News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Rod Smith, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 4, 2004 - CAESARS FRONT-DOOR MANAGER GEARED TO A LIFE IN DRIVE: George Vera, the front-door manager at Caesars Palace, is not typical of casino management.
An executive with a $4 billion a year company, he operates not out of an office but on the driveway. And he's loath to wear suits, preferring to don the same uniforms as his staff.
Vera says he came to Las Vegas when he was 19 after leaving Los Angeles with just the clothes on his back and $200 in cash.
"This is as far as we got before our money ran out," he said.
And 29 years, five children and six grandchildren later, he's still going as front-door manager at Caesars Palace, a position he's held since 1986.
His first job was in the mail room at the Fremont, but he switched to parking cars as soon as he figured out where the money was, he said.
Today, he runs the main entrance into a surreal world of studied decadence that to a casual observer can seem like a scene from Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland."
Wayne Newton, Mr. Las Vegas, was coming out recently as Vera went in, whispering instructions into his shoulder-mounted walkie-talkie for his staff to make sure "Mr. Newton" got the precise service he wants.
Not all his brushes with the rich and famous go so little noticed as his greeting Newton.
When Dustin Hoffman filmed the famous scene in the fountains for the 1988 movie "Rain Man," for example, he shut the place down for hours. Despite producers and directors being satisfied, Hoffman wanted another shot, and another, and another, until he had absolutely nailed his Raymond Babbitt character. Caesars Palace management had heartburn, even though the thousands of fans who lined the Strip loved it.
Probably the worst night ever, for management, came after the 1989 Thomas Hearns vs. "Sugar Ray" Leonard fight, Vera said.
"When the fight broke, it literally shut the place down. We had more than 100 celebrity vehicles. Each celebrity had their own entourage and every time they came through the front door, we had a crowd of thousands hooting and hollering. It was awesome," he said.
He may have had to call the Las Vegas Police Department for help that night, but most of the time Viera's unreal world is simple. It boils down to good management and great service.
QUESTION: What do you do?
ANSWER: Officially, I'm the front drive manager and coordinate activity to make sure customers get the service they expect, and should expect. A lot of thought goes into that. I'm very passionate about what I do. This is Caesars Palace. People come here who've never been to Las Vegas before. It can be pretty intimidating. My job is to make them feel comfortable. I want them to walk away from the front door knowing me, knowing my name and knowing they can come to me if they have a question.
Q: Why Caesars?
A: Since I came here, Caesars represented the very best, the finest, the most distinctive.
Q: And your staff?
A: My aim is for them to have the same goals I have. I try to lead by example. I wear a uniform and work out in the driveway. Most managers in my position wear a suit and tie and work behind a desk. I've managed to incorporate that in my daily routine. I check cars, work as a front-door parking attendant and I participate in each classification. If it's good enough for me, it's good enough for them, and vice versa.
Q: How has Caesars Palace changed?
A: It's changed for the better. It's grown as has the rest of the city to accommodate the culture of the rest of the city. We have new entertainment. We have a variety of gaming venues for them to enjoy and participate in. Customers show up to shop as opposed to the older days when it was mainly dinner and shows. It's a changing world and it's much more casual now. But the opulence that takes place is no less extravagant. You roll out the red carpet and it's still very impressive.
Q: How many staff members?
A: The entire department is 68 people. Scheduling is a daily thing. It depends on numbers of arrivals and depends on whether there's a show. It's all logistics. We have a big advantage. They've been very receptive as far as input from me.
We have a new facility here at the front of the hotel for 700 cars in our new underground garage. The same in the rear with the Colosseum garage. We have a car wash and detailing in here too, in the underground facility.
Q: What's the biggest problem with parking all those cars?
A: There really isn't anything insurmountable, only when there's a specific function that starts at one time and everyone has to be there at once. Then you're trying to crush all these cars in the driveway all at one time.
Q: How long do customers wait?
A: We have a goal. We try to bring every vehicle up in five minutes or less. That's a long wait in my book. But on a busy show night, the wait can be eight to 10 minutes.
Q: How does that compare across town?
A: I stay abreast of it. I hear how long the waits are at other hotels and I feel pretty good about it. Most people working here today have been here 20 years or more. They know the customers, they know the cars. The advantage of having seasoned, experienced employees is they know what it's all about: customers and service. I want all our workers to know what "tip" means: to ensure promptness. Waiting is a bad thing. They pay for promptness. You have to work for it, you have to earn it. You're obligated to give a good day's work to get a good day's pay. A gratuity has nothing to do with it.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I enjoy working with the public. It's so vague, but it's so important.
Q: What do you like least?
A: Car accidents. I hate having to tell someone we've got a problem. It happens, unfortunately. And I don't like disciplining my staff, but I have to do it, occasionally.
Q: How do you deal with VIPs?
A: Very tenderly. And each individual is different. And each has different demands and wants. It's important to understand they aren't the same. We're Caesars Palace and this is what it's all about.
--Name: George Vera.
--Position: Front-door manager, Caesars Palace.
--Family: Wife, Susan; daughters, Teresa, Stefanie; sons, Tim, Jeff and Dan.
--Education: High school in Southern California.
--Work history: Fremont (1974-80, parking cars), Caesars Palace (1980-1986, parking attendant, 1986-present, front door manager).
--Hobbies: Sports, viewing and participating.
--Favorite book: "The Clan of the Cave Bear," by Jean Auel.
--Hometown: Los Angeles.
--In Las Vegas since: 1974.
-----To see more of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.lvrj.com.
(c) 2004, Las Vegas Review-Journal. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. CZR,