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Bar Management

Game Changers

May 1, 2009 By: Donna Hood Crecca Night Club and Bar Magazine

Quick Ascent

Some might say the trio’s success originated in their simply being in the right place at the right time. Maybe so, but from that point, each brought his A-game: Drai playing in design and decor, Jesse Waits handling marketing and guest services and Cy Waits overseeing operations, although the brothers tag-team on many elements of the business.

Hollywood producer and restaurateur Victor Drai opened a French restaurant at what was then the Barbary Coast in Vegas in 1997. His entertainment friends from Los Angeles transformed the spot into an underground late night hangout. Drai enticed Jesse Waits to manage the front door in 2001. Waits had been working his way up at a variety of Vegas venues, including House of Blues. His personal approach to guest service and knack for generating word-of-mouth buzz attracted more business, and he was soon managing the club.

In 2005, hotel magnate Steve Wynn was looking to rescue the failing La Bete nightclub in his crown jewel, Wynn Las Vegas. Cued in that Drai’s was the insiders’ hot spot, he invited Drai to partner on a new concept for the subterranean space.

Working with Wynn executive vice president of design Roger Thomas, Drai undertook a $5 million redesign, opening the club to access Wynn’s 90-foot waterfall and adding 450 bottle service seats. Inside, rich cherry reds contrast the ebony sunken dance floor; Drai reconfigured the space to be brighter and allow for better traffic flow. “So many clubs are dark and difficult to move around in,” Drai explains. “When you go out, you want to see people, see the entire space and take it all in.”

Proving Ground

Realizing the magnitude of the business potential, Jesse Waits invited his brother to the party. Cy Waits had worked through stints at House of Blues, and then managed Tabu Ultra Lounge, where, like Jesse, he was a quick study of the nightlife business.

Tryst opened to rave reviews in December 2005; the threesome more than doubled the $18 million sales projection in the first year. Bottle service accounts for 75 percent of sales, and the profit margin hovers at 70 percent, more than twice the market norm. With “godfather” Drai behind them, the Waits became the golden boys of the Vegas strip.

For the all-suites Encore Resort, Wynn again turned to Drai and the Waits. The trio conjured up a top-of-the-line club designed to attract high-flyers but remain accessible. The New Year’s Eve opening night at XS took in an estimated $1 million; the club has already exceeded sales expectations. As the summer season approached, Cy Waits was busy adding bartenders and servers.

“We’re running with 30 waitresses, but are going to 45 for the summer at XS,” he says. Tryst and Drai’s are also on the upswing; Drai’s is running 20 percent ahead of last year. The three clubs combined did over $1 million in a single March weekend.

But wait: isn’t Vegas being hard hit by the recession? Gambling revenues are estimated to be down 22 percent on the strip and discounts abound at bars, nightclubs, hotels and restaurants. What gives?

Simply put, the three micro-manage guest service and operations, and empower staff to provide top-notch, personalized hospitality. The final element is an unshakeable belief that the club is the brand.

Inside Out Marketing

Marketing mastermind Jesse Waits buys very little advertising — maybe a billboard here and there for Tryst and XS; there is no advertising for Drai’s. Instead, exposure is generated through stories in media favored by club-goers, such as Black Book and 944.

The real marketing occurs via the employees. “Our staff is our most valuable marketing tool,” says Jesse Waits. “They’re encouraged to have [presence on] Facebook, MySpace, Linkedin and now Twitter.”

While Jesse Waits considers social media an amazing if not saturated medium, grassroots marketing is the preferred strategy. “The family atmosphere of our staff involves group outings in and outside of Vegas that expand our current customer base.” 

Adds Cy Waits, “We all talk up the club, invite people in. People want to be where it’s a great crowd, lots of girls and the energy feels good. Our staff gives off that energy no matter where they are.”

The clubs also employ VIP hosts to care for elite guests. A custom-designed data base tracks the guest from reservation to a personal phone call after their visit. “The essence of VIP is individualized service,” Jesse Waits explains. “From the second a client makes a reservation, we have full accountability for them throughout the system: general information and details with notes and a small biography including music preferences, frequency of visits, average spend, liquor preference, etc.”

That information is actionable: when VIPs check in at the front desk at XS, for example, it triggers a series of lightning-speed communications and the guests’ bottles are set up and at the ready by the time they’re lead down the staircase, through the glittering club and to their table. For all the club’s opulence, prices are competitive: $30 for men and $20 for women at the door, cocktails are $12 or $13 and bottle service of super-premium vodkas such as Grey Goose is $495 on Friday and Saturday nights.

The personal service doesn’t stop there. “A standard follow-up procedure is also expected of our staff: checking on the client prior to the visit, checking in on them periodically throughout the evening and a follow-up call in the morning — not too early, of course — to make sure everything went as they had hoped and to see if there is anything we could do differently next time,” says Jesse Waits.

Celebrities are fixtures at XS, Tryst and Drai’s After Hours, but not because they’re paid to be there. “We want the celebs to have privacy, so there are no paparazzi allowed inside the clubs,” Cy Waits explains. “That’s actually one of the reasons we attract a lot of celebrities.”

Hot DJs such as DJ Vice, DJ Irie and Sharam of Deep Dish appear regularly at all three clubs but are never advertised. “Sometimes we know they’re coming, sometimes they just come in and ask to spin. Whatever occurs, we treat them well, make them comfortable,” says Cy Waits.

“We don’t push events or who is here — celebrities, DJs, whomever — because everyone is a VIP, but the club is the star. We don’t want people to come in just because some individual happens to be here; tomorrow night that person could be somewhere else. We want them to come because of the product we offer, which is the club itself. The club is the brand.”

Accessible pricing, nearly zero advertising spending and exuding a consistently hot vibe drives the 70 percent profit margin, according to Cy Waits.

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