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Inside Bellagio's Secret Servery

Inside Bellagio's Secret Servery

BEHIND THE SCENES. General Manager Norma Crichlow oversees Bellagio Resort's massive employee dining operation, Mangia.

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD. Bellagio employees can take whatever food they want from Mangia's servery and eat it in one of four seating areas, each with a different "atmosphere." Takeout to other parts of the complex is not permitted, however.

A MANGIA FOR ALL SEASONINGS. Mangia operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, offering Bellagio employees a wide array of meal options daily from eight primary entree stations encompassing various ethnic cuisines as well as a full salad bar (top.) and to-order deli (bottom).

The guests who move through the tarmacsized casino inside the LasVegas Strip's imposing Bellagio complex never see it and, chances are, never think about why it is even there. They're too busy playing the slots, planning the evening's outing or bellying up to the hotel's all-you-can-eat Buffet at Bellagio.

Yet, behind a nondescript "Employees Only" doorway near the Buffet, down an escalator and through a maze of corridors and stairs punctuated by office doors and service cubicles lies an onsite employee dining operation as stunning in scope and approach as Bellagio strives to be in Las Vegas's cavalcade of over-the-top attractions. The dining operation is called Mangia, and it serves to provide food for Bellagio's nearly 10,000 employees 24 hours a day.

Most hospitality enterprises support some sort of onsite employee dining operation. But Bellagio has taken that concept and kicked it up about five notches.

At Mangia, the food is not only free to all employees (and contract workers employed temporarily there), but access to the multistation servery is unrestricted.

There are no registers, no restricted entry points requiring card swipes or sign-ins, no one-meal-per-shift limitations and no guards checking IDs. Employees walk in whenever they want, take what they want, eat it in one of the dining areas (there is no take-out allowed) and leave.

Your mom's kitchen offers more hassles. "We serve between 5,500 and 6,000 people a day," guesses Mangia General Manager Norma Crichlow. "But because they don't have to swipe their badges, some may well go through two or three times."

You would think that with such a liberal open-door policy, Mangia would economize on the bill of fare. But the cafe not only features an impressive array of tasty, quality meal choices from more than a half dozen serving stations each day, but the ingredients used to prepare them are the same as those used in the Buffet upstairs, where the paying customers eat.

"It makes more sense to consolidate our food and beverage purchasing with the Buffet to get the full benefits of volume buying, rather than to have a whole different shopping list," suggests Executive Sous Chef Gretchen Bailey, who is in charge of the kitchen and Mangia's culinary operations. "But beyond that, Bellagio has made a commitment to its employees that they deserve the same quality of food that we serve our guests."

The result of this management decision—which has been Bellagio's policy since the casino's opening in 1998—is a food and beverage bill for Mangia of around $28,000 a day, or almost a million bucks a month. The operation gets two deliveries, each averaging half a dozen pallet loads, every day just from its primary distributor. Add labor, utilities and other miscellaneous costs and you're deep into nine figures in monthly costs. Annually, it's well into ten figures.

To understand this seeming extravagance, it's helpful to explore the labor economics of Las Vegas. Here, reliable, high-quality employees who can deliver on the guest experience promised by the city's many hospitality and entertainment enterprises are a prized quantity, and it's a seller's market. With wages among major employers largely a wash due to union-set rates, it is the individual workplace amenities and environment that often make the difference.

And it is in this area that Bellagio has from the beginning determined to be the employer of choice in the Las Vegas market. Mangia is perhaps the most tangible reflection of that decision.

"Believe me," says Mangia Assistant Manager Gregory Freeman, "people in this town talk and everybody knows the best places to work. And this is definitely one of those places."

Being "one of those places" where high-quality employees choose to work is becoming even more important as the Las Vegas ethos diversifies into greater reliance on non-gamblingrelated revenues from such areas as lodging, dining, entertainment and other amenities.

Just as an example, in its latest fiscal quarter, Bellagio parent company MGM Mirage (see sidebar at right) saw revenues from gambling tables and slot machines grow three and seven percent, respectively, while non-casino-related revenues grew 19 percent over the same period. The company as a whole earned revenues of $1.7 billion in the quarter.

In such a context, a million bucks a month spent on employee food and beverage is a modest price to pay to attract and retain a motivated and dedicated workforce that can deliver on the resort's promise to its guests of a high-quality hospitality and entertainment experience.

Volume, Volume, Volume...
Most onsite foodservice operators have to handle volume rushes, usually around lunchtime. But few have to deal with the numbers faced by Mangia.

First, remember that Mangia is a singlelocation cafè with a potential 10,000-person customer base, each of whom has every incentive to eat there. While the cafè is open 24 hours a day, most of its "business" takes place during the day, and much of that, according to Crichlow, comes between the traditional lunch hours of 11:30 am and 2 pm.

Even though nobody is officially counting, it's hardly a stretch to assume that lunchtime must generate several thousand "covers" at Mangia.

Crichlow allocates manpower accordingly. Mangia employs 25 front-of-the-house employees who are responsible not only for working the serving stations but bussing and wiping down the tables and replenishing beverages, napkins and condiments.

