longer to accomplish. And, you know, following all the rules, one minute, it’s six months, you know, six foot distancing, and masks and this and that and sanitize everything. And, wow, I mean, on your scale with that level of employees and the size of the property and the amount of surface area that had to be cleaned. I don’t envy anyone that was doing that. And somehow you got through it,
I will brag for Wynn Resorts that are cleanliness, I challenge anyone to come to any of our resorts and just walk around and look at our cleanliness levels. As we were reading the regulations about cleaning, I think we might have been one of the few companies that didn’t have to change that much. Because our frequency of cleaning and our detail and cleaning was actually so high that for example, in the guest rooms, other than an extra precautionary step of spraying with an ionizer we didn’t have to change a single thing with our cleanliness standards. They all were already still above what was being required for COVID cleanliness. So, you know, it’s funny saying, you know, we’ve been cleaning like this for forever. And I know that there were probably plenty of places in the industry that hadn’t been. But I think it actually made the entire industry better as a whole. Because now everyone knows, let’s be honest, how they should have been cleaning from the beginning, you’ve got to make that guest feel like no one has ever set foot in the room before. Right? You know, you’re renting it for one night. But we have to create that illusion that no one has ever been in that room before. And if that illusion is broken, like you said, with the fingerprints, I love that story. You can’t get that you can’t get it back, even if you call us and we go up there and we touch up what we missed. You now remember, hey, there was a little kid in this room running everywhere like that’s in your mind now for the rest of that day? Well, that’s
definitely a testament to how your organization looks at the business in general, just one of those 1000 details and cleanliness is super important, of course. But again, I would never have guessed that, you know, your organization had already taken things to that level before you had to and that, again, that speaks volumes how you operate the business. That’s tremendous. Listen, you’ve heard a lot of noise about the ERC tax credit. Why is it such a big deal, because your business already paid a ton of money in payroll taxes, and more than likely you qualify to get a ton of money back. Now, if you haven’t applied yet, I’m telling you drop everything, drop what you’re doing and figure out how to get it done. The truth is, and I’m speaking from experience here, it’s super easy to get the money back if you let an expert do the work for you. Now get on this before the government either changes the program or runs out of money, I got hundreds of 1000s of dollars back from my restaurant, and it literally saved our business. Now you may have heard it may take many months after applying to get your money back. But that doesn’t have to be the case. If you need your ERC refund sooner to run your business or to take care of some much needed projects, you can speak with Karen Garbett, the owner of verge funding group about a bridge loan or other working capital. Now whether you wait for your check up for a bridge loan or other working capital, it’s likely you have a significant amount of money due back to you so don’t lose it. Now go to the show notes for this episode on our website and use Karen’s calendar link to set up a time to chat with her personally about how much money your business can get back. Let’s talk about company culture, Jeff versus mission statements. Maybe you have a mission statement. But culture goes so much deeper than just something hanging on the wall that talks about our philosophy running this business that maybe nobody looks at or even cares about. And I’m not saying that happens in organization but it happens far too often where it’s not something that’s practiced daily in a company culture kind of evolves authentically, but it cuts to the heart of that pride that passion and true hospitality. So what is how would you define the you know, the when organization or encores company culture?
