To Each His Own: A New Day for Venue P&Ls
In the spring of 2016, the F&B machinery at Paséa Hotel & Spa, the Pacific Hospitality Group’s newest property, swung into operation. Its Huntington Beach, California, location informs its “laid-back luxury” atmosphere and “SoCal coastal chic” design, and the upscale F&B follows right along with the theme of healthy seaside-living and surfer fare. But with the blank-slate opportunity to design a new kitchen and F&B plan from scratch, the managers and designers worked together to create a super-efficient blueprint that in turn would allow for far-from-laid-back, intense scrutiny of F&B costs and revenues.
Nate Tanner, VP of F&B at Pacific Hospitality Group, enthusiastically took on the task of assembling a state-of-the-art kitchen for the 250-room property. He had the daunting chore of shoehorning all the F&B necessities into 5,400 square feet of kitchen to service 34,000 square feet of banquet space, provide in-room dining and supply the lobby coffee shop, Blend Café,
“This is the most centralized kitchen I’ve ever designed and built,” says Tanner. He configured the property’s quasi-standalone restaurant, the eponymous Tanner’s, with its inviting, casually stylish dining room, its rooftop Treehouse Lounge, and F&B service to the pool area.
Tanner’s attention to detail led him to organize all food operations so that he could easily break out a separate P&L statement for each segment: banquet and catering, in-room dining, Blend Café, and Tanner’s. Being able to put each cost center under a magnifying glass makes chefs and managers accountable and al- lows them to see much more clearly where things are going wrong and where things are going right. To reinforce the “separateness” of each f low and to simplify maintaining it, Tanner designated distinct storage, preparation, and cooking areas for each segment. Thus, the path of inventory from the loading dock to the point of sale would be clearly delineated.
BLAZING A TRAIL
The division begins with the food order. “Procurement is the same,” says Tanner, “but our vendors give us separate invoices and make one drop to our loading dock in the parking garage.” Deliveries are split into two drop zones, one for Tanner’s and the other for the banquet kitchen. From there, supplies can move into two designated remote storage areas or up the elevators and into coolers, freezers, and storage areas in the Tanner’s and banquet kitchens. At that point, Tanner’s stock follows its own equation. The supplies going to the banquet kitchen are further split up into the B&C storage or refrigeration and the in-room/Blend storage or refrigeration. When necessary, B&C might “buy” supplies from in-room dining, and vice versa.
Within the footprint of the kitchen, there is a very clear flow of labor, bringing raw product and ingredients from the back or periphery of the space, through the adjacent prep areas, onto the cooklines (or out to action stations), and finally to the plating areas. The paths for B&C and in-room dining parallel each other through separate prep and cooking locations, ending up at service carts for the adjoining banquet space or at the point for in-room service delivery. Tanner cites the proximity of the kitchen to the main ballroom and other banquet space as a key to the overall efficacy of the operation.
Through the kitchen doors is the main ballroom (which can also be divided into three equal rooms), and a few steps away across a hallway are a smaller ballroom (also divisible) and two more function areas, including the ocean-view Blue Room. Both ballrooms open onto the Ocean Lawn, which can itself be a banquet venue.
Two features provide the banquet line with added efficiency. First, a staging cooler closer to the head of the cookline and conveyor belt holds every prepared item belonging to an individual event. After large quantities of food are prepped, the items are collected onto rolling speed racks in that cooler. That arrangement brings together all of the prepped product to exactly where it is needed with easy access for cooking or plating.
Second, Tanner has installed a variable speed 14-foot conveyor belt for the plating process. “We can roll hot carts and cold carts up next to the conveyor,” says Tanner. “With four or five cooks and expediters, we can complete 500 plates in about 20 minutes.” The ability to adjust the number of cooks, the number of carts, and the speed of the belt makes the implementation of the fixed conveyor versatile and scalable to all event sizes.
Despite misgivings from struggling with conveyor belts in other kitchens, Executive Event Chef Kevin Meyer says the system at Paséa now helps him crank out food with amazing speed. “For an event for 100 people, it might have taken five or six bodies to get food plated and ready,” says Meyer, “but with the conveyor belt we can do it with two or three.”
Indeed, the sum of the efficiencies in the Paséa kitchen has cut the time for final preparation and plating nearly in half. Meyer—who joined the team after planning and construction were complete—says the design and efficiency of the kitchen provided “the biggest selling point” to take the executive event chef position. “The kitchen felt like an open space, a workplace where you don’t feel like you’re closed in,” he says. “It was designed to handle large events. It is close to the banquet space. It’s a beautiful place to call ‘home.’”
For their largest event thus far, his “home” churned out food for 1,100 people who filled all of the banquet space, including the Ocean Lawn overlooking the Pacific. On its biggest day, the kitchen produced nearly 3,500 meals.
Paséa GM Scott Blakeslee looks at Meyer’s efforts appreciatively, especially with the F&B operations coming on-line in May “in the heat of high season.” Blakeslee acknowledges Meyer’s work not just for his artistry and ability to get the job done, but for the number-crunching that is necessary in B&C.
