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Catering To New Expectations

Hoteliers Need To Emphasize All Aspects Of F&B Operation

Monday, April 03, 2017
Steve Pike
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Many hotels and resorts market themselves as having multiple restaurants and F&B outlets. But a good portion of them leave out an important component when counting those outlets—catering. Not that the properties ignore their catering departments, but they don’t consider them equals to their higher-profile restaurants. That could be a mistake that impacts a hotel’s bottom line. For the best results, experts say to treat the catering department as you would any other F&B venue.

“The catering operation is an extension of the food guests know and love in the F&B outlets,” said Laure Hitzig, director of catering at The Four Seasons Resort Orlando. “Our banquet culinary team works hard to make sure the menus change based on what the current trends are and it’s presented in a way that showcases the creativity and unique talents of the team.”

“There should be no difference in eating in our signature restaurant than eating at a banquet,” said Josh Thomsen, executive chef at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan, FL. “That’s the expectation of a Five-Diamond, Five-Star location. Guests expect more than some steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes and a filet.

“Don’t get me wrong. We have some guests who want that. But I’m going to give them the best and present it in such a way that it looks more than it is. That’s our job.’’

In other words, today’s banquet guests—be they wedding guests or convention guests—are more demanding than their predecessors.

“They are looking for restaurant quality presentations and flavors, so culinary offerings have evolved to enhance and complement the experience,” said Patricia Murphy, director of sales and catering for The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples, FL. “The culinary presentation is now part of the event memory rather than a secondary consideration. As a result, menus are more cutting-edge, designed to be flexible and feature more seasonal and local ingredients.

“Catering, which includes weddings, local corporate groups and philanthropic gatherings, is extremely important to the operation of a resort because these specialized gatherings are an excellent incremental revenue driver and profit generator for dates that fall in between group business. At The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples, catering programs also provide us an opportunity to partner with and connect with our local community.”

The internal space audit process, Murphy said, is key for a successful catering operation.

“Because catering events are layered in between group business, it is important for a catering team to work closely with the group sales team to determine future dates and space available to sell on a free-sale basis,” she said. “Knowing these dates in advance allows the catering sales managers to be more aggressive in their markets and reduces the cycle time to complete the sales phase process.”

For Mike Espiritu, director of food and beverage at Monterey Tides, CA, a successful catering business is about understanding the vision the client has for his or her event.

“Paint the picture of the event for the client,’’ Espiritu said. “Make sure you have the team and the product to make the dream a reality and execute it. Expectations continue to change depending on the current trends in the catering world. Understanding current trends and being able to execute them, gives the catering team the opportunity to make memorable events. Year after year, event planners are trying to top their last event, which makes the event industry exciting.’’

How do hotels and resorts with successful catering departments paint the picture?

“It is all about customization and interactive stations,” Hitzig said. “Gone are linear buffets. It's all about the food stations—sort of like stationary food trucks. Risotto and pasta stations are still in, but they are interactive, with fabulous on-trend ingredients, made to order by a chef who talks about it while preparing.

“Guests are also looking for very simple foods, and fun foods. They want a short rib, something they know and recognize...They just want it to be the best tasting short rib they ever had. On the other end of the spectrum, drinks are hot. Having a mixologist on staff is a must. Signature cocktails have gone to a whole new level. Liquors have to be house-infused, drinks are changing color, olives have special marinades. Clients are looking for fun, unique and innovative combinations that you would otherwise find at the best bars in town.”

Now comes the “chicken or egg” question. How important is a successful catering department to driving business to a hotel or resort’s other F&B venues? Or do high quality F&B venues create business on the catering side?

Jeffrey Russell, executive chef at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, GA, has no doubt that it’s the latter.

“You get your reputation based on your outlets,” Russell said. “When you go online to see reviews, they don’t talk about the catering, they talk about the restaurants. People make their decisions for their catered events based on the restaurants at a property.”

Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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