You know, I’d say up to 15 years working with a company what our culture really is providing the best service no matter what and I know that’s a very simple phrase, but I’ve worked for companies in the past and then they won’t Name them always being played, there are great companies, but they are willing to accept things that are wrong. They’re willing to accept a concept that isn’t working or something that is bothering a customer or an inconvenience because maybe it financially made the most sense. And that’s normally the excuse used right there owners that need to make a certain amount of money, people or companies are looking for profit margins, and a lot of times excuses Well, financially, we can’t do it. Wynn Resorts does not care what it takes now being reasonable and responsible, of course, not wasting money, because we do have a responsibility to our shareholders, but we fix things when they’re wrong. And whether it’s in our training programs, whether it’s how we structure our leadership, whether it’s how we design our buildings, and the outlets we put in them, we got things wrong. When we opened encore Boston Harbor, some of our outlets just didn’t work or didn’t make sense. And so why would we continue that? Why would we force our customers into that experience, we’re going to change what we need to change. And, and change has always been our constant, but our change is always guest focused. And that culture of everyone making those recommendations, making those changes and never settling for being second, is why I will truly never work for another gaming company ever. I wouldn’t do it because you will not get that culture anywhere else. Or at least from what I’ve heard from my friends working for, you know, our neighbors stones,
it is a network for sure. And we talk shop and we compare and that’s that’s tremendous. And the bar has been set so high. So it really has yeah, that’s, that’s awesome. You know, let’s let’s shift gears a little bit. Our audience is really diverse. And of course, we’ve got restaurant operators and CEOs and people that own restaurant groups and hoteliers, but we also have servers, and we have bartenders. And we have general managers in different organizations, even though personally I call them general leaders. Let’s talk about what in your opinion, what it takes for a person are in our industry that’s working their way up, they have that passion for hospitality, what does it take to rise up to a position like yours maybe starting in some leadership position, whether they’re leading a bar or leading a dining room, or the general leader of a restaurant or even a hotel, but how do they continue to rise in their career? How do they set themselves apart from the competition, which could be stiff? Like you’ve seen a lot of very competitive? I’m sure in your career, like I have, what do they have to bring to the table? Jeff?
One, I think we’re always looking for ground up understanding of the organization I did in my career. Many years ago, I’ve held many line level positions. And we’re looking for individuals who are willing to learn different skill sets, I too many times I think people think there’s one path to the top, there’s absolutely not one path to the top, there are 1000 different paths to move up in your career. And sometimes you have to take a step forward. Sometimes maybe a step back, sometimes maybe take a different role that might be uncomfortable for you, or you might not want to do a lot of times it’s that back of house role that maybe you wouldn’t be thinking or isn’t as prestigious as maybe being that bartender or that server or that Front Desk Agent. Right. And then making valuable recommendations. It I love most of our promotions are internal. And my favorite interview question when interviewing for, for example, an assistant manager an entry level management position, would be assume that every candidate has the same experience as you because they all work for us. And they’re out. And many of the candidates are doing the exact same job. How do you just like you just know, to differentiate yourself? What have you done differently? And we’re always looking for those individuals that showed discretionary effort in other ways. Did they take on extra tasks? Did they learn extra functions? Or features? Were they a leader in sales? Or were they a leader in customer service? And I think back to my career, and that’s how I excelled. I never just read the job description on a job. It’s a great, that’s what I do. These are my 10 tasks. And that’s what I’m going to do No, I, I mastered the 10 tasks, because you know, you have to first learn to walk before you can run and I would learn how to do my job the best I could and then when I had additional time, Okay, what else can I learn? What can I do? Maybe I can make this process better and make those recommendations. And if you do that, guess what, when when it comes around to interviewing, your name will be at the top of the list because look at that innovative individual who came up with that new drinker, that new way to serve that or that way to save us a couple dollars are the better way to prevent loss or waste, you know, whatever it was, it puts them at the top of the list when you assume that everyone else is equal. Right?
This is absolutely true. Jeff, thank you for sharing. I also would say that this is the one of the only businesses or at least the one I can think of where you’re learning life skills every single day. And it’s the kind of occupation we don’t need an advanced degree or even go to college to rise to the upper echelon, just based on what you bring to the table, who you are, what you can demonstrate and what you can do versus what you learned in school, you know, and there’s so many stories in industry of that. So clearly, let’s talk about recognition and rewards programs. And how do you recognize outstanding talent and people that go above and beyond that you either you recognize or someone brings to your attention, or even at the lower line level, it’s like, how are people recognized at the core.
