Forget loose slots. When people are deciding which casino to visit, the buffet could very well be one of the first things they consider.
The buffet is the main non-gaming attraction for casinos, says Joyce E. McKinney, director of community and public relations for the Gold Strike Casino Resort, Robinsonville.
“The buffet has to be good. Many times a customer will choose where they are going to play based on what’s on the buffet. The food and beverage team has found this to be particularly true in Tunica. In some places around the country, customers will choose the place to play and then at some point take a break from the games to grab a snack. Here, many patrons have admittedly made their decision on where they will play by what’s on the buffet. So we make sure that we offer good quality food choices.”
McKinney says the “secret” to a great buffet is simple: Serve high-quality food and lots of it in a clean and inviting atmosphere. Have an assortment that not only appeals to all of your customers’ current appetites, but also invites them to experience new things. “Offer the best service they’ve ever had and at a reasonable price,” she said. “You can have all of the bells and whistles in the world, but if you don’t have these things, you may as well count your days.”
Gold Strike’s buffets range in cost from $7.99 for breakfast to $18.99 for the Friday and Saturday seafood buffet. The casino serves an average of about 2,000 people per day in its buffet.
A recent new twist is theme night buffets. Tuesday night is YaYa Jambalaya Spicy Cajun buffet, Wednesday night is Ole Mucho Mexican buffet and Thursday features the Mama Mia Zesty Italian buffet.
Claire Pittman, public relations manager, Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau, said all of the casinos in Tunica have large buffets, and they really attract people to come back again and again.
“When people go on vacation, they want great food, and that’s what all of Tunica’s casinos have,” Pittman said. “Each casino has at least one fine dining restaurant, as well. But a buffet is something that can please everyone. People come to Tunica for entertainment, a nice vacation and eating at a great restaurant or great buffet. All the casinos here have lots of variety. That has been one of the main updates at every casino is making sure they stay competitive by having large buffets that are pleasing for everyone.”
Pittman said the casino buffets are definitely reasonably priced for the amount of food because it is unlimited. Patrons who gamble a certain amount are usually given complimentary meals.
“Buffets are an integral part of the total entertainment experience Coast casinos are known for,” said Ed Neely, director of food and beverage and hotel operations, Grand Biloxi.
“The secret to a great buffet is variety, friendly staff, attention to detail and cooking great food every day,” Neely said.
Grand Casino serves between 800 and 1,300 buffet meals per day at a cost ranging from $9.99 for breakfast, $11.99 for lunch to $21.99 for dinner.
“Buffets play a marketing role primarily with the slot players,” said George Golfhoff, vice president of food and beverage at the Beau Rivage Casino and Resort. “Buffets are a food-driven product. Therefore, first and foremost, it is essential that a buffet has a high-quality variety of food offerings. In addition, while there will always be lines at a good buffet, the line must move quickly and efficiently, the environment must be clean and organized, and the staff must show genuine hospitality.”
The Beau Rivage serves about 4,000 buffet meals in a day, with less on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and many more on the weekend.
The buffets at the Beau Rivage range from $9.99 for breakfast to $21.99 at night on weekends. A favorite on weekends is brunch for $18.99.
Guy Campbell, regional communications coordinator for three casinos in Tunica — Grand, Horseshoe and Sheraton — said their guests are looking for a great dining experience, whichever restaurant they choose.
“Many who choose the buffet want a quick, yet satisfying meal before going back to the gaming floor,” Campbell said. “All three of our buffet restaurants are designed to offer an array of dining options to our guests, in one convenient location — for one great price.”
The Big Kitchen Buffet at the Sheraton serves an average of 742 guests per day. The Village Square Buffet at the Horseshoe has 3,666 guests per day and the Grand Buffet hosts 1,700 guests each day. Costs range from $7.99 to $19.99.
The buffet at Sam’s Town Tunica serves about 3,500 people per day at costs ranging from $7.99 to $18.99.
Nicole Whittington, advertising and communications manager for Sam’s Town Tunica, said buffets are so popular for many reasons. “Buffets can accommodate anyone from a vegetarian to Kosher to the voracious meat eater,” Whittington said. “They offer a wide variety of food both domestically and internationally. In addition, the Great Buffet offers a set price, including a beverage for all-you-can-eat.”
The king of buffets, going by the number of meals served, appears to be the buffets at the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians’ Silver Star and Golden Moon casinos in Philadelphia, which serve up to 7,300 people on a busy day.
“The key to a successful buffet is great guest service along with an extensive variety of food and offerings that change on a regular basis,” said Steve Armer, food and beverage executive director for Pearl River Resort.
The Choctaw casinos also have some of the lowest prices with buffets ranging from $5.99 for breakfast to $13.99 for holidays.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.