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Lesson from Las Vegas: Bet on a Bigger Staff

I admit that one night at a hotel is not a lot to go on. And I may be a picky guest. But I think my one-day stay at Mandalay Bay may contain a lesson in workforce planning for the Vegas resort and other companies wrestling with uneven business demand.

October 7, 2011
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Related Topics: Top Stories - Frontpage, Workforce Planning Systems, Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS/HRIS), Time Management, Organizational Structure, Job Rotation, The HR Profession, Customer Service, Scheduling, Policies and Procedures, Organizational Development, Workforce Planning
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The lobby at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

"We're totally committed at the moment, sir."

That's how a Mandalay Bay front desk employee explained the long check-in lines at the Las Vegas mega-hotel this week. What she meant was that the hotel was fully booked and struggling to match incoming guests with rooms recently vacated and cleaned.

"Totally committed" may be a hospitality-industry term to indicate the hotel is working hard for you. But because of several service snafus I experienced during a recent one-night stay, "partially committed" seemed more accurate.

I admit that one night at a hotel is not a lot to go on. And I may be a picky guest. But I think my one-day stay at Mandalay Bay may contain a lesson in workforce planning for the Vegas resort and other companies wrestling with uneven business demand.

If you've never been to Mandalay Bay, it's difficult to wrap your head around the place. With thousands of rooms, a giant casino, more than two dozen restaurants, an aquarium, a man-made beach and a wave pool, it feels like a self-contained city—a grand, glamorous one at that. From the gold-tinted windows to the soaring lobby ceiling to the spacious, marble-tiled bathrooms, it oozes opulence.

But when I arrived there this week for a set of meetings, that finer-things feeling quickly flipped to frustration. About 30 people and I found ourselves stuck in just a few slow-moving lines to register. The process took roughly 15 minutes and started to fray some of our nerves.

That wasn't the only letdown. Later that afternoon at the Mizuya sushi restaurant, some business associates and I sat at a table for about an hour and 45 minutes without a server coming by to greet us. The minus5 bar was a similar story that evening.

A colleague and I sat talking at a table for about 45 minutes without anyone approaching us. In both cases, I left without eating or drinking a thing.

Multiply my lost business by tens or hundreds or thousands and you get a sense of what Mandalay Bay may have missed in just one day. And add to that what they gained in terms of unflattering anecdotes about sketchy service that will be passed on through word of mouth, via TripAdvisor and by other means.

Yvette Monet, a spokeswoman for Mandalay Bay's parent company, MGM Resorts International, apologized for the inconveniences. She explained that Mizuya doesn't begin table service until later in the day.

And she said the minus5 bar doesn't have table service at the time I sat down with my co-worker. In other words, I needed to belly up to the bar if I wanted a beer or a ginger ale.

OK, so I'm a lazy customer. But in both establishments, I wasn't alone in feeling like I'd been ignored.

Monet didn't have an explanation for why the hotel didn't open additional check-in windows when the lines started backing up.

I'm sure this week was a challenging time for Mandalay's management. But I can't imagine this is the best a sophisticated operation like MGM Resorts can do.

Scheduling software tools available these days are designed to help organizations handle peaks and valleys in demand. There's the option of turning to contingent workers to help in a pinch.

And some organizations are exploring the idea of establishing an "on-call" workforce that can be trained and ready but accepts or prefers irregular hours.

Mandalay Bay already may be doing some or all of this. But the bottom line is the resort didn't staff itself optimally this week. Another sign: I noticed a glut of casino workers standing by idle tables. Maybe customers felt less inclined to gamble after waiting too long for a drink. (Even without the drink, I lost $35 at roulette.)

Hotels and restaurants are not the only companies dealing with staffing dilemmas today. An uncertain, slow-growing economy is forcing many firms to make tough calls about whether and how and how much to add to their workforce.

A lesson of my Mandalay Bay experience is to err on the side of too much rather than too little staffing. Not only does a skimpy workforce risk lost revenue and poor service, but it also typically means more stress on existing employees. Both of those latter results threaten to erode a company's brand in the long run.

The Mandalay Bay employees I encountered held up their end of the brand bargain perfectly. From spokeswoman Monet to the servers at Aureole restaurant (where I had dinner) to the front desk clerk, the staff was competent, gracious and pleasant.

There just weren't enough of them. Those employees were "fully committed." I'm not sure Mandalay Bay's management can say the same thing.

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