So every department has their own departmental programs, they’re done monthly. And we have two different types in most of our departments, which is a peer to peer recognition program, which are some of my favorite because, you know, really getting recognized by your coworkers, we’re working side to side with you every day, it’s just such wonderful praise. But we have departmental recognition programs, and it can be small little gestures, or gifts, or a special lunch or dinner or, you know, all those little different things that are given out. But within one organization, we have the stars program. And we have the either the stars, which is for our line level employees or the All Stars, which is for our management level, in monthly, we are picking from nominated employees around the around the property and managers can nominate department heads can nominate and you actually have to write a narrative. And the narrative is just what we talked about what makes the person different, what was the discretionary effort, and then we get to vote, we get to read the stories. And this is part of my my favorite part of this, I have learned of so many employees that are in parts of the building. So many team members who I really don’t get to interact with on a day to day basis, right, maybe they’re in purchasing in an area that doesn’t support hotel in my areas, or maybe they’re in Casino and I don’t see them that often, I get to read these narratives every single month from these individuals who are nominated for stars, and then we all get to vote on who our stars in the month will be. And they get a wonderful prize pack and all sorts of gifts. And then they get to be entered into the Star of the Year Award, which is very fun, which if you win, you actually get flown to Las Vegas for last year, it was a dinner at Delilah with all the other executives and stars. And if you haven’t been to Delilah in Las Vegas yet, my goodness, that is an incredible meal and experience. They can do whatever they want with a significant other at the property, we challenged them go to the spa, play golf, try all of our restaurants just have a weekend, then they get this dinner. And then they get a nice cash prize at the end of it, which is always a little bit of a surprise for them. And they get to bring them back that experience with them to the property, which is just so exciting.
And then they share with everyone they work with. And they do hear us and it’s like that just makes everyone say, Wow, I want that. It’s like what an experience. That’s tremendous. That is a great program.
It’s really, really fun. And people love it. And they get their picture on the wall. And everybody knows who they are, you know, it’s a lot of fun.
Let’s talk about your food and beverage program. It’s extensive, I’m sure there’s numerous outlets, and I’m sure you’re in there on an almost daily basis, trying the food and just maintaining consistency, how involved you get in in food and beverage operations, you obviously have a food and beverage director. Do you have any input into new menu ideas or profitability? Or do you obviously look at financial reports, let’s talk about the interaction with food and beverage that you have.
So I will say I let the food and beverage team do their thing for the most part. Fortunately, I focus on hotel transportation and a lot of the other areas more than that, I focus mostly on the interactions when it comes to food and beverage with the customers around the property and how we can get the most out of every single customer. But I will say food and beverage at our property has been an interesting history. You know, I don’t think we necessarily understood our customer in the very beginning. Many of our restaurants had a longer average check time. So you’re looking at a longer dining experience. And what we didn’t realize we were used to Vegas, if I’m just being honest, we were used to a lot of convention guests who were on a corporate card. And the the dinner was an experience. And we missed that many of our customers might only be coming for the afternoon in a regional market. And so do they want an hour and a half two hour dining experience in a regional market? No, because you know, they’re here to experience a resort and that was taking up too much of a percentage of their time in the building. And so you actually saw a shift from our opening from a lot of these longer dining experiences to more and still very wonderful food, but fast casual, and things that could get them in and out. And if you wanted that quick experience, you could have it and you could get back to gaming or the spa or convention or being on our harbor lawn or whatever else you were doing. You get back quickly. That was a really big shift that we did here. The quality has always been outstanding. And I think one of the things I love about Wynn Resorts is that our executive chefs are in the kitchens cooking every day. single night. This is nothing about restaurants that don’t that are celebrity chef based but you know, a celebrity chef cannot be in every single one of their 80 locations around the country at all times. And while they have wonderful teams were there without them. We love having our executive chefs who are the innovators, the ones who are making the specials, tweaking the menus, changing the little things seasonally that happened within the restaurants. We love the Executive Chef, they’ve got to be there every night, or else they don’t have a feel for what their customer wants, right? If they’re not in the dining room, hearing the feedback, then how could they know?
