Dick’s Last Resort

For anyone who hasn’t been to Dick’s, it’s pretty much like wandering into a Halloween party without a costume. People go there in multigenerational groups of family members, business associates or friends to party with or without their kids – often to celebrate a significant occasion, such as a bachelor or bachelorette party – and have a good time. Carefully trained to employ Dick’s distinctive party hats, jokes and techniques, the front-of-house greeter and servers have gregarious personalities that engage customers and get them laughing.

“Our culture is like no other restaurant in the states that I know of,” McCracken declares. “That’s what’s made it successful for so many years. There’s nothing like it anywhere.” It’s “eat-ertainment,” he says.

The 15th Dick’s Last Resort opened recently in Newport, Ky., across the river from Cincinnati. Three more locations are opening this year: in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., near Gatlinburg, Tenn.; on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf; and on International Drive in Orlando. All locations are company-owned except for the restaurant in Chicago – which is operated by the original owner of Dick’s – and the Dallas restaurant, which is guided by Dick’s original director of operations.

Out of Town

Because Dick’s is a special-occasion destination popular with groups – the average table size is seven – it is frequented by conventioneers and spring-breakers. “The majority of our guests – 76 percent – are out-of-town folks, so we have to be in those areas where there’s a lot of hotel rooms and a lot of foot traffic,” McCracken points out. “Those two elements kind of dictate where we look for future Dick’s locations. The majority of guests are only in town for two to three days and gone.”

Nevertheless, McCracken maintains Dick’s Last Resort also has its share of repeat guests. For example, he tells of one six-year-old girl who had such a good time at Dick’s that for her twenty-first birthday party, she came back to celebrate with her friends and brought the photo she still had of her six-year-old self at Dick’s.

People always remember eating the food at Dick’s with their hands from a bucket, but that is only true of finger food. Food from a full menu also is served in baskets, and metal silverware – along with cloth napkins – are provided, McCracken stresses. However, the individual pieces of silverware may not match each other.

“We get most of our silverware from our local linen companies because so many fine-dining restaurants busing tables throw the silverware in with the napkins,” McCracken maintains. When the napkins are returned from these restaurants for laundering, the linen company has to remove the silverware. “We really don’t care what brand or style it is,” he says. “So we get most of our silverware from other restaurants because they just throw it away. We ask the linen company to save it, and they sell that silverware to us. It’s crazy, but it works.”

Familiar Food

No printed menus are distributed at Dick’s Last Resort in the evening. Menus of “comfort food everybody recognizes” are on a chalkboard and in the server’s head. “There’s not anything on the menu you can’t pronounce,” McCracken says. “Most people when they’re in large groups aren’t going to read the damn menu. So our dinner menu is verbal. The server takes you through 10 or 15 items so they can help you make that decision. The food quality is better than people expect. That was our impression when we did our due diligence, and that is the impression of our guests.”

The most important employees are the greeter at the front door and the dishwasher, McCracken insists, because the greeter welcomes the guests in and the dishwasher ensures that all the dishes are clean. The manager of each location – some of whom have worked for Dick’s for 20 years – is called the president.

“We call our general managers ‘presidents’ because they’re actually running a multimillion-dollar business,” McCracken emphasizes. “Our jobs here at the corporate office are to make sure they have the tools they need. Their job is to make sure the staff has the tools to take care of the guest, and the guest pays all of us!”

McCracken maintains Dick’s Last Resort has low turnover for the hospitality industry. Even some busboys have been with Dick’s for more than 20 years, he says. McCracken himself has spent decades in the restaurant industry helping grow such concepts as Ruby Tuesday’s, Spinnaker’s and Logan’s Roadhouse. “I’ve been doing this for over 40 years, and this is the best job I’ve ever had,” McCracken exclaims. “This is so much fun.”