HomePublicationsNewsletter ArchiveNewslettersVolume 20Issue 21Interview with FireKeepers Casino Executive Chef Michael McFarlen

Michael McFarlen is the Vice President of Food Operations and the Executive Chef at FireKeepers Casino in Battle Creek and has served in this role since 2009. Prior to his current role, Mr. McFarlen served as an Executive Chef at several other hospitality establishments including Ameristar Casino and MGM Mirage.

Q: Between the six on-site restaurant offerings at the FireKeepers Casino Hotel in Battle Creek, patrons are provided with a wide variety of dining experiences. What is your team’s strategy to provide such variety of experiences with such a high quality?

A: Our strategy is to focus on each individual outlet and make it a stand-alone, remarkable experience.  We have accomplished that through scratch cooking, attention to service detail and a commitment to embrace our patrons and react to their needs and recommendations.

Q: What do you see as the greatest contribution that the dining experience has on a patron’s overall visit to the FireKeepers property?

A: With active competition within 1 – 1.5 hours of our property, we have felt that by offering a superior food and service product we would be able to capture a segment of the gaming populace that is driven by their need for exceptional culinary fare in addition to their gaming needs.

Q: Nibi, the signature restaurant at the FireKeepers Casino Hotel, has received accolades in the media and from patron reviews since its opening. How have you kept the experience fresh while continuing its success?

A: The menu has constantly evolved with market trends and customer needs.  From building our happy hour business with tapas style offerings to increasing our composed plates to seasonal specials and the addition of our Cruvinet system for high end wines by the glass, our Nibi team is continuing to challenge the staff to raise the bar and create a more memorable experience for our guests.

Q: The emphasis on high quality dining experiences at gaming properties has increased dramatically over the past decades, for example the evolution from the historically cost-conscious buffets in Las Vegas to world-class culinary locations. How do you think this evolution has affected both the restaurant and gaming industries?

A: I think this has paved the way to some of the most amazing advances our industry has seen in decades.  You now can travel to Las Vegas and eat at some of the best restaurants in the world, all in one city.  It used to be you had to travel all over the country and Europe to experience Michelin Star quality chefs and restaurants.  Non-gaming revenue is now the number one source of income in Las Vegas, with gaming revenue coming in second.  I think that’s pretty incredible.

Q: Are there any upcoming culinary initiatives that the public can look forward to at FireKeepers?

A: We are looking at increasing our local sourcing and bringing in more products geared to sustainability and seasonality.  I recently attended a summit at Harvard University sponsored by The Culinary Institute of America dealing specifically with the business of healthy, sustainable, delicious food choices.  With the amount of people we feed in a given day its incumbent on us to pass along the healthiest, best sourced products we can while still maintaining our fiscal commitment to our owners.

Q: What are some of the unique challenges and opportunities of operating restaurants that are located within a gaming complex? Have these impacted your general approach to developing your menu? 

A: This can be a double edged sword at times.  You are guaranteed a certain amount of traffic in the restaurants due to casino patrons but at the same time you can sometimes alienate the true “foodie” that is not comfortable eating inside a casino.  We have used our new restaurant, Smoke N’ Fire, to work on marketing our products to non-gaming patrons through creative advertising and utilizing its entrance thru the hotel.  It’s also a challenge with the age stipulation of 21 and over for all restaurants on the casino floor, this can take away a lot of your potential dining demographic due to the age restriction.  We have, however, cultivated a very good reputation with our food and service quality and continue to build our cash business with our consistency and commitment to excellence


If you would like to participate in future interviews please contact Mr. DeGracia online at info@michigangaming.com.



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