Hotel F&B Magazine
Fruit For Thought
Sonesta Maho Beach cuts a fresh path to pleasing guests with reimagined buffet presentation.
By Howard Riell

Sonest Maho Beach fruit buffet
In revamping a staid buffet presentation, Rowe took advantage of some glass tabletops and blocks she found sitting unused in boxes, turning them into decorative display units, and replaced canned fruit with fresh product. Because most guests have breakfast, which is included in their package, direct revenue hasn’t increased, but guest satisfaction has seen a boost.

Sonesta Maho Beach
No longer relegated to a corner, coming forth only to refill trays, staff members now take an active role in service at the fruit station. “It rejuvenated the staff, and the customers were blown away,” says Sonesta Senior VP of F&B Kathy Rowe.

The Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten in the Netherlands Antilles has updated and improved its breakfast buffet by combining creativity, personality, and ingenuity with elements it already had. Kathy Rowe, Sonesta’s senior VP of F&B, put together some broken marble tiles and leftover glass tabletops and blocks—along with a passion for fresh food, customer service, and some exciting displays—to both delight guests and reinvigorate staffers at the at the 534-room property.

“I had to work with what we had,” Rowe, a 23-year Sonesta veteran, recalls of her impression when she visited the resort to assess the restaurant, which was essentially a buffet concept. “I couldn’t spend any money. I had to find the equipment within the property and get it cleaned up. I looked at this buffet for a couple of days and thought, ‘What am I going to do? How am I going to fix this? We don’t have any money to spend; I don’t have the tools.’”

What Rowe saw when she arrived in St. Maarten was a simple pair of lines for hot and cold food and standard pan inserts. The cold side held cantaloupe, honeydew, canned peaches, and canned pears. “There was no garnish. There was nothing,” she says. “They were using the equipment they had to use. The omelet station was set up to be functional, but it was almost as if you were walking into the kitchen. It was very boring.”

The cold food was cold, the hot food was hot, staff followed sanitation codes and procedures, and the food was good, Rowe recalls. But neither the food nor the presentation was great. So Rowe took advantage of some glass tabletops and Eisenhower glass blocks—she likens them to ice cubes—she found sitting unused in boxes, turning them into decorative display units. She also uncovered some broken, leftover marble tiles in the garage and turned them into bakery display units, arranged at various heights to counter the linear look.

Then she got rid of the canned fruit, replacing it with fresh product, and created a fruit station. Rowe met with the staffer who had until then been charged with slicing fruit and mixing it with canned fruit, refilling the buffet pans in the old display, and then disappearing to the back of the house. “He was already an expert in cutting fruit,” says Rowe, who asked him if he would like to stand at a fruit station, interacting with the guests rather than standing in a corner. He enthusiastically embraced the role, she says.

Results were immediate, says Rowe. “It rejuvenated the staff, and the customers were blown away. Fruit tastes better when it’s just been cut. I would say nine out of 10 customers commented [favorably].”

Rowe knew revenue wouldn’t change, though, because breakfast is included in the package price. “Breakfast and dinner are included, so it’s not like we’re trying to upsell,” she says. “Sometimes you’re not looking at the financial piece, you’re looking to give the guest a better experience.”

“They’re great changes,” says Rabin Ortiz, the resort’s general manager. “Breakfast is our most important meal at the resort. Fully 92 or 93 percent of our guests have it. This is a perfect way for them to start the day.”

What Rowe has done in implementing these changes, Ortiz suggests, has been to “help bring part of the inside of the kitchen to the outside of the kitchen, which is so fashionable these days. People like to see action stations and select what they like. So instead of just having a fruit plate, people are now able to choose which fruit and even which pieces of fruit they want to have.”

Howard Riell is a veteran editor who has written for nearly 140 business and consumer magazines, blogs, newspapers, and newsletters. He is based in Las Vegas.

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