The Sands Casino Food & Beverage Director

By Laurie Teter

On the Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend, I am escorted down a long, tan-colored hallway through the administrative offices at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem. I can’t help but notice that the décor on the second floor is in sharp contrast to the dazzling, shiny bling of the casino floor. Well before I reach my destination, it’s obvious I am “behind the scenes” at the casino.

Every behind-the-scenes tour needs its guide, and mine is Martin Doyle, Executive Director, Food & Beverage. He was born, raised and attended culinary school in Dublin, Ireland. Doyle came to New York City 20 years ago and landed his first job at the infamous 21 Club as a cook. He spent more than 10 years in the City working at and opening several notable restaurants. From there he headed to Atlantic City, where he worked at the Borgata, the Pier at Caesar’s and the legendary Chinese restaurant Susanna Foo. Finally, Doyle arrived at the Sands two years ago, as Executive Director, Food & Beverage.

On this day, Doyle starts around 9:30 a.m. responding to emails and reviewing a variety of daily reports including operating reports for the casino and revenue reports for the food and beverage (F&B) department. He then meets with Cristie, his executive secretary, to discuss a list of items before both of their days shift into full swing. “Cristie,” Martin admits, “is really the one running the place.” After their meeting, Doyle does his daily walk-through of the restaurants, bars and lounges and the “back of house” areas. Those venues include Emeril’s Chop House, St. James Gate, Coil, Molton, Burgers and More (BAM!), Carnegie Deli, Infusion and Team Dining (the employee dining area). All of the personnel affiliated with those restaurants and lounges report to Doyle. On this busy day, he knows the exact head count: 273, which includes waitresses, sous chefs, shift managers, hostesses and cocktail servers – all 55 of them – dishwashers, bartenders and more. And he knows every single one of them by name.

As we take a tour of the properties for some photographs, Doyle is greeted with a smile and a wave from a passing security guard, a friendly hello from the hostess at Carnegie Deli and a “hi how are you” from another employee scurrying by on the casino floor. Clearly he’s a well-known and well-liked man. At each stop we make, Doyle takes advantage of the opportunity to conduct a little business. He reviews new wine selections and the plans to reorganize the wine inventory at the Chop House. He discusses the evening’s reservations with the manager of St. James Gate and does some quality control at BAM! eyeballing a couple of burgers, some fries and an order of onion rings. Not only is Doyle a friendly guy, he’s a busy guy!

On to the F&B weekly staff meeting. Around a conference room table are Doyle’s direct reports including the Sands executive chef, the Emeril’s Chop House executive chef, the general managers of the Chop House and Burgers & More, the managers of St. James Gate and Carnegie Deli, the Carnegie Deli’s chef, the Food & Beverage buyer and of course, Cristie. The table is scattered with cups of coffee, Red Bull and cell phones. There is an easygoing feeling as friendly banter fills the room and Doyle casually calls the meeting to order. It’s much like a typical staff meeting except that several of the participants are wearing chef’s gear and midway through the meeting the lights flicker off and on. I suspect this is code that someone below us had won a pile of money.

Doyle leads the meeting by distributing copies of the monthly online surveys from restaurant and lounge guests. The news is all good. The Chop House’s ratings are exceptional, St. James’ ratings are up 3% and all the other properties have jumped up as well. Doyle urges everyone to “read the narratives objectively – that’s where we learn the most.” He asks if everyone is prepared for the busy holiday weekend and is met with verbal yeses and a few nodding heads. “No days off for you guys. Mandatory overtime is approved for your staff if necessary,” Doyle tells the group.

When Doyle is finished, team members report one-by-one, giving updates about their restaurants or departments. Jason Lonigro, General Manager of The Chop House, reports that the new cocktail menu for the impending addition of table games is almost finished. The final tastings and the unveiling of new drink names are the last details to be completed. In addition, Lonigro reports that the new Asian tea service at Infusion is almost complete. As the conversation moves around the table, personnel changes are discussed and it becomes clear that, for 273 employees, this is an intimate group. An employee has recently resigned and the news is taken with genuine happiness for that person’s new opportunity. “Good for him” is uttered around the table. Replacement names are gently tossed around, each one positively embraced by the entire group. Doyle jumps in and instructs the team to “refill positions as needed.” He encourages the team to always keep succession planning in mind – staffing changes are a fact of life and “we should be ready.” Doyle refers to building their “farm team” several times throughout the meeting. “When I worked in New York I never hired a cook; I only hired a dishwasher,” he remarks. That philosophy has followed him to Bethlehem.

I can’t help feeling like I am sitting at someone’s dining room table because there is a true sense of camaraderie amongst the group.

Several upcoming events are discussed – a ribbon cutting for the hotel, a box-lunch event, the huge LV Food and Wine Festival the following weekend – and each of the representatives at the table is enthusiastic about the events and offers to help their peers any way they can.

Following the staff meeting, Doyle meets individually with the Sands Executive Chef, Victor Bock, to review detailed layouts for the Food and Wine festival. The latest version of the full-color plans includes station layouts and cook assignments. Meetings for the festival have been occurring for months. When I remark that clearly a lot of work has gone in to the event, Bock replies that with all the hard work and careful planning, “the event itself should run smoothly. That’s our goal and that’s usually how it works out.”

As that meeting wraps up, I can tell Doyle is getting a little antsy. His PDA has been buzzing incessantly with email since I arrived and he admitted to me earlier he’s “really not an office guy except when necessary.” Because it’s a holiday weekend, there will be “two Saturday nights” and Doyle needs to get down on the floor and into the restaurants and lounges, which is where he prefers to be. As the dinner hour approaches he will again stop at every venue, confirm that all of the staff has shown up and that everyone is ready to go. At some point he’ll grab a bite to eat – maybe at one of the restaurants or maybe in the Team Dining area. Around 10:30 p.m. he’ll head home and then be back the next morning to do it all over again. And he’ll love every minute of it.

Laurie Teter is a Bethlehem native who hopes the lights flicker in the conference room the next time she’s on the casino floor!

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