You know, my wife and I are hooked on a show right now called five star chef on Netflix. And I’m not sure if you’ve seen it. But it takes place in London at sort of an illustrious property called the Langham Hotel. And there’s a restaurant there called the palm court that is an exclusive five star experience. And they’re looking for a new chef, a young chef to take over that operation and be able to deliver 500 meals immediately at a five star level and lead a team and It’s extraordinary to watch. And they just selected the winner out of a huge Well, I wouldn’t say a huge pool, but the long list goes to the shortlist and then they get in the kitchen and deliver that service. And that’s what you’re going through on a daily basis. I mean, your food and beverage people must be incredible because again, the expectations are there. But you also have to deliver the convenience you have to deliver the quality you have to deliver the timing. And you can’t miss any of those details. Because everything you said in well on your desk there you know, yeah, yes, satisfaction.
Agreed. And I think I think our newest outlets have just opened rare Lounge is a perfect example that when we first open a you know it’s New England, we had a Dunkin Donuts in the casino. It’s in the back corner of the casino. But we also offered our our signature coffee shop. And shame on us for thinking that we could compete with dunkin donuts in New England. We learned btter. and so no, but you know, our coffee was incredible. But it’s Dunkin and it has it has the brand. And so you know that outlet after COVID We didn’t quite know what to do with it. But we realize people love the steakhouse rare and a lot of people think rare is actually named for you know, cooking your steak rare. It’s not it was actually named rare because we have unique cuts of beef there that you can’t get other places. So it was rare cuts. And people loved that outlet. But it was taking a little too long sometimes when they were visiting. And so what did we do, we created a new experience rare Lounge, which is beautiful. It has an incredible whiskey program. If you can’t find it there, you’re not going to find it. It has that same luxurious feel of the rare restaurant. But the menu has been catered to still get some of those bites you want but quicker service style seat yourself come on in our servers can get you in and out in record time compared to a fine dining restaurant. But you can still get that quality of food that you were looking for in that steakhouse feel. And it’s just been incredibly popular since we opened it but again, how we shift they love rare but they wanted a little quicker. Well, okay, let’s build a new version of rare rare lounge that gets them in and out the door in a more casual and quicker way.
Thank you so much. There’s so much energy that you exude when you speak about this. And there’s that pride and passion again. But what do you find most gratifying about working for either the wind organization or just being in charge of this hotel is VP of ops,
I think it’s exceeding goals and, and and watching my team succeed. I love my team, I would not be here today without them. I every time they succeed every time I can promote one of them. Honestly, that gets me excited that can put me in a good, good mood for weeks. And then just finding that new way for us to uplevel our business, we are always trying to be better. No one is perfect. I’m not perfect. No business is perfect. There’s always ways to improve. And we’re also in a very dynamic market, right? The customers that we serve there, chase their tastes change monthly, daily yearly, the flow of business changes monthly, daily yearly. And so looking at that and always finding ways to make it better. I get excited. It’s actually you know, it’s August 2. So we’re all very excited right now and obviously it’s a publicly traded company I can’t share numbers but we look at different statistics and anytime we exceed one that the team we’re all celebrating you know at the beginning of the next month looking back at the last one saying wow, we didn’t think that we could make x better but we actually did and congratulations to whoever it was that had that incredible idea that actually took us to a new level that we never thought we could get to that’s what really gets me excited some people dread the end of the month and a month and financials they can be good they can be bad I would always shifts and, and goes but we focus on the successes and then learning from mistakes whenever we make them and just moving forward
That’s terrific. My last question is this, no one has the crystal ball in front of them, you’ve got a long career ahead of you. Do you see yourself moving? I mean, you now probably have an affinity for Boston After spending lots of time in Las Vegas. But what happens when wynn opens in Dubai or somewhere? Will they ship you somewhere else are you interested in continuing to grow in the organization and moving around the world?
