Casino Installation Proves Safe Bet For VAR
Hospitality integrator F&B Management drew from many disciplines to orchestrate the development of a casino-based restaurant.
Mark Bianchi is busy opening restaurants. But he's not a restaurant owner. He's equal parts hospitality VAR, restaurant manager, consultant, interior decorator, network technician, and, most importantly, project manager. One might label his company a "hospitality integrator."
Bianchi, owner of F&B Management (Tucson, AZ), is a former restaurant owner turned VAR with a unique approach. He explains it in layman's terms. "If you're building a house, you've got carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and architects all trying to get their jobs done. If they get in the way of one another or make mistakes that affect the ability of others to do their jobs, a lot of finger pointing occurs. The same holds true when a restaurant owner builds a restaurant." F&B's mission is to step in and orchestrate all of the players in an effort to manage and streamline the whole project.
Integration Key To Winning Account
A recent example of F&B's in-depth involvement in a new restaurant build can be found a few miles down the road from Bianchi's office at the Desert Diamond Casino in Tucson. The VAR discovered the account after the owner had all but begun the installation with a different dealer. "Desert Diamond uses a Microsoft SQL [structured query language] server for computer applications in other departments, such as the casino. The POS [point of sale] system they had picked wasn't set up for SQL," explains Bianchi. He focused his sales pitch on the value of systems integration and pointed out the disparity between the casino's IT systems and the POS package they were looking at. "They didn't realize that until we talked, and in part because of that, we ended up winning the account."
F&B, which happens to be the largest Squirrel POS software dealer in both Arizona and Texas, uses a "best of breed" approach that changes from installation to installation, depending on the customer's need. In this case, the brand-new customer needed everything - from tables to POS software and hardware to dinnerware.
After a detailed discussion of the owner's vision for the casino's dining area, Bianchi and his team went to work. "We hired the food and beverage director, we hired the chef, we developed the restaurant design from top to bottom. We worked with the contractors, and we integrated the restaurant operations with the casino. We designed everything, the plates, the artwork for the restaurant, everything," Bianchi says. But the most challenging aspect of the installation was networking restaurant operations with 200,000 square feet of computerized slot machines and other games, so that facility-wide sales data could be integrated at the server. "I have two Microsoft-certified technicians on staff, who worked closely with the casino's IT people to build a Novell network that would allow our POS system to run in that huge casino environment," Bianchi explains. "The data trays are incredibly complex; there are 12 different switching cabinets in the facility." This illustrates the long networking maze with which F&B had to integrate to give the casino reporting ability.
Another area that has challenged Bianchi is electronic payment processing. "In previous installations, it seemed like credit card processing is the one thing that would consistently go wrong," he admits. "We have four small installs with various payment processing software vendors that have caused us nothing but problems. I have a Japanese restaurant that was just in love with us, and one Friday night I got a call from them. American Express credit cards couldn't be processed. Somehow the vendor turned off the customer's connection to American Express." Experiences like this kept Bianchi on the lookout for dependability in a payment processing vendor. He says he found what he was looking for in Heartland Payment Systems (Scottsdale, AZ), which handles payment processing for F&B at the Desert Diamond Casino. In a modern casino environment, where electronic payment processing terminals are located at nearly every slot machine, there is an even greater chance of something going wrong. However, Bianchi says that with Heartland, the operation has gone without a snag.
Bianchi admits he doesn't make much money reselling Heartland's services; he gets residual income based on a small percentage of the transaction fees. But he says the dependability of the product justifies the effort to sell it. "When I sell Heartland to a customer, we can usually have them accepting credit cards in four hours," he claims.
Lamenting commoditization, Bianchi points to payment processing as a value-added service that differentiates his company from run-of-the-mill POS peddlers. This, combined with his ability to match dinnerware with interior décor, is sure to get some attention.