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September 19, 2014

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FOOD:

No surprise here: Cowboys want steak, potatoes on menus

There’s nothing like sitting on top of a ton of angry beef — or watching someone hang on for dear life and a massive paycheck — to work up an appetite during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

And the Strip is no stranger to setting the menu when tens of thousands of cowboys and their fans come to town.

“The food they like is simple and straightforward,” MGM Grand director of food and beverage Jerry Box says. “Meat and potatoes. They like less vegetables and no sides, no salads and larger-portion steaks. So, that’s pretty much what we do across the board.”

MGM’s Studio Café is serving all-you-can-eat barbecued ribs during the rodeo, and even Michael Mina’s upscale Nobhill Tavern has an NFR menu.

“The buffet really goes all out,” Box says. “They dress up the whole buffet. It’s all rodeo-themed and everything they have is big steaks, ribs, potatoes, beans, chili — you know, much more cowboy-ish type food.”

Those special menus and extra steaks mean a change in the resort’s usual food and beverage orders that roughly follows the stereotype of home-on-the-range eating.

“The proteins you see are an increase of about 20 percent,” Box says. “This is kind of similar to what we see for the World of Concrete or even SEMA (aftermarket automotive show). Your soup of the day, and your soups, and your salads, and your sides, you just don’t sell any of those. You sell the larger cuts of meat and potatoes. That’s really what they’re after.”

Resorts track the raw numbers of just how many rib-eyes and baked potatoes rodeo guests go through and use that data to help determine ordering for future events.

“We’ve had the same program for the last 11 years,” says Shane Tedesco, food and beverage operations manager for Harrah’s, Imperial Palace, Flamingo, Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and O’Sheas. “They have the data from the last 11 years, and they just go off that and add a little to it. Because every year it grows a little. It’s one of your busiest times of the year. These 10 days are pretty much like a whole month any other time. It’s absolutely huge.”

Accommodating that kind of increase requires more than a few extra sides of beef. For Tedesco, it also means cowboy-friendly drink specials on beer and whiskey, putting his staff in jeans at some properties and even changing the name of some venues.

“We actually change the name of our piano bar to the Jack Daniel’s Saloon, just for the 10 days,” he says.

At Harrah’s, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill is a rodeo favorite, with special guest performers, NFR ticket giveaways and so many cowboys stopping by it can be hard even getting in the door. That influx of guests requires increased staffing at resorts the cowboys return to year after year.

“There are so many people in town and only, what, 17,000 tickets to the actual event. So we make sure we have all the staff on to handle them. For the length of the rodeo and a couple days before and a couple days after, we’re fully staffed,” Tedesco says.

“I took my vacation a couple weeks ago, so I can work straight through. Everybody works through it. We wait all year for this. This is our New Year’s, our pre-New Year’s.”

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