Has Vail Resorts trained guests not to eat at its restaurants?

CEO says company has more work to be done when it comes to getting guests to return to on-mountain dining

John LaConte
Vail Daily
John LaConte/Vail Daily
Skiers and snowboarders enjoy the public-use grills and picnic tables on Hawks Deck on Vail Mountain. The grills were upgraded during the 2020-21 season.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Vail Resorts, in a call to investors on Thursday, shared details behind the new highs the company has achieved so far this year, which include record second-quarter visitation and resort net revenue.

Ancillary lines of business like lodging, ski school, restaurants, and rental and retail locations have significantly outperformed the prior year, CEO Kirstin Lynch told investors, which was “driven by increased staffing levels that enabled our mountain resorts to deliver normal operations of important guest experiences.”

On Vail Mountain, a bump in the resort’s food service business was obvious to all who have visited the mountain’s Blue Sky Basin location this season, as the popular “Dawg Haus” ski-in, ski-out restaurant got up and running again for the first time since the 2019-20 season.

But across the company, getting guests to return to on-mountain dining at the Vail Resorts’ restaurants has been a challenge, and that could be partly due to the company’s own doings, Lynch said.

“Dining revenue rebounded strong from the prior-year period, though underperformed expectations for the quarter, as guest dining behavior has not fully returned to pre COVID-19 levels following two years of significant operational restrictions associated with COVID-19,” Lynch said in a prepared address to investors.

In Vail, the company does have dining options off the mountain, like the Tavern on the Square in Lionshead, but that’s not common across the company.

Elaborating on her remarks, Lynch told investors Vail Resorts’ dining options take place predominantly on its mountains, and that became apparent to the company during the pandemic when instructing guests not to eat on the mountain often meant sending them to non-Vail Resorts’ owned locations.

“We spent two years putting in significant restrictions to that on-mountain dining for our guests, and basically quote-unquote ‘training’ our guests to go find other alternatives,” Lynch said.

Vail Mountain spokesperson John Plack said following the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season, a couple of on-mountain adjustments took place in the Mountain Top area atop Chairs 4, 5 and 11, of which guests are still taking notice.

John LaConte/Vail Daily
The Dogtown Deck was unused on Tuesday afternoon, while nearby Hawks Deck was packed. The public-use grills outside Henry’s Hut were eliminated for the 2020-21 season.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

The mountain eliminated the grills at Henry’s Hut for the 2020-21 season, but that coincided with an upgrade of the grills at the nearby Hawks Deck, which now has two sets of grills with a right and left gas control option at each grill. Hawks Deck has seen a lot of traffic in recent years from guests who wish to bring their own lunch, grill on the mountain and avoid eating at Vail Mountain’s on-mountain dining locations.

The upgrade at Hawks Deck is a good example of the “training” of guest behavior Lynch mentioned to investors, but in eliminating the grills at Henry’s, guests also have one less location to grill their own food. On Tuesday afternoon, as cars spilled out of the parking structures and lined the South Frontage Road (a sign of a busy day on the mountain), guests enjoyed sunny conditions on the mountain, and Hawks Deck was packed with skiers waiting in line to use the grills. But as that was happening, the picnic tables on the “Dogtown Deck” outside Henry’s Hut were empty.

Lynch said there’s more to be done when it comes to getting guests back into the company’s on-mountain restaurants, but she believes it will happen.

“The growth in our dining line of business is incredibly strong versus prior year, but it is lagging in getting all the way back to where it was, and I think there’s just more work that we need to do to sort-of undo the two years of restrictions and training of our guests to find other options and bring them back into those on-mountain dining resorts,” she said. “I am completely confident that we can actually do that, it’s just that we didn’t get all the way back to that consumer behavior in this season, and I’m quite confident that we will be able to get back there.”

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