Game ChangersMay 1, 2009 By: Donna Hood Crecca Night Club and Bar Magazine
The real driver of their success, says Cy Waits, is the staff. Each employee is carefully recruited, trained and developed as a brand ambassador. “We’re model venues, and we look for energetic people who are willing to play the role and be a part of this high-energy environment,” he says.
A new, but seasoned, cocktail waitress undergoes a five-day training program; those without prior experience have a 15-day unpaid training regimen. Tryst, XS and Drai’s employ 250. On a given Saturday night, 30 work the door at Tryst; in the club, five inside managers oversee the five service bars, and 25 cocktail waitresses are in high gear. Staff retention at Tryst is 95 percent, according to Cy Waits, well above the norm for nightlife. The secret? The Waits brothers and their management staff forge strong relationships with each employee.
“We are really open with our staff, always asking how we can do something better or more efficiently. They’re on the front lines, so they know what’s needed to make everything run smoothly,” says Cy Waits. Monthly meetings with the club’s entire staff and daily pre-shift meetings keep the lines of communication open, and Cy and Jesse are readily accessible.
A strong incentive and reward initiative also helps. Trips abroad, dinners out, tickets to shows, spa treatments and other perks are awarded regularly. “The team is what makes it all happen. You have to manage not through fear, but through building a family,” explains Cy Waits.
“Jesse and Cy are extremely involved and very hands-on with the team,” observes John Wood, director of customer development for Tryst and XS. “They care how everyone is doing, not only in work, but also in their personal lives. And they’ll be the first to tell you you’re doing a good job. There is a strong sense of family here.”
Another element that works in their favor: Cy and Jesse Waits both come out of the nightlife system. Between the two of them, they have experience working the door, bar backing, bartending, handling difficult guests, managing the floor, dealing with DJs and other talent, servicing VIPs and so on. Stooping to pick up a cocktail napkin off the club floor isn’t beneath either of them, and the usually shy brothers make it a point to interact with both VIP and regular guests.
The family philosophy, combined with hands-on management, keeps staff loyal and honest. “We worked our way up. We understand the rules. It’s hard to get one over on us,” quips Cy Waits.
The other retention factor: employees see a career path. When opening XS, the Waits didn’t look outside their organization for talent; high-performers from Tryst were promoted into management positions at XS.
Las Vegas is an ego-driven town, and nightlife has more than its fair share of larger-than-life characters. The success of Tryst had some competitors scoffing that Drai and the Waits simply stepped into a great opportunity at a well-funded, ideally located space at Wynn. But as the club’s sales and vibe proved sustainable, some gave them begrudging respect. The over-the-top success of XS earned them more than that.
“These guys bring it,” says Robert Casillas, president of Las Vegas-based nightlife consulting firm Monsoon Group. “They are precise; they delegate properly and have strong operations and procedures that support beautiful clubs. They also have supreme loyalty from their people. They created a brand, and as result, they’re at the pinnacle of the nightlife world right now.”
The next challenge for the trio is translating their systems and culture to Los Angeles as they open Drai’s at the W Hollywood in the fall. Complete with a restaurant, pool, private lounge and rooftop club, Drai’s is poised to spark the growing nightlife scene in Hollywood. “They will need to be visible there, just as they are in Vegas, because that’s how they manage and that’s what their guests expect. They’re in demand on so many levels, which is difficult to satisfy. But they work like crazy, so somehow they’ll do it,” predicts Casillas.
“With a much bigger team, spread across two markets, it will be difficult to make everyone happy — our family of employees and our guests,” admits Cy Waits. “We’re really working hard right now to make sure we can keep our vision and culture intact.” Seeing how their previous hard work has paid off, it’s a safe bet that their recession-busting formula for success in Vegas will put them on top in Hollywood as well. NCB