I am always interested in continuing with a wynn organization, I will say I think the Middle East is a little far for me, I’m a family oriented guy. And being that far from family would be a little bit too much for me, though, I would love to go there and help them at opening, being a part of that opening team, because I would love to see, you know, that area of the world for a few months while supporting them. We continue to see expansion domestically. And that does make me very excited. I’m an East Coast kid originally from Virginia. So I’d like to stay stay on this coast. And you know, New York is adding licenses, which were one of the companies that’s bidding for one of the New York licenses. You’ve got Georgia that’s trying to legalize, they have to do a constitutional amendment. So it’s a little bit of a hard lift for them. Yes. But you know, they are really pushing hard in Georgia, to potentially have gaming and we as a company, look at every market and obviously it has to make financial sense and be the right mix for our luxury style resort. But those resorts are a great opportunity for the future. Also in Boston, we’re expanding if you come by you’ll see that the bulldozers are working across the street. The 999 seat auditorium is going in the expanded larger, sportsbook will be across the street than moving to the poker room, a comedy club and more parking. And so you know, we’ll have that open in a couple of years. And so it’s also giving in Boston opportunities for growth as well, which is nice, more competitive advantages.
I see. Yes,
more parking, more parking. And that’s important more entertainment options for our customers so we can maximize every minute.
Well, Jeff, you’ve been a huge inspiration to our audience in the best practices and insights and advice that you’ve shared with us is invaluable. So thanks for doing what you do for our industry.
Thank you, Roger. It’s a pleasure. Great to be here.
That was the restaurant rockstars podcast. Thanks so much to our audience for tuning in. Thank you to our sponsors for supporting the show. We can’t wait to see you all next time. Stay well, everyone. Thank you, Jeff, so much for being on the podcast, you’re such an inspired guest. And we learned so much from your approach. And literally how to motivate and inspire and lead by example, and get performance and deliver amazing guest experiences, and just the satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from being your best every day and recognizing the best in others. And it’s definitely an inspiration to all of us in the hospitality industry. Thank you so much. Thanks to our sponsors, once again. And thank you audience, I can’t wait to see you next time. So don’t miss the next episode. I’ve always believed in systems to run a really effective restaurant, they say you have a system if you can walk away and leave your place for a day, a week or a month. And it’s just as successful, just as profitable when you return, if not more. So. Now the staff are really the foundation of this. And it all comes down to the word empowerment, you know, if you’ve got really great people, and if you can develop those people that have your back, and to run it as if they owned it, treat everything as if they had to pay for it. That’s a super powerful system. Once you have the staff in place, it really comes down to three things. It comes down to one staff training, development, recognition and rewards to create what I call your dream team, how to empower your team to think and act like owners and to treat everything as if they owned it, and had to pay for it and to deliver amazing guest service experiences to your customers to serve and sell because sales are the lifeblood of your business, not allowing order takers on the floor. But teaching everyone to recognize opportunities and make suggestions that we know that customers will enjoy and appreciate. It all comes down to training, training, training, number two cost controls and maximizing profit. You need to know your critical financial numbers on a weekly basis. And it only takes 10 minutes, but you need to understand these things. How about your daily breakeven how much it costs you to open the doors to your restaurant each day. Inventory is not just walking around and figuring out what your order is that week. It’s knowing the true value of your goods on hand at any given point in time and you need this information to be able to calculate your true food and beverage costs. Your labor costs are also important and running a weekly labor analysis against sales. If you know these things, I can teach you how to maximize your profit and control your costs. And then number three is what I call marketing firepower and affinity. You know affinity is defined as a really powerful sense of loyalty and belonging where your customers become raving fans, and they’re like an army Have brand ambassadors spreading the word for your restaurant? Well, all of this is included in the restaurant rockstars Academy. If you really want to take your restaurant to the next level, post pandemic, things are heating up, customers are coming back. Now’s the time to really maximize your opportunities, maximize your sales and profits and create that dream team staff. Check it out at restaurant rockstars.com It’s the restaurant rockstars Academy. Thanks so much.
Thanks for listening to the restaurant rockstars podcast for lots of great resources, head over to restaurant rockstars.com See you next time.
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