Hotel F&B Observer Blog

Hotel food and beverage professionals share experience, skills and commentary. These hotelier blogs reflect a variety of unique career perspectives and real-life workplace stories, observations and opinions.

Stay Tuned

What do you get when you challenge a foodie to create something outside of the box for an inside of the box kind of event? You get Gilligan’s Island, I Love Lucy, Kung Fu, Bonanza, Chips, Shirley & Laverne, Happy Days, Hawaii Five-0, and Green Acres.

When you enjoy a challenge, planning custom events can be exciting. Each one of the aforementioned classic TV shows channeled great food station, at the Wyndham Gettysburg hotel which proved to be a wonderful success for the Gettysburg Hospital Auxiliary Fundraiser this year.

Having previously worked with the client, I asked that they trust and allow me to provide something different. The client’s theme, a “Blast to the Past” gave the spark that ignited the fire.

Executive Sous Chef Andy Ernst and the Director of Banquets Gene Davis accepted the mission, and the three of us relived TV shows we enjoyed and produced food, service, and décor to heighten the experience. Read more of this >>

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A Pirate Gives Back

“Take what you can; give nothing back!” — a pirate toast

I was thinking of this quote over a beer in our lounge.

A few months back, San Diego did remarkably well in the World Beer Cup with several medals and one brewery taking the prize as small brewery of the year. Given the explosion of great quality, local beers I thought it was important that my little hotel get out in front of this swelling wave and we brought in brewers for tastings, eventually moving all our tap heads to the locals.

As we were tasting, I thought, “Wow, it might be fun to invite a bunch of these breweries and a bunch of chefs here to throw a beer and food shindig out in our garden area.” Just a simple thought, but that thought was enough to weaken my anti-pleasant immune system, and I found I had come down with a moderate case of philanthropy. Read more of this >>

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Headaches and Heartaches of a Grand Opening

We all know the problems associated with new hotel openings: staffing, training, opening inventories, F&B event scheduling, etc. Some of the best-laid plans, even at a five-star resort hotel, can go awry—particularly during grand openings.

As a hospitality consultant, I had a request to coordinate a wedding and reception at a soon-to-open, five-star resort hotel. I was to act as liaison between the wedding couple and the Catering Department at the hotel. However, repeated calls to the new property to schedule a meeting with the new Catering Director went unreturned. My next attempt was to phone the Catering Director at another affiliated property that was coordinating all special events and media schedules prior to the transfer to the new hotel. I retained all email communications as well as notations from my many phone calls and kept a comprehensive diary of activities I was to provide for my client. The affiliated hotel took my client’s information and I was told in no uncertain terms that absolutely no events would be booked at the new property prior to January 1st (the opening was scheduled for November 10th). I asked the hotel’s coordinator to contact me should anything change; she assured me that she would.

A few months later, after booking an alternate venue, my clients and I learned that the hotel was, indeed, booking events prior to January 1; in fact, their first event was scheduled for December 15th—my client’s wedding date. We were never contacted.

Upon learning of this inconsistency, I phoned the General Manager of the new property to inquire what became of our original request to be notified of any changes respecting scheduling of events. I indicated that I had spoken with the Catering Director at one of their other properties which had been set up to coordinate any future special events to be conducted at the new property. The GM was very aloof and offered no consideration to my clients. The excuse given was simplistic and insincere, even after noting that I had scheduled a rehearsal dinner for 30 people in their fine dining room as well as reservations for the couple for their wedding night. It appeared to me their attitude was cavalier and unprofessional.

As an example of the hotel’s poor service standards, they neglected to provide a copy of the rehearsal dinner menu in advance for my client’s review, as was requested when we met in person. The hotel’s Catering Department was also to produce individual menus to be set at each place setting–this also was omitted. My clients had also requested that the wine be opened as needed, instead ALL bottles were opened and my clients were charged for two full cases when, in fact, only 14 bottles were consumed.

Our preliminary meeting with the Executive Chef and the Assistant Catering Director was detailed and included notification of certain ingredients not to be used for the entrée service, due to my client’s allergies. This, too, was neglected. I expected that the submission of my written folio (signed off by me) containing all our dinner requirements would be sufficient guidance for the Chef and staff to manage accordingly.

It would be simplistic to say that the contract from the Catering Department should have been previewed by all parties to ensure all the details were covered and transferred from my folio of directives. We had every indication that the Catering personnel would have followed their own instructions set to their contract and our own expectations from this high-end hotel were not without merit. In order to be precise about my client’s requirements, I had provided a CD containing the same information for the hotel’s guidance. It appears that select sections were either inadvertently omitted or perhaps not deemed consistent with hotel policy.

Even a modified contract for F&B services did not clearly stipulate the who, what, where and when of the specifics involved for our event. I had worked with many hotel banquet services before and had found that even with the best-laid plans and intensions, omission of details and follow-up reporting were typically at the crux of problematic issues. No matter whether fault was found with the service provider or with the client, mutuality of owning the problem seems to be the more relevant solution when dealing with such experiences, and everyone becomes more vigilant on future arrangements. As a matter of fact, I have brought in additional new business to this same hotel knowing that they have fine-tuned their in-house operating procedures and, more importantly, their public relations efforts. I can now have a predictable and engaging experience with the business I bring forward. However, I would always stipulate to check (and) double-check everything that is in writing. You owe it to yourself and your clients.

Miscommunications can and do happen, even at the five-star level.

I know many of you run into this all the time. I welcome receiving your feedback regarding your own experiences, in particular with how you take care of all the details and communications with planners and consultants. As a consultant/planner myself I have had the benefit of planning many corporate-level events within a hotel setting and always received an appreciative response from the in-house catering coordinator – we always found ways and means from which we could negotiate a contract that was mutually beