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Hospitality Isn’t Going Anywhere: Operators Must Be Nimble to Prepare for the Post-COVID World

Bellagio Las Vegas, part of the MGM Resorts International portfolio.

The ability to pivot quickly is absolutely crucial for every operator in the hospitality, accommodation and travel industries to survive the Covid-19 pandemic.

Andreas Reich, vice president of F&B strategy for MGM Resorts International, highlighted the need for operators to be nimble during a SevenRooms webinar that took place yesterday. It’s a takeaway that can benefit operators large and small, from multinational resorts to single-unit independent bars and restaurants.

Reich was joined by host Bianca Esmond, head of global PR and brand marketing at SevenRooms, and moderator Alexa Detzi, team lead, enterprise success at SevenRooms. Detzi has been working closely with Reich since well before the pandemic struck.

MGM Resorts International was planning on having an incredible year, kicking off 2020 in a strong position. They had served 37 million guests throughout 2019, generating just over $2 billion in revenue. The company had managed 4.7 million square-feet of convention space and venues running the gamut from James Beard Award-winning restaurants and several Starbucks locations to small service bars. They had even served 1.9 million pounds of crab legs, to provide some sense of scale.

Just like it had done to essentially every operator, Covid-19 brought MGM’s operations to their knees. For the first time ever, MGM Resorts had to completely shut down all their properties. People outside of Las Vegas may not be aware that the resorts and casinos aren’t designed to ever cease operations.

MGM Resorts and Reich found themselves asking questions they had never before addressed:

  • How would they handle reducing their workforce?
  • What should be done with the buffets?
  • What needs to be done with the employee dining rooms, which serve thousands of meals each day?
  • How should they handle the inventory in their warehouses and stockrooms?

Between Las Vegas and other outlets, MGM donated approximately 600,000 pounds of food to keep it from going to waste. The unemployement rate in Nevada reached nearly 30 percent in March. MGM announced an employee emergency relief fund of around $11 million in April. By May, more than 60,000 MGM employees had been furloughed.

Putting the health and safety of guests and employees at the forefront of their focus, Reich and MGM spent March and April developing a plan in preparation of being permitted to reopen. After all, being nimble isn’t nearly a effective without an operator considering every element of their business. In early May, Reich called Detzi to ask what it would take “to turn everything back on.” MGM Resorts International uses SevenRooms for complete venue management across several properties.

Emphasizing the importance of preparedness and nimbleness, Reich shared a number of questions he had for his team and SevenRooms that needed to be answered thoughtfully but quickly:

  • Where are there opportunities to serve limited numbers of guests?
  • How can MGM Resorts properties go contactless?
  • How can technology be used to restart operations and delivery a seamless guest experience?

Detzi and SevenRooms had answers. Since May, utilizing the robust functionality of the SevenRooms platform, MGM Resorts in Las Vegas has deployed 165 virtual waitlists and made use of more than a thousand contactless payment devices. The company is in the midst of rolling out mobile ordering for nearly 30 venues. Changes for hospitality, travel and accommodations are happening at an incredibly rapid pace—Reich has found that pivoting just as quickly is crucial.
“We have to change the way we do business. We have to change how we deal with customers,” said Reich, explaining that a key element of that change includes making everyone feel safe.

One way that Reich and MGM inspires that sense of safety is team training. He and company asked how they could create a safe environment for their employees and guests. As Detzi and Reich explained to webinar attendees, an important element of MGM’s training involved connecting employees with the “why.” Each team member understands not just the seven-point safety plan, they understand their role and how they fit into it. They have an understanding of why they and their teammates are going above and beyond to keep each other and guests safe.

Employees have undergone extensive training involving the company’s seven-point safety plan:

  1. Screening, Temperature Checks & Employee Training
  2. Mandatory Masks & Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  3. Physical Distancing
  4. Handwashing & Enhanced Sanitation
  5. HVAC Controls and Air Quality
  6. Incident Response Protocols
  7. Digital Innovations

The plan can be explored in its entirety here. Some of the safety features and protocols Reich shared during the webinar should be familiar to operators of all sizes: experimenting with table distances to comply with official guidance; providing masks for guests who arrive without one (MGM Resorts offers maskless guests “mask packs”); and implementing visual cues to communicate to guests that health and safety measures are in place.

On top of being nimble, Reich shared his belief that operators must take the time needed to truly consider every element of their operations. They must then make decisions, including the tougher choices. For example, Reich and MGM had to develop protocols for dealing with team members who are infected with Covid-19. Operators should proceed with the attitude that it’s going to happen—an employee is going to get sick.

There are other protocols in place that answer employee questions. MGM Resorts has addressed what a team member should do if someone hands them their menu, or if they hand them cash to pay their check. Contactless payment is an option available to MGM Resorts guest—it’s not a requirement. It’s offering choices that Reich feels is crucial to today’s operations.

The guest experience must be as seamless as possible. Obviously, these are extremely difficult times. That doesn’t mean the quality of the guest experience should be allowed to slip. Once standards slide, they have a tendency to remain at a reduced level. Reich and MGM have taken the time to consider every element of operations, and they’ve focused on being as nimble as possible to ensure guest visits are up to—or surpass—their standards.

Some venues, as Reich explained, may not want to utilize QR codes because they don’t work with their brand perception. For such venues, MGM Resorts uses disposable, single-use menus. The company has also communicated to guests that they can basically do everything online: book reservations, put their names on waitlists, and review menus conveniently from their mobile devices.

Due in no small part to reaching out with Detzi, MGM Resorts offers guests options they had never conceived of prior to the pandemic. If there’s a silver lining, that’s one. Guests can place orders for room service from anywhere. Perhaps they’re shopping, get a craving, and would like to get their order so it arrives as they arrive to their room.

Reich took things even further, asking Detzi if SevenRooms could provide MGM Resorts and their guests the ability to reserve spots at their pools or secure a time slot and seat to ride the rollercoaster.
MGM Resorts is also using the data they collect via SevenRooms to improve the guest journey. They’re able to find out if someone placing an order has ever dined with them in person, learn how much they spend each order or visit, and identify their favorite items. Such data helps them improve customer engagement, helping them send targeted, enticing offers to guests.

As Reich said during the webinar, hospitality isn’t going anywhere. These are difficult times and operators are dealing with a seemingly endless stream of new regulations. Those who survive Covid-19 and thrive in a post-coronavirus world will be those who take the time to review and adjust operations, understand guest needs, and pivot to offer amazing guest journeys. Taking the time to review operations and develop a plan is one half of the equation; being nimble enough to change direction when that plan is turned on its head is the other.

Operators interested in SevenRooms should request a demo today. The platform is currently waiving the monthly subscription fees associated with their waitlist, reservation, table management, and marketing automation products for eligible customers through December 31, 2020. Learn more here.

Neither the author nor Hospitality Villains received compensation, monetary or otherwise, from SevenRooms, MGM Resorts International, or any other entity in exchange for this post.

Image by fva2105 from Pixabay

David Klemt View All

I’ve been studying and writing about the hospitality industry since 2006. Like so many people, I started my journey in this business by working as a host, server and bartender. I was introduced to nightlife in Chicago, learning the ins and outs of nightclubs and after-hours hot spots.

After moving to Las Vegas nearly 20 years ago, I both co-owned a valet company and helped promote the club it serviced. That led to me taking on the role of editor for a Las Vegas hospitality industry publication.

A few short years later, I continued along my journey of hospitality industry reporting. I went from contributing to a major industry outlet to taking on the role of editor and content curator.

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