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Loyalty, fun are the catering director’s keys to success


Ken Ratigan

Ken Ratigan, Las Vegas Hilton senior director of convention services and catering, has a big smile, a hearty laugh and an easygoing manner that make meeting planners and exhibitors feel at home within the confines of the Hilton’s convention space.

In a culture where people move from job to job, Ratigan has spent more than half of his life at the Las Vegas Hilton. A friend and classmate at Las Vegas’ Valley High School shared a job opening with him in 1973 and after landing the job of cook’s helper, Ratigan still looks forward to waking up and going to work at the Hilton 37 years later.

His love of cooking led him to the property, and after a stint as a cook’s helper, Ratigan became a cook in the Las Vegas Hilton’s coffee shop. From there, he went to room service as a broiler cook before working in the employee cafeteria for two years.  He smiled when he mentioned his time at the cafeteria.

“It was a great opportunity to meet everyone who worked at the property,” he said.

A 21-year-old Ratigan was happy in his role as a cook and looked up to Chef Jim Crawford, who had taken on the role of mentor while Ratigan was working and going to school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He laughed when he mentioned his propensity to add too much seasoning to dishes and recalled his mentor’s words: “Enough is good. A lot doesn’t make it better.” Ratigan has applied that philosophy not only to his love of seasonings, but also to life as a whole.  Crawford’s other advice to Ratigan was he should make a change from cooking in order to further his career at the hotel.

This advice led Ratigan to a waiter position in room service and eventually the role of room service captain. After seven years in room service, a banquet manager position opened up and the Las Vegas Hilton president at that time suggested Ratigan for the job. Though he enjoyed room service, he took a chance and accepted the new position. Shortly after beginning his new role, he worked for 160 days without a day off and then proceeded to work 84 days straight with only one day off in between.

Ratigan retained his humor and a strong work ethic and took on the banquet manager position for nearly a decade before moving in to the role of catering manager.  In 1997, he made a move to the Tropicana Hotel and Casino to run the property’s catering and convention services departments. However, he missed the Hilton and three short years later he returned as director of catering, where he spent a decade before landing as the senior director of convention services and catering last year.

Though Ratigan has become a fixture at the Hilton, he grew up far from the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip.  He was raised along with his eight brothers and sisters at Fort Buckner and Kadena Air Force Bases in Okinawa, Japan.  His mother worked there as a civilian after leaving her home of Hawaii, and that is where she met his father, who was running the postal exchange.

Ratigan moved to Las Vegas when he was 13, and smiled when he recalled his time in Japan and his childhood dreams of flying airplanes in the military.

“My one regret of my time in Japan was not learning to speak Japanese,” he said.

Coming from a large family, it is not surprising that Ratigan places so much value on his relationship with his wife, Lisa, and their two daughters.

“She was in charge of group billing and we would attend the pre-cons together,” he said of his wife when he met her at the Hilton. “She was always nervous speaking in front of me.”

His office is filled with photos of his family, and the pride he feels is evident when speaking of his 11-year-old and 14-year-old daughters and their musical and athletic abilities.

“My favorite part of the day is when I leave work and know I did the best job possible and head home to my second job with my family,” he said.

Ratigan’s first job revolves around filling the nearly 200,000 square feet of meeting space available at the Las Vegas Hilton.

“We have a great service team. Our job is to be there for our guests to ensure everything flows smoothly,” Ratigan said, emphasizing the personal touches that are so important to his team. “In our line of work, there are a lot of hours. It is important to be dedicated and love what you do.”

Located adjacent to the Las Vegas Convnention Center, the Hilton is a prime location for conventioneers with luxurious accommodations available in the recently renovated, business-friendly North Tower Suites.  From the 70,000 square-foot Hilton Center and 35,000 square-foot Hilton Ballroom to the conference rooms and board rooms, the Las Vegas Hilton can host meetings of all sizes.

Throughout his years at the Hilton, Ratigan has experienced large tradeshows like Comdex and CES, interacted with Elvis’ entourage and met lifelong friends. One of his favorite memories was of a young Mike Tyson, who he met shortly after winning a boxing match, and his failed attempt at offering to buy a drink for the young boxing champion.

“Tyson turned me down and when I asked why he said he hadn’t turned 21 yet,” Ratigan said with a laugh.

He has been at the Las Vegas Hilton for many years, and so have his colleagues.  “There are a lot of years in this office,” Ratigan said. “It is a serious business, but we laugh a lot and it is a fun job.”

Based in Las Vegas, Edlen Electrical Exhibition Services (www.edlen.com) is the leading independent temporary utility contractor for the tradeshow, convention and special event industry. National Sales Manager Julie Pazina can be reached at julie@edlen.com.

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