Play with my Food!

By Bradley Rishmany, Corporate Chef and SVP for Trifecta Management Group

Having grown up knowing I wanted to be a chef, I always took food seriously. And those around me took it seriously too. Whether I was training with the best chefs around the world with Ritz-Carlton or cooking at the White House, it was always a serious subject. Fun for sure, but serious.

When I was asked to develop food and drink menus for Entertainment Centers, I was dubious. But, looking for new challenges, I explored it further. As part of the interview process, I was asked by a managing partner to cook a gourmet pizza for a few guests who had just finished bowling. So, I made “my kind” of pizza and it was served. Then, he asked me to go out and get feedback from the guests. Hesitant and unsure of what to expect, I approached the table only to receive rave reviews. I was hooked. I could make a difference and impact the business with positive contributions. Plus, the perks were great – playing video games, bowling, enjoying great food and drinks.

Over the years I have learned a few things about merging food and entertainment. I think there are three critical factors:

Be all in.  If you want your food operation to be successful and competitive, then it needs to look, feel, smell and taste like a restaurant. You don’t want it to come across as an “afterthought addition” to a FEC. You’ll fail.

  • The general public’s dining out sophistication and experience grows every year creating ever higher expectations for food, service and drink.
    • If you don’t meet those expectations, they won’t be back – there are other concepts and competitors who will meet those expectations on a consistent basis.
    • Understand industry trends and keep your concept fresh and contemporary.
    • It is critical to ensure that the restaurant is designed and located to maximize guest exposure and operational ergonomics.
      • Locate the restaurant up front as one of the key elements visible from the entry. It will make the statement that dining is a natural part of the FEC experience.
      • Ensure exterior elements reflect food and beverage as part of the experience, e.g., a patio with tables set and festival lights, or art panels showing diners, food and drink installed on the sides of the facility.

Hire experience. The restaurant business requires a tenacious ferocity for consistency, attention to detail, creativity and people skills. Hire proven restaurant people to run your restaurant.

  • Restaurant operations requires expertise in many areas that are not typically core competencies of a FEC Manager. Specifically, a person needs experience in product development, purchasing, inventory management, service progressions, security and food safety.
    • A restaurant as part of a FEC will have more “moving parts” and problems to solve daily than the remaining operations combined.
      • The restaurant business operates on high volume and thin margins and there are many ways to lose money and product.
      • The restaurant business is one of the few that takes an order, produces, and delivers the product and receives feedback in real time – and does it with a transient and often undereducated workforce.

Know your target market. Matching the type of food and ambiance to your target audience is key in meeting and exceeding their expectations. For instance, if your target market is urban dwelling millennials you’d want to know:

  • This demographic dominates the IT industry and views dining as an important social experience after a long day looking at computer screens.
    • Millennials will spend money willingly, though their expectations are high with a premium placed on authentic cuisine, farm to table foods, unique environments and environmentally friendly practices.

Regardless of your targeted demographic, restaurants are becoming a natural and synergistic component for an entertainment center. To make it profitable as well, commit to the concept fully, hire experienced restaurant professionals and know your audience’s expectations.

And, as I have discovered, it is okay to add play with your food. Have fun, indulge yourself and bon appétit!