The National Restaurant Association released its state of the industry report earlier this month, and key findings illustrate that restaurants across the country are recovering but still facing significant challenges brought on by the pandemic.
More than half of operators polled said it would be a year or more before business conditions return to normal, and 96% said they experienced supply delays or shortages last year that have continued into 2022.
A recent statement from the Independent Restaurant Coalition notes that despite adding 108,000 jobs in January, the restaurant and bar industry remains down 948,700 jobs from pre-pandemic levels, and the unemployment rate for leisure and hospitality is around 8.2%. The IRC points out that job growth has stalled in 2022 compared to December (163,000 jobs) and November (191,000).
Meanwhile, on the Las Vegas Strip, huge casino restaurants appear to be running on all cylinders and are especially packed with diners on weekends. A significant batch of new dining destinations opened doors in late 2021 or announced upcoming openings.
During the first few weeks of 2022, Caesars Entertainment announced it will soon open Martha Stewart’s first restaurant, the Bedford at Paris Las Vegas; Martin Yan’s M.Y. Asia at Bally’s; and Peter Luger Steak House at Caesars Palace. Those projects will join previously announced high-profile food and beverage arrivals including another Nobu restaurant at Paris, Dominque Ansel’s bakery at Caesars and Buddy Valastro’s Boss Café at the Linq.
Terrence O’Donnell, vice president and assistant general manager of Caesars Palace and the Cromwell, says it’s an exciting time for restaurants on the Strip despite ongoing pandemic issues. “We had a stockpile of projects that were on hold due to some overall uncertainty, and we’ve been able to announce many things rapidly,” says O’Donnell, who previously served as regional vice president of food and beverage for all Caesars Las Vegas resorts.
“It’s exciting to continue some of those relationships we had in place with new projects and to start with these new folks.”
As COVID restrictions have waned, Caesars Entertainment has focused on dining—and specifically on its celebrity chef partnerships—because customers spent more time and money at restaurants in the past two years, O’Donnell says. “Where dinner may have been a prelude to a bigger night out in the past, oftentimes now dinner is the highlight or headline event for an evening, and that gives us more opportunity to expand on our stable and make sure we’re giving guests what they’re looking for.”
And that’s just one casino resort company. Other prominent 2022 arrivals planned for the Strip include Wakuda at Palazzo, Villa Azur at the Grand Canal Shoppes at Venetian, Ballo at Sahara, Toca Madera at the Shops at Crystals and RPM Italian at the Forum Shops at Caesars.
But what appears to be a boom time for big resort restaurants doesn’t equate to actual immunity to the challenges of the times for Las Vegas Strip dining.
“Las Vegas has been through this before. When we opened CityCenter in the middle of a financial crisis, we had to find ways to overcome it until operations went back to what they were supposed to be,” says Resorts World Vice President of Food and Beverage Bart Mahoney, who has served in similar roles for Golden Entertainment, Wynn Las Vegas and MGM Resorts.
“[The Strip] is not immune. We’re all looking at occupancies being affected, but it also give us an opportunity to retool things, to review menus and do more research and come out with a better product.”
The restaurant portfolio at Resorts World was already massive when it opened on the Strip last summer, and even more F&B venues have been added in recent months—Carversteak, Caviar Bar, Bar Zazu, Mulberry Street Pizzeria and Tacos El Cabron. Just last week, Resorts World announced it will be adding two new plant-based restaurant options this spring from chef Tal Ronnen.
Chef and restaurateur Nicole Brisson and her partner Jason Rocheleau operate the new Bar Zazu, an upscale lounge with a new take on European-style tapas, along with Italian restaurant Brezza, which opened with the resort in June. Brisson says Las Vegas Strip restaurants have been able to thrive during the pandemic in part because affluent diners have a greater appreciation for quality culinary experiences after months and years of cooking at home and ordering takeout.
“I think [COVID] made Americans really appreciate premium product,” she says. “Where can I get a good cut of beef, a truffle, a unique mushroom? It forced us all to cook at home. And it made me realize how the food chain is so important, and that our best way to get through would be to collaborate and support each other.”
Brisson, who has run restaurants on and off the Strip throughout her career, says her venues at Resorts World has largely avoided the staffing issues that have wreaked havoc on many restaurants across the country.
“We have been in this sort of bubble of opening in a new place on the Strip, but we’ve been very lucky that a lot of my crew that I’ve worked with through the years were looking forward to coming back,” she says, though she notes that other unique-to-the-Strip challenges have popped up.
“We have huge swings in business when there’s not a convention here, where we can go down to 20 to 30 covers and then there’s a convention and you walk in the door with 350 covers.”
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