Why is Las Vegas re-inventing itself to include so many burger joints? Does this signal a lack of sophistication among our visitors, or is it simply a reflection of the owners’ desire to lower food costs?
It’s a little of both, although the sophistication factor isn’t as relevant. Much has been written about the decline of fine dining on the Strip, but this has always been a buffet culture, or a town where visitors prefer eating fast-casual.
The profit margin on foods such as burgers—where chefs grind their own meats—or pizza, has always been far greater than in restaurants serving top cuts of prime beef. Those restaurants rely on selling pricey wines and cocktails to turn a profit.
But why has the trend started by Hubert Keller at Burger Bar become the province of so many celebrity chefs on the Strip? Even Mario Batali, primarily an Italian chef, is cashing in on the trend, opening B&B Beer & Burger in the Venetian next month.
I think the real answer is something simpler. Burgers are safe, and the concept appeals both to the casino execs and the restaurant owners. Sure, some fail, most notably Sam DeMarco’s Rattlecan, which lived a short, brutish life in the Venetian, where Beer & Burger is headed. (Note how quickly another burger joint has been plugged in there.)
The Strip just isn’t a test market. Most restaurants that open in major casinos—with the exception of Wynn, which relies on original, in-house concepts—have a proven track record elsewhere. And while Beer & Burger is a first for Batali, the concept has been proven to work here, and casinos don’t like to chance the bottom line.