Four-star chefs who take their show on the road–or on a cruise ship, casino, or museum–are proving to create a compelling job pairing.
Celebrity chefs are no longer confined to restaurant walls. Technomic’s Recreation Foodservice Report indicates that upscale chefs are slowly becoming a motive for visitors to populate casinos, cruise ships, museums, and other entertainment centers.
“There are people who go to Las Vegas and eat and drink and are entertained without ever gambling,” says Mary Chapman, director of product innovation at Technomic. “The larger casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, they’re just chockfull of celebrity restaurants. The destinations have become about more than just gambling.”
The question is whether celebrity chefs are enough to advance an industry in decline. The recreation segment, which also includes theme parks, stadiums, zoos, and movie theaters, grossed $15.8 billion in 2010. That is a $2 billion decline from 2008, when sales reached nearly $18 billion.
A 0.4 percent nominal increase is expected for 2012 in the recreation industry, Chapman says. Adjusted for inflation, this represents a 2 percent real decline.
But the lack of sales has yet to deter esteemed chefs from their extracurricular activities, and museums and cruise lines stand to gain.
An example is the Contemporary Museum of Art in Chicago, where Puck’s restaurant alone is a draw, as foodies come to dine off chef Wolfgang Puck’s menu.
“A museum gets to take advantage of those fans as well,” Chapman explains. “[A famous chef] could raise the esteem of the museum. If a museum of contemporary art had Joe Schmo restaurant operator, does that suit the clientele and the status of what the museum is about? Maybe not. But if you take a fine-dining restaurant operator who has his own panache and his own upscale personality and reputation–that suits what the museum is trying to get at.”
On the flip side, chefs also can profit from joining forces with the recreation side.
“There are pretty good reasons for a chef to want to work within a museum or a cruiseline or some of the different recreation segments,” Chapman says. “A high-end chef may benefit from being affiliated with an esteemed institution. On a cruise line, a chef might benefit from … demonstrating that she is adept at serving a family audience and not just high-end foodies.”
It wasn’t all that long ago that casino destinations such as Las Vegas lacked upscale eating options, Chapman points out. With the help of famous chefs, recreational venues are finding new life, taking their initial offerings of art, history, and gambling and improving upon them with food.
By Sonya Chudgar