What Unique Food Experience Sets You Apart from the Local Competition?


Big, bigger, biggest … the POWER of food!

For years, my casino marketing consulting experiences frequently wandered into the realm of food. I’ve championed leveraging food as a guest magnet; a way to bring new customers to properties, to drive incremental visits, to delight players. Native American fry bread handcrafted live on the gaming floor; fresh beignets in a bakery showcase, exploding with powdered sugar as addictive as cocaine; a seafood buffet boasting unlimited lobster tails dripping with clarified butter; a have-it-your-way, ice cream sundae bar near the players club; pushcarts overflowing with Nathan’s Famous hot dogs (IMHO, the ONLY real hot dogs) and soft pretzels accompanied by warm, gooey cheddar cheese; really big cinnamon buns available every day for breakfast, oozing that just-short-of-sickeningly sweet, white icing. Yes, the orphaned boys in Oliver knew what they were singing about … “Food, Glorious Food!”

Casino marketing and management professionals frequently ask me how they can get drive-by tourists to stop in and visit their properties. My answer: what unique, original product or experience can you offer that nobody else offers; something that sets you apart from the local competition (which, by the way, isn’t just other casinos)? How can you create the attraction of the world’s tallest thermometer in Baker, California? Or the highest, fastest rollercoaster? Or the biggest diamond in the world? Or the longest saloon bar?

Well, check this out. A few weeks ago, during my first-ever trip to San Antonio, I was introduced to some of the most attention-grabbing, trial-inducing, feature-laden food treats that you can imagine! While Texas isn’t known for its CASINOS, it is known for everything BIG. So, I bring you the Big, Bigger, Biggest food ideas that are ripe for the picking. Steal or tweak ‘em, folks … it’s what us marketers do!

Big Lou’s Pizza. Our group of five intentionally visited this famous San Antonio pizza joint during off-hours, because we understood that the ordering line at this place can wrap around the building at mealtimes. Yes, you can order the pizzas small. But you can also order a pizza that’s 42-inches in diameter, eaten at a special table created just for groups that can handle that much crust, sauce, cheese and endless toppings. We settled for the 20” and still took home half of it. We did see the colossal pizza being consumed by eight 20-something guys, and they hadn’t even made a dent. By the way, very important when it comes to food, size does matter, but it also tasted delicious!

Lulu’s. When friends heard that I would be visiting San Antonio, they told me not to miss this little, unassuming diner/cafe. So I put it on my travel itinerary, and our local hosts knew exactly why I was being sent there. It wasn’t until I walked in the door that I saw the signs advertising the 3-pound Cinnamon Roll. A few people were dining at tables, but most were just standing in line at the small counter, waiting to order the absolutely HUGE bun! Our party of six waited along with the rest for our roll to be delivered, took it out to the car and with just a small plastic knife in hand, proceeded to tear into the mountain-sized monster. Again, not just BIG, but baked perfectly through, even in the very center. None of that uncooked, doughy stuff disappointed us in the middle. Delicious … but I still wonder, how DO they get the frosting in every bite?!

Round Rock Donuts. Round Rock, just outside of Austin, is home to the gigantic donut. When my cousin walked in with us and ordered “a donut,” the guy behind the register asked if she meant a dozen donuts, but she replied, “No, just a donut.” And then we saw it … a mega-donut, actually bigger than our heads, slathered in chocolate icing, made from the dough of … wait for it … wait for it … a dozen donuts. The photo on the next page, taken of Marge and me by my cousin, was just before we dug in. Only complaint? No knives, not even plastic ones, to use at the picnic tables outside; we had to sever off pieces with the end of a coffee stirrer. And yes, we took 2/3 of it home. Everybody goes to Round Rock Donuts … locals and tourists; the parking lot is filled to overflowing, cars lined up in the driveway and flooding into the street.

Central Market. In San Antonio, this is the SHRINE of food shoppers. It’s not just BIG, it’s a true experience. The displays are phenomenal … you really can’t keep your hands off the food. I think you can buy anything there; picture a combination of Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, your local farmers’ market, Total Wine, a wall of freshly-baked bread that could make a gluten-free person cry, a cheese emporium, a seemingly endless wall of candy, a guy offering tastes of a selection of just-brewed coffee, and a café area where you can pick up or order almost anything in the store and eat it, including a variety of gelato. Plus, there’s live music. We were in San Antonio for a week … and visited Central Market four times. Why do I mention this here in a casino marketing article? Do your slot machines scream out “Try me! Play me! I could be the next big payout!”? Is your slot floor inviting, do signs point out recent winners? Are your slot attendants and dealers showing players how your newest slots and table games work? Do your employees offer tastes of your latest restaurant offerings?

Food. It’s not just the way to a man’s stomach. It can be the highway for first-time guests and loyal customers to help you drive visits and revenue!

Toby O'Brien