OPERATIONS | Family Time

With the triumvirate of Vegas clubs on their watch, Victor Drai, Jesse Waits and Cy Waits — the men behind Drai’s After Hours, Tryst and XS the Nightclub at Encore — have certainly raised the bar on nightlife. Together, the three clubs are expected to exceed $100 million in revenue in 2009, a figure unheard of in Vegas and unimaginable in today’s economy.

Exquisite club environs, attention to detail and high levels of guest service are supported by precise operational systems and a loyal staff that drive astronomical revenues, attributes that earned them the 2009 Operator of the Year Award from Nightclub & Bar.

The real driver of their success, says managing partner Cy Waits, is the staff. Each employee is carefully recruited, trained and developed as a brand ambassador. “We’re model venues, and we look for energetic people who are willing to play the role and be a part of this high-energy environment,” he says.

A new, but seasoned, cocktail waitress undergoes a five-day training program; those without prior experience have a 15-day unpaid training regimen. Tryst, XS and Drai’s employ 250. On a given Saturday night, 30 work the door at Tryst; in the club, five inside managers oversee the five service bars, and 25 cocktail waitresses are in high gear. Staff retention at Tryst is 95 percent, according to Cy Waits, well above the norm for nightlife. The secret? The Waits brothers and their management staff forge strong relationships with each employee.

“We are really open with our staff, always asking how we can do something better or more efficiently. They’re on the front lines, so they know what’s needed to make everything run smoothly,” says Cy Waits. Monthly meetings with the club’s entire staff and daily pre-shift meetings keep the lines of communication open, and Cy and Jesse Waits are readily accessible.

A strong incentive and reward initiative also helps. Trips abroad, dinners out, tickets to shows, spa treatments and other perks are awarded regularly. “The team is what makes it all happen. You have to manage not through fear, but through building a family,” explains Cy Waits.

“Jesse and Cy are extremely involved and very hands-on with the team,” observes John Wood, director of customer development for Tryst and XS. “They care how everyone is doing, not only in work, but also in their personal lives. And they’ll be the first to tell you you’re doing a good job. There is a strong sense of family here.”

Another element that works in their favor: Cy and Jesse Waits both come out of the nightlife system. Between the two of them, they have experience working the door, bar backing, bartending, handling difficult guests, managing the floor, dealing with DJs and other talent, servicing VIPs and so on. Stooping to pick up a cocktail napkin off the club floor isn’t beneath either of them, and the usually shy brothers make it a point to interact with both VIP and regular guests.

The family philosophy, combined with hands-on management, keeps staff loyal and honest. “We worked our way up. We understand the rules. It’s hard to get one over on us,” quips Cy Waits.

The other retention factor: employees see a career path. When opening XS, the Waits didn’t look outside their organization for talent; high-performers from Tryst were promoted into management positions at XS.

The next challenge for the trio is translating their systems and culture to Los Angeles as they open Drai’s at the W Hollywood in the fall. Complete with a restaurant, pool, private lounge and rooftop club, Drai’s is poised to spark the growing nightlife scene in Hollywood.

“With a much bigger team, spread across two markets, it will be difficult to make everyone happy — our family of employees and our guests,” admits Cy Waits. “We’re really working hard right now to make sure we can keep our vision and culture intact.” Seeing how their previous hard work has paid off, it’s a safe bet that their recession-busting formula for success in Vegas will put them on top in Hollywood as well

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