With the trend toward consumers developing more sophisticated palates for the better cuisines and fine wines, it has become imperative that the Food and Beverage teams at hotels and resorts not only keep pace but provide outside-the-box thinking and execution to impress and retain customers who are increasingly expecting a restaurant experience. And a high-end restaurant at that.
In addition to the décor and cleanliness of the rooms and other services and amenities offered by the property, a superior dining experience often tops the list of why guests re-book, be they individuals, families or attendees of meetings and conventions. I have found that increasingly they are indeed expecting it. This places F&B on the front lines and its creative and organizational skills put to the test.
Staying current in the marketplace and aware of emerging trends are essentials to success. Trade journals and magazines are standard sources of news and what’s new in the business. But perhaps most valuable is the personal experience of sampling the regional cuisine. That means rather regularly going out to breakfasts, lunches and dinners in your region to learn from what others are doing right and perhaps differently from you.
And not only other restaurants but it’s also instructive to experience the offerings of competing hotels and resorts to observe the bar scene, the general service, portion sizes of entrees and the general flow of things. Remember, profitability is the bottom line and staying sharp and willing to learn will serve that purpose.
Regional fare is also a very key element. Wherever your location, be sure to include cuisine and food combinations that reflect the popular regional tastes and what is grown or raised locally to blend in with some of the more standard and expected offerings. Thinking creatively here can go a long way in pleasing and pleasantly surprising even local guests, while also providing a memorable dining experience for those from out of town or out of the country.
Change Image and Perceptions
Among the many challenges of F&B is catering to the great variety of requirements and requests of the attendees of meetings and conventions. Essentially, we bring restaurant thinking to banquets and meetings along with the freedom to do whatever the client wants. This, in particular, is when outside-the-box creativity really makes the difference for all concerned.
And then there’s pricing, pretty much at the top of everyone’s list on both sides of the equation. The price/value ratio is very important, especially these days. Budgets come in a wide variety of forms and sizes, hardly any are exactly alike. The same can also be said for menus. The key here is customization. Scalability. Open and honest communication between both parties will help you get to where you both want to go. Flexible thinking, a common goal and rational give-and-take make for a successful outcome in just about every relationship. Helping the client stay in budget with the elements that you know are essential and important to the success of the F&B aspects of the event will make for a win/win in the end.
Preparing and providing food and beverages for 300 to 500 guest can indeed be daunting. Keeping that many people engaged, excited and satisfied all at the same time is certainly the challenge. Here are some things we do that work quite well:
● Interactive stations. When guests are hungry, standing in a long, slow moving line around a lengthy buffet table is not ideal. In fact, any more it is unacceptable. Setting up stations at which the food is prepared on the floor in front of the guests provides a more interesting and engaging experience. It also creates a more social atmosphere which often dovetails nicely with the point of corporate gatherings, especially in terms of team building.
● Smaller plates/bigger variety. With tastes and palates more eclectic than ever before and with heightened interest in healthy mixes and choices of foods, a trend toward smaller plates at a variety of stations serving salads, poultry, fish and meats can satisfy the needs and tastes of even the most finicky eaters. Variety is important. Be prepared to provide for special requests. This can be done by asking specific questions about the possibility of certain food requirements during the planning phase and initial contact with the organizer of the meeting or event.
● Regional fare. As noted above, the combination of food and flavors germane to your location reflects your knowledge and pride in what your “hometown” has to offer and is often an easy way to inject an additional element of variety and enrichment to the menu. This is often overlooked when planning and preparing to serve big events. If you are different from most venues in your city or region, celebrate that difference in the best ways possible.
● Outside the box, outside. During the months when weather is likely to be the most accommodating, suggest to event planners that certain meals and beverage services be conducted outdoors on the property. Locations include the pool, patio, fire pit, gazebo, golf course or lawn. Creating atmospheres in the open are memorable and lend themselves to a greater propensity for socialization which most always is in keeping with the goals and objectives of the event sponsors. Outdoor events often make creative platforms for fun themed and/or team building events. Note: Have a plan for inclement weather (enough said on that).
● Personal preference menus. We have taken the lead from our corporation and have perfected the concept, now five years in, of providing what is known as a “personal preference menu” for large gatherings. We’ve done it for banquets of 650 guests. This program affords many hundreds of diners the pleasure of choosing from a variety of selections of fine entrees and sides. No longer is such an event relegated to the serving of simply a half-chicken and the fixings. Personal preference menus, here again, reflect the restaurant experience by providing choices such as sea bass, prime rib or, yes, elegantly prepared poultry. In fact, the above referenced event for 650 included the added time pressure of catering and clearing for a scheduled, major after dinner entertainment presentation. All done under the wire, I’m happy to say.
This is when, as head of F&B, you know you have recruited a winning team when each member performs at the top of his or her game to create a flawless, seamless presentation with grace and efficiency. The timing alone of such an endeavor is a wonder of organization and the perfect execution of many skill sets and the peak performance of many personalities under pressure. And when it comes together it does indeed go a long way toward changing the image and perception of fine dining on a very large scale in a hotel environment.
I offer two final instructional examples of elements that went into recent gargantuan events that benefited from solid thinking and planning on the part of the team. A Japan-based consumer electronics company held its sales meeting of approximately 550 here (remember we are in a desert environment) and sushi was an absolute on the menu. If we couldn’t deliver sushi, we wouldn’t get the business. Our research told us that one of the best sushi chefs in the country worked in the small town of La Jolla, California, a seaside suburb of San Diego. We negotiated a price, got approval from the client and flew-in the chef and his team, which blended seamlessly with ours, and not only did we provide sushi that night but we created a one-of-a-kind sushi dessert to cap the evening. Looking back now, I bet we could have come up with a sushi martini, if we had to. As it was, we had ordered plenty of Sake.
Less than a year ago, we hosted an international gathering of 600 medical laboratory technicians whose attendees literally came from all over the globe. What to do? Well, it was clear we couldn’t provide everyone with a taste of their home cooking so we decided to give them ours. We built several working stations at which were being prepared good old American hamburgers, hot dogs and mac & cheese among other such items. Plus we included seemingly everyone’s international favorite, spaghetti and meatballs. We hit home runs.
It is all a lot of work to be sure, but the payback is so well worth it. The feedback was superlative, the experiences rich and so were the rewards for the resort in referred and repeat business. Build it and they will come. Give them what they want and they will partake. Guests appreciate the effort, especially when it looks effortless. With a creative and hard working F&B team your hotel can indeed compete with any four-star restaurant in town.
Eugene Mardell is the Food & Beverage Director of the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa located in New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.