“Kevin is really the ‘perfect chef,’” says Blakeslee, “in that he is just as concerned about cost of goods as he is about quality and presentation.” Blakeslee and Meyer have worked together on tracking the cost stream. “We continue to make sure that cost centers are separated out,” Blakeslee says. “Are we putting those expenses in the right bucket?”
Blakeslee and Meyer keep track of the minutia of the banquet kitchen with a suite of programming. The NCR Aloha POS system, Avero foodservice analytic software, BirchStreet Systems procurement software, and the Oracle OPERA property management system provide a full view of expenses and revenues from the time product is ordered until the customer pays the check. Meyer also has his own personally-designed spreadsheet that is pumping numbers out at him constantly for costing dishes or full banquets, generating prep lists, and assembling vendor orders. What results, says Meyer, is “a detailed P&L on steroids.”
The set of data produced by the suite of programs is instrumental for intense management of the F&B budget. By managing every aspect of food costs—including combining orders for lower pricing, limiting waste, and culling non-sellers—Paséa is successfully achieving its overall goal of about 24%. Meyer’s banquet kitchen, with food costs for events around 16%, “stabilizes” the other less streamlined segments, he says, with Tanner’s coming in around 25% and in-room dining in the high 30% range (“At Paséa,” says Meyer, “we tend to think of in-room as more of an amenity” because of the low volume that is a result of the lure of Tanner’s and a host of other restaurants just blocks away.).
In part, Tanner attributes low food costs to the “entrepreneurial environment” he has fostered at Paséa. “When you’re buying food on the scale we are,” he says, “managers need to feel like they’re using their own money.” Tanner says he hires managers who are already in that mindset, but he continues to emphasize the idea and also offers incentives for hitting cost targets.
“In some restaurants, all that inventory is cash sitting on the walls,” he continues. By holding chefs and managers accountable through individual P&Ls, Tanner says he gets “smarter purchasing,” less waste, and more attention to price increases for goods. “We also found the freezers are cleaner, the fridges less cluttered…[and] we can adjust menus more quickly.” Tanner also believes that “counting inventory is a waste of time. We don’t do physical inventories for food,” he says. “Our procurement system codes goods to an individual P&L. Everything gets rung in on our POS system when it leaves; then sales are booked against the cost center.” He notes, however, to watch for “price fluctuations that can skew the cost of goods.”
Accountability works best when it helps to empower rather than punish, Tanner says. “You can feel the change in culture and mentality when you give [chefs and managers] the sense that they are using their own money in the kitchen. The sous chefs calling in orders, or even the cooks cooking staff meals, they see product go in the garbage, and they realize, ‘That's $200 right there.’ There’s a real sense of empowerment as you transition from an observer to a participant.”
F&B personnel have come to Tanner and told him his push for heightened fiscal awareness “is the greatest prep” for running their own business, he says. “I sit down with every one of my chefs and managers,” says Tanner, “and in every case, the thing lacking the most at this time in the industry is understanding how leaders’ actions translate over to financial performance. That’s a skill set that is not prevalent today.”
Payroll has been the most difficult line item to keep distinctly in separate P&L’s. Consequently, it has been the only facet of the F&B plan to undergo change so far.
“At first, we had a very clear [staff] delineation between the two lines [in the banquet kitchen], a clear definition of role,” says Blakeslee, “but if we have staff on one line that is slowing down, and we’re gearing up to cook for 2,000 people on the other, it makes sense to pull some over.” Meyer notes, “Stewarding was separated at first between events and Tanner’s. Then we saw that it would be more efficient to share stewards that could cross over as needed.” That would simplify payroll but, at the same time, complicate the attribution of costs to the separate P&L’s.
Eventually, it was decided that Tanner’s should split steward payroll costs with the banquet kitchen at 60:40, a ratio arrived at by estimating real work hours. Blakeslee hopes to consolidate kitchen staff into a pool of cross-trained individuals who can fill various roles whenever needed. Employees would have dual or even multiple payroll codes for the roles they might fill, to tag their labor costs to the proper cost center.
“The reality is that it’s a benefit in having a team and knowing you can tap into different skill sets when necessary,” says Blakeslee. In looking ahead at the likely shifting of staff requirement from high season to slower periods, Blakeslee wants to retain his top-notch, well-trained employees by bending rigid roles to give the talented people their full-time hours.
While staffing is still “a work in progress,” the well-thought-out design and the fiscal organization of F&B operations have already proven themselves. The efficiency of the banquet kitchen and the clarity of data supporting its finances have allowed Meyer and his staff to focus on what truly matters to the guest: fresh, delicious, high-quality food.
“We’re getting a lot of great compliments on the food,” says Meyer. Guest feedback is saying the food is living up to the promise made by the spectacular Huntington Beach setting. The specially tailored menus, timeliness of service, and energetic action stations are wowing guests. For Tanner and his team at Paséa, managing kitchen finance has become an integral part of continuing to deliver a superior banquet experience.
