Food has played a significant role in the way that Las Vegas marketed itself ever since the city began to make itself into a “destination.” In order to understand how Las Vegas came to be the city it is, it is necessary to understand the significant role that food and food marketing played during its ascendance to one of the world’s chief tourist destinations.
My work on the history of food in Las Vegas focuses on how food and drink were marketed and presented to the tourists and workers who began flocking to the area beginning in the 1930s. A significant portion of my project involves a close examination of menus and other food advertising and promotions created by various Las Vegas resorts and restaurants.
Because my project pays a great deal of attention to the aesthetic presentation and marketing of food, many documents from UNLV University Libraries Special Collections and Archives have been vital to my research. The extensive collection of menus housed in Special Collections and Archives, for example, demonstrates the variety of ways in which food was combined by many Las Vegas hotels and casinos with theater and entertainment. The menus from Caesar’s Palace and El Rancho Vegas, for example, merge the traditional listing of food items found on any menu with illustrations and layouts that visually recall the trappings of theater. Some menus, in fact, are a combination of menu and playbill, indicating the extent to which Las Vegas goes to intensify and enhance the consumption of both food and the performing arts.
Other collections, too, note the close relationship of food and theater. The Nat Hart Professional Papers contain several documents concerning the relationship of food and entertainment, not least of which are training manuals for a number of resorts and casinos, some of which encourage employees to think of themselves as actors in a play and provide elaborate scripts to memorize for use when employees encounter casino or hotel guests. These collections demonstrate the intentional and granular ways in which food and its presentation were used to help both create an enhanced tourist experience and construct the identity of the city itself.
These documents, along with many others in Special Collections and Archives, offer insight into the evolution of food and food marketing in Las Vegas.
The William R. Eadington Fellowship program is sponsored by the UNLV Center for Gaming Research in the University Libraries' Special Collections and Archives. Eadington Fellows are selected as part of a competitive application process, and provide two- or four-week residencies in Las Vegas for academic researchers to explore the unique gaming collections in Special Collection & Archives. The fellowships were named after Eadington, a pioneer on the academic study of gambling and founding director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at UNR.