Mammoth Resorts' senior executive chef bites into technology

Hotels are catching on to technology that can help them put more food in guests' mouths, such as Open Table. (Do chatbots have a place at the dinner table? How can hotels use social media to elevate dining without coming across as kitchy? Billy Deaver has opinions on these, and more.)

In April, Mammoth Resorts, the owner of California’s Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, Snow Summit, Bear Mountain and June Mountain, announced the company will be acquired by a newly formed entity controlled by affiliates of the Aspen Skiing Company and KSL Capital Partners. The transaction is slated to close by end of third quarter. In the meantime, HOTEL MANAGEMENT spoke with Billy Deaver, senior executive chef, Levy Restaurants, the operator of Mammoth Resorts’ restaurants and dining facilities. Deaver, whose CV includes the kitchens of Ritz Carlton, Marriott and Hilton properties as well as time under the tutelage of New York City’s iconic French chef Daniel Boulud, shared his insights on the use of technology in the dining industry.

HOTEL MANAGEMENT: What was your most recent tech investment and why?

Billy Deaver: Open Table. It’s something every restaurant should have because it’s an indication of the caliber and quality of the total dining experience. We have six full-service restaurants at Mammoth, and [Open Table] helps to guide our daily reservations by including guest details that allow us to further elevate the dining experience. We can learn about guest preferences without them having to repeat them to us and that’s part of developing a loyal guest base that separates us from the competition. It’s primarily our resort guests who use it, and they’re mostly from Southern California where Open Table is more common. It also helps us manage cancellations and no shows because Open Table tracks those practices, and in small towns like the ones where we’re located every seat is a hot commodity.

HM: Is there any particular aspect of F&B where you feel technology investments are indispensable?

BD: Avero is another of our tech investments, but for operations in the front and back of house. It helps us with a multitude of things, but most importantly helps us to drive our check average. It’s tied to our POS and gives us real time sales data so, for example, we can see what are our top and low selling items during peak business hours and then adjust our ordering and prepping accordingly. It also has a server mentoring platform where we can see who’s selling what, their check averages and how quickly they’re flipping tables, and that leads to improvements in service that create better tips for servers and better revenue. Once the dashboard is set up, the guesswork is gone and you can view everything via desktop or mobile. The numbers don’t lie and it’s crazy affordable. I don’t know why more locations don’t use it.

We’re a little archaic in the F&B world and when we venture into technology, we do it because that’s the world. But we’re afraid to try new things because no one likes failure. When something drives well, it’s hard to put it aside to try another solution. Cost is definitely a factor, but there’s a collaborative process where great things happen when you come out of your comfort zone, and of course we all work best when we’re working under pressure.

HM: Is there a place for chatbots in fine dining?

BD: I think they’re kitschy and will do well in Las Vegas or fun touristy places like beach towns. In terms of fine dining, people willing to spend $200 to $700 per person, per meal want that personal touch and they want to talk to someone. So I don’t know if that level of dining is ready for that level of technology, but never say never.

HM: To date, what’s been your most innovative use of social media and how did the idea come about?

BD: One of our restaurants here put their own spin on ‘Name That Tune’ during shoulder season with a ‘Name That Menu Item’ Instagram campaign. They took a picture of a menu item and posted it to Instagram with a caption that said the first person to correctly identify the item and come in for dinner that evening would receive the item for free. It was fun and personal and helped drive our Instagram followers and get people involved. It was mostly locals who took advantage of the promotion, which was exactly what we wanted. When the winner did come in, we took their picture and posted that too.

HM: What do you read to keep up-to-date on the latest restaurant industry technology?

BD: I don’t read anything tech specific. I read different national publications like Toast and QSR Magazines, Nation’s Restaurant News and Modern Restaurant Magazine. I also follow professionals like Daniel Boulud and other fine dining establishments like Noma to maintain a broad network of different angles and different ideas as to what people are doing in the restaurant business.