Growth at Harrah's Cherokee Casino

A masterful game of musical chairs

When all is said and expanded at Harrah’s, there will be 2,000 seats at the various restaurants scattered across the property. That’s enough for every employee at Harrah’s to sit down for a meal together, albeit at different restaurants.

It marks a massive expansion of the casino’s dining options — tripling its seating and bringing in a whole new line of culinary fare, from an upscale steak house to Dunkin Donuts.

Getting all the new restaurants ready for customers is a mammoth task that falls to Greg Gibson, the food and beverage director for the entire Harrah’s Cherokee operation.

Just deciding which restaurants should earn a spot in the made-over casino resort was a challenge. Not everyone who visits the casino is on the same budget or has the same tastes. Meanwhile, Harrah’s is trying to rebrand itself, shedding the casino-with-hotel image and moving towards a full-service resort mentality. And what kind of food is served at a place like that?

For Gibson, a lot of his job is trying to determine that.

“It’s about having different levels available for different guests, having a well rounded portfolio as we come into a resort,” he said.

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So Gibson looks at focus groups and customer feedback to make sure the direction they’re moving in is the right one.

“We look at different developments and different price points (to see) how much demand would we have for 800 seats total of one type or one price point of food,” said Gibson.

He’s out on the floor, he makes the rounds, he shakes the customers’ hands so he can get a better handle on who they are and exactly what they want.

Some of the new offerings are an Asian Noodle Bar, Paula Deen’s Kitchen and a food court, home to Johnny Rockets, Dunkin Donuts, a deli and pizzeria Uno’s, which are already open. Alongside those will be Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Brio, an Italian Eatery and the Chef’s Stage Buffet, which will feature cuisine from around the world.

Gibson has a lot of corporate experience with Harrah’s, he’s been with the company for 13 years. But he knows what it’s like to work the restaurant floor, too. As a Louisiana college student, he was a bartender for a local hangout before opening his own restaurant, the Caddyshack Bar and Grill. From there, he moved into the casino world and has worked his way up since, now piloting Harrah’s food and beverage into an era where cafeteria-style buffets are giving way to high-class steak joints and upscale Italian eateries.

All those new restaurants require a few hundred new employees, whether it’s bussing tables or prepping food.

The person teaching employees what to do with this new paradigm is Denise Morrison, the food and beverage trainer. Like Gibson, she’s had a long and storied career with Harrah’s, starting in 1986 as a valet parker. From there, she moved further into hotel operations, became a cashier and then cashier manager in what they affectionately call ‘the cage.’

Now, she teaches supervisors how to teach the Harrah’s way.

“I assist managers, directors and supervisors in opening the food outlets, mentoring new supervisors and new employees. I’m a counselor, I’m a teacher, I have a lot of different roles,” said Morrison.

She helps write the standard operating procedures, then makes sure they’re being followed. She helps supervisors know exactly what their employees should be doing. She’s teaching them to cater to the kind of people who come to a resort, and being a resource for them when things don’t exactly work.

“The people skills are where my forte is,” said Morrison, and even amidst opening a bevy of new restaurants, the most thrilling part of what she does will always be the people. “I enjoy being with the employees, I enjoy seeing them grow, I enjoy taking a new hire and molding them into getting another position. I like to see them become successful and just have that passion. That sometimes is hard to find.”


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