Sun Herald/ - BILOXI, MS - Buffets are as big
a part of Coast casinos as slot machines, player's clubs
and blackjack tables. Every day, thousands of people pay
a low price to eat as many egg rolls, crab legs, hush
puppies or chocolate chip cookies as possible.
22 percent of visitors to Boomtown
in Biloxi said they come to the casino for the buffet,
said Chris Soldo, director of food and beverage. Gambling
was the No. 2 reason people said they come to the Back
Bay casino, at 19 percent. "It's
our only amenity here," Soldo said. "We don't
have a hotel, we don't have a spa."
which Sun Herald readers have picked as the best buffet
in South Mississippi for three years in a row, serves
between 65,000 and 70,000 customers a month at the buffet.
Complimentary meals account for 26 percent of business.
Despite the number of customers paying between $5.99 and
$12.99 for a meal, the Boomtown buffet is a break-even
operation, once the cost of food and paying 86 chefs and
cooks is figured in. "We make our living off of slots,"
Soldo said. "Food is just a driver. And that driver
correlates with gambling dollars."
are willing to break even or accept modest profits on
buffets, because they are a key to attracting slot players
who are responsible for the majority of gambling revenue.
This has led to an ongoing competition by casinos to upgrade
their buffets, to offer more choices of food and cooking
stations where guests can get dishes made to order.
upgrades aren't cheap. Beau
Rivage in Biloxi spent $8 million to expand The Buffet
in April 2001. This spring, the Isle
of Capri in Biloxi spent $2.2 million to renovate
and improve Calypso's Buffet. And once a casino makes
any sort of improvement, the competitors are waiting to
copy what works.
like everybody else, we go over to other casinos to see
what our competitors are cooking," said Scott Hixson,
manager of Calypso's. "There's a real good fraternity
of chefs and restaurant managers who are always checking
up on each other. They'll bring their families out to
the other buffets."
costs range between $2.99 for some breakfast specials
to $14.99 for some seafood-heavy smorgasbords. In comparison,
a lunch of blackened tilapia with a salad, side orders
of rice casserole, turnip greens and a roll, with lemonade
and cheesecake costs $11.96 with tax at Piccadilly Cafeteria
in Edgewater Mall in Biloxi.
the apparent price disadvantage, business at casual dining
restaurants on the Coast is still solid.
"We don't really worry about the casinos," said
Mike Sattley, general manager of O'Charley's in Biloxi.
"A lot of people come to casinos to gamble and make
one trip over here. As long as they make one trip here,
we're happy." Sattley said casino buffets are just
another dining choice for Coast residents.
you want KFC, sometimes you want Taco Bell, sometimes
you want to go in a restaurant and be waited on,"
he said. "I see a lot of people I play cards with
at the casinos in our restaurant."
sheer volume of diners at casino buffets is staggering.
About 115,000 people eat each month at Grand
Casino Biloxi's two buffets, far more than enough
to fill up all the seats in the Superdome and Hattiesburg's
M.M. Roberts Stadium.
going to work as the manager at Calypso's, Hixson worked
at Montana's, the family buffet restaurant off U.S. 49
in Gulfport. "When we would have 700 to 800 guests
a night there, we were blown out," he said. At
Calypso's the average number of nightly guests is higher
than that, Hixson said.
fill up that many hungry guests, it obviously takes a
lot of food. The Buffet at Beau
Rivage, recently named by Casino Player magazine readers
as the best on the Coast, spends about $700,000 a month
on food, said George Goldhoff, vice president of food
many cases, we buy from local vendors," Goldhoff
said, noting that the casino buys tons of food every month
from Desporte's Bakery, Quality Seafood and Gulf Coast
day, chefs and cooks spend hours baking, frying, sautéing,
grilling - every style of food preparation known to humanity.
In one kitchen, they produce volumes of food comparable
to what the Gulfport School District makes at its 10 schools.
cooking is an all-day process. At breakfast, cooks are
preparing items for lunch. During lunch, cooks are working
on dinner. The staggered, assembly-line pace is necessary
to keep up with customer demand.
we didn't do it in advance, we would never be able to
get any food out," said Mike Legge, executive chef
on a recent Friday afternoon.
was just after 3 p.m. and cooks were busy boiling crab
claws and preparing pans of pasta shells and green beans
for the steamer. Racks of bread were ready to go into
then there's the matter of all the dirty plates, bowls,
glasses and utensils. Frank Burgess, food and beverage
director for Casino
Magic Biloxi, said on an average day, the buffet has
to wash 4,200 dinner plates and side dishes.
have a dishwasher that doesn't stop," said Boomtown's
Soldo. "We stop it every two hours to drain and clean
it, but that's it.