In the back of the house, another 52 chefs and cooks keep busy preparing ingredients, cooking and assembling meals. Much of the prep is handled here, and the food is set out fully prepared for customers to take or for servers to plate to order. In addition, the grill and Asian stations do front-ofthecustomer cooking and even some to-order items.

The manpower requirements diminish significantly overnight, when only a couple of Mangia employees work the stations that remain open and also do maintenance procedures that cannot be handled during the busy daytime hours. "Usually, the grill is closed down overnight so it can be cleaned," Crichlow says. "Other stations may also close for cleaning as needed."

The overnight menu is necessarily truncated but to compensate, the overnight chef will usually offer a specialty item.

The physical layout of Mangia is fairly traditional. Eight main wall stations ring the central island salad bar. Each offers several choices daily, based on a 21-day cycle, to provide variety, meet as many individual taste preferences as possible and to break up the hungry crowds during busy times.

The station lineup includes standard concepts like Asian and Italian as well as a grill, deli and carving station where a different item—ham shank, turkey, corned beef—is cut to order, just like in the customer buffet line upstairs. The deli station also has different specialty cold salads like Greek or Caesar that are made behind the line fresh for each customer. The grill specializes in Mexican favorites like fajitas, frijoles, enchilladas,quesidillas and chile rellanos. An International station features a rotating selection of ethnic dishes, from German and Irish to Greek and South American, while an Asian station offers a variety of stir frys, specialties like Peking ribs and perennial favorites like won ton soup.

The yin and yang of the healthful eating debate are both represented—by the Healthwise station on the one hand, and Fried Favorites on the other. Healthwise offers a selection of low-fat and calorie-controlled options like rotisserie chicken and veggie burgers while Fried Favorites purveys everything from French fries and onion rings to fried chicken and seafood. Crichlow says both are among the most popular stations in the servery.

While the cafe never closes, it does convert to breakfast mode each morning, purveying a full spread that includes hot selections like egg dishes, French toast and biscuits and gravy. Fresh bakery items are purchased from an outside vendor rather than made inhouse in order to free up resources. Breakfast usually draws several thousand diners a day. Customers eat in one of four dining areas, each with a different ambiance. One maintains a sports bar theme with televisions tuned to all-sports channels, while another room focuses on 24-hour news. There is also a quiet area and a smoking room.

If Crichlow sometimes feels like she's in charge of feeding an army...well, she's been there and done that. A veteran of military kitchens, her resume highlights include being part of the crew responsible for setting up field kitchens and feeding thousands of troops emergency meals following the terrorist bombing of the United States military base in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia in 1996.

"After something like that, feeding 10,000 people a day in a Las Vegas hotel is nothing," she says.

About Bellagio

Bellagio is one of Las Vegas's most grandiose-structures, a towering, nearly-4,000-guest-room faux Mediterranian villa fronted by an artificial lake that could float the Seventh Fleet. The lake has more than 1,200 dancing fountains that spurt, sprinkle and splash daily to a rotating hit parade ranging from Pavarotti and Bocelli to Ritchie and Sinatra.

Bellagio's recesses include a 13,500-sq.ft. conservatory/botanical garden, an art gallery hosting museum-caliber exhibitions, a glassenclosed shopping promenade with over 100,000 square feet of hoity-toity boutiques (Prada, Dior, Tiffany, get the idea...), five outdoor pools, a 65,000-sq.ft.

"Zen-influenced" spa with 56 treatment rooms plus a "Meditation Room," two wedding chapels, over 200,000 square feet of convention/ meeting space and, of course, a gaming area sprawling over more than 100,000 square feet.

There are 19 restaurants and snack outlets (including two restaurants with AAA Five Diamond ratings—Bellagio claims it is the only hotel with such a distinction) plus seven bars and lounges. To work off the effects of all that foodservice, there's also a 6,000-sq.ft. fitness center where you can sweat on a treadmill or relax in a yoga class.

Bellagio is the flagship property of MGM Mirage, the world's second largest gaming firm (after Harrah's). MGM Mirage's purchase earlier this year of Mandalay Bay, another major Las Vegas resort, has solidified its status as the market's dominant player, with 11 properties on the city's famous "Strip." With Mandalay Bay, MGM Mirage now controls more than a third of Las Vegas's slot machines and half of its 77,000 hotel rooms.

Fast Facts

What: Mangia Cafe
Where: Basement level of the Bellagio resort, Las Vegas, NV
Hours: continuous, 365 days a year
Seating: 540, scattered among four separate areas
No. of employees: 25 FOTH, 52 BOTH
Customers base: some 10,000 Bellagio employees
Meals served/day: 5,500-6,000
F&B budget: $28,000/day
Management: Norma Crichlow, general manager, Gretchen Bailey, executive sous chef

What they go through...

Here are some monthly usage numbers for Mangia:

Chicken: 27,840 lbs.
480 cases
2% Milk: 3,150 gallons
: 9,000
Dry Pasta
: 1,800 lbs.
: 7,200
: 28,880 slices
: 4,800 slices

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