Scientific Game

INDUSTRY PROFILE: Rami Obeid

Friday, 15 January 2016 13:58
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IAG: How does F&B in a gaming environment differ from F&B in say an ordinary hotel, restaurant or bar?

RO: Players come to gamble, not eat and drink, so they don’t really care about anything else. You can’t interrupt them to say dinner is ready and will soon be cold. Sometimes they’ll spend millions and order a simple bowl of wonton noodles. Then there is superstition which you have to be very careful about. When serving a fish, for example, don’t remove the head or turn it over after one side is eaten, because that’s bad luck. If guests are losing a little mistake can turn into a big problem.

IAG: And how was it that you came to be involved in gaming? 

RO: In 2004 I was winding up a job setting up F&B at the new Chedi resort in Muscat, Oman. A friend told me there was a vacancy managing F&B for the Paiza Club for high rollers at Sands Macao, which was then still being built. 

IAG: Any memorable stories from the early days of Macau? We understand you were private butler to Mr Sheldon Adelson for a time?

RO: We had guests who lost millions and then ordered me to serve them a US$4,000 bottle of wine. I learnt quickly not to object if they wanted to drink without decanting, add ice or knock it back in one gulp. When Mr Adelson stayed I had to attend to him constantly, from when he rose at 5am to when he stopped work at 11pm. He was very demanding and there were countless details to remember on how he wanted things done. I remember one time he decided he wanted lunch right where he had just finished a meeting, even though we had prepared it in a room at the other end of the casino. I told him we would only need 10 minutes and walked calmly out of the door, before shouting at every other member of staff to start running.

IAG: How does F&B in a gaming environment differ from F&B in say an ordinary hotel, restaurant or bar?

RO: Players come to gamble, not eat and drink, so they don’t really care about anything else. You can’t interrupt them to say dinner is ready and will soon be cold. Sometimes they’ll spend millions and order a simple bowl of wonton noodles. Then there is superstition which you have to be very careful about. When serving a fish, for example, don’t remove the head or turn it over after one side is eaten, because that’s bad luck. If guests are losing a little mistake can turn into a big problem.

IAG: You’ve traveled a lot around Asia, what are the differences you’ve noticed in cuisine in the places you have been? What is your favorite style of cuisine?

RO:  I’m married to a Vietnamese woman and I love their cuisine for its simplicity and natural ingredients. I’m not a big fan of Sichuan cuisine because I find it overdone with the peppers and frying. They’ll add a kilo of chilies and you can’t taste anything because your mouth and tongue have gone numb.

IAG: You deal with food all day every day. Do you still like to cook when you get home after work?

RO:  I’m not a chef but I take pride in being a good cook. When I have time I make the dishes I loved when I was growing up. For example, cabbage stuffed with minced beef, which can be cooked the Russian or Lebanese way for completely different flavors. I love the Lebanese salad tabbouleh, made with lots of olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and mint.

IAG: The current project you are working on will have in excess of 30 bars and restaurants, together with wine tastings and European butler service. Tell us about the challenges of your job.

RO: Sometimes you’re catering to more than 3,000 guests, who all want to eat breakfast every day at the same time. Then there’s 2,000 staff who have to have a healthy diet in order to perform. If you’re not switched on, organized and prepared to the last detail you’re dead. When I started this job my boss told me that if anyone can run an operation of this size, there’s no other property he will not be able to handle.

IAG: You’ve got a great reputation for being able to create a high perceived F&B value for a reasonable spend. From a purely business point of view, that’s a great asset to any gaming property. What strategies do you use to achieve this?

RO: To find the best balance between price and quality you have to be personally involved with every selection. For example, when I was brought in as a consultant to overhaul F&B at The Grand Ho Tram in Vietnam, I visited many suppliers to personally taste and select every vintage on the 120 item wine list. A great technique to generate value is to buy wines en primeur. This means buying wine at a great price early while the vintage is still in the barrel or the grapes are even still on the vine.

IAG: How do you go about generating an excellent service culture amongst line F&B staff when many of them are quiet young and inexperienced and can be hard to motivate?

RO: First, you have to lead by example. To create a culture where service is important you have to be humble. As a leader you have to serve your team. Second, you have to give your staff goals and set a clear career path. It’s best to promote staff from within because once employees see that, it’s a huge motivational tool. And continuous praise. If you praise a staff member who has done nine bad things and one good, then the next time he will do eight bad and two good.

IAG: In what has to be one of the most unusual language sets going around, you speak English, Arabic, Russian and French! Do you get much of a chance to use them all? Has it helped your career?

RO: In the Middle East people with experience are in high demand, so if you have both Arabic and experience there you can get a job anywhere. Then there are Russians, who will always expect everyone else to speak their language when they travel the world. When they have a problem, I’m the one who gets called to the front desk to deal with them.

IAG: Who do you most admire in the industry?

RO: Shaun McCamley, who constantly mentored me when he brought me in to help him overhaul loss-making casinos in Vietnam and Laos. He’s the one who gave me the book – The Servant by James C Hunter – to read. He taught me that to be a great leader you must first be a humble servant. The higher you go, the more that becomes true. You’re only as good as the people under you.

IAG: Are you a gambler yourself? If so, what do you like to play?

RO: My mother made a few bets when she came to visit me in Macao. But during my five years there, I never touched a table or slot machine.

IAG: What do you like to do in your spare time?

RO: I love my wines and am constantly trying different vintages to find something new. I also love movies, with The Shawshank Redemption, Midnight Run and Scent of a Woman among my favorites.

IAG: Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?

RO: As vice president in charge of a huge F&B operation you lose touch. You’re in an office and not dealing directly with guests, so you just have to hope you’ve found the right people and trained them well. My biggest strength is in direct contact with guests. Ultimately I want to go back to being the GM of a resort, where I say hello to everyone who checks in, and goodbye to everyone who checks out.

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