Denny Lewis is a Hotel F&B veteran based in Arlington, Massachusetts.
Nate Tanner, VP of F&B at Pacific Hospitality Group, had the vision for the Paséa Hotel & Spa banquet kitchen; Costa Mesa, California-based Hatch Design Group was given the job of realizing it. Sam Hatch, president of Hatch design, describes the challenges.
“We came into this project fairly late,” he says. “The spaces [in the hotel] had already been allocated…[and] we had to work with a relatively small kitchen for this size property.” Because of the space constraints, the designers had to look closely at every area to find the right solutions. Hatch says the biggest problem was storage space. “We had to fight for any available area,” he says, which eventually included a 500-squarefoot remote storage area a level below the kitchen near the loading dock. In the end, Hatch and his team created the facility Tanner had imagined for the Huntington Beach, California, property through a fiercely selective use of space and a collection of innovative, flexible, and scalable solutions.
While Paséa’s kitchen space was a tabula rasa, Hatch has a method to reconfigure existing kitchens. “We start at the back door and work our way in,” he says. “We want storage close to the rear entrance.” Hatch then looks to “correct inefficiencies.”
“In any kitchen, you only want to take one or two steps to do everything,” Hatch explains. “You need to make sure that in one to two turns, all the stuff you need is right there.” In addition to having a definite “product flow-in,” there must be a definite service flow that avoids possibilities of snarls or collisions.
“For prep, cooking and service [then bringing in dirty dishes], there should be no cross traffic.” Hatch stresses “scalability” as an important measure for every decision. Efficiency, flexibility, and portability are attributes for configurations and equipment that help make operations scalable. Finally, after your kitchen is set, Hatch points out the need to create menus that are right for the size, resources and equipment of your kitchen.—DL
Due to space constraints, equipment was the focus of intense consideration in the Paséa Hotel & Spa banquet kitchen. “There is a cohesive relationship between what’s on the menu and what equipment is on the line,” says Nate Tanner, VP of F&B at Pacific Hospitality Group. “If there’s equipment you don’t use, get it out.” He has made tough choices, but scalability and practicality always win out.
“We have a small footprint so I don’t have a big wok in there,” he says. Tanner’s first bit of advice to any B&C operation looking to increase productivity and improve flow is to consider portable conveyor belts. “You end up with better-looking plated products that get to the tables faster.”
The hotel’s Executive Event Chef Kevin Meyer recommends the conveyor belt also and relies on a few other pieces of equipment that increase the quality and quantity of food his kitchen can produce. The Paséa kitchen employs two Rational combi-ovens that Meyer says are “very precise” and—with a little extra training for cooks—get foolproof results. They also use Alto-Shaam holding units that make simultaneous service to bigger functions possible. Blast chillers, steamers, smokers, and Cryovac units have their place in the kitchen, and Meyer recommends them if space allows. Out in the banquet area, Meyer suggests finding a way to get the attention of guests with action stations. Paséa has tried prime rib, pasta, and DIY ice cream sandwich stations, among others.
“We’ve had as many as five stations working at once,” says Meyer. “If you can get guests involved in their meal, it is highly experiential and even more memorable.” —DL
Nate Tanner is known for working with passion; under his watchful eye, food, restaurants, and F&B programs grow with vibrancy and richness. Even with all of his previous successes, the VP of F&B at Pacific Hospitality Group describes Paséa Hotel & Spa’s stand-alone restaurant, Tanner’s, as his “labor of love.” The 216-seat restaurant is a showplace for his stylish flare, love of food, and dedication to providing a warm guest experience. Those attributes are married to the laid-back tempo and surf culture vibe that define Huntington Beach, California.
In recognition of his efforts and acknowledging that the venue is truly the embodiment of Tanner’s philosophy and passion, the Paséa board voted to name the restaurant after him.
Tanner’s has become a local hotspot that combines the best in hospitality and what SoCal has to offer. “Huntington Beach is the last place around here where you can burn wood on the beach,” says Tanner. In a nod to that rebel honor, Tanner installed a show-stopping 72-inch wood-fired Grillworks Infierno grill that fills the restaurant with the smell of wood smoke and Executive Chef Igor Krichmar’s food. The exhibition kitchen blazes and bustles behind a wall of glass while the Pacific sparkles through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Above the dining room, the rooftop Treehouse Lounge basks in the sun—a tree growing through the center of the round bar—with stunning views of the Pacific.
When asked about making Tanner’s a star-chef enterprise, Tanner cannot hide that he clearly wanted it to be the SoCal slice-of-life it is. Still, due diligence demanded that he study the market. “Absolutely not,” he says of bringing in an outsider. “My market study said that would probably be a negative. This is a ‘locals’ community. They know each other. They surf every morning together. In certain markets, it’s the thing to do. Here, the decision to not bring in anybody super-famous is better for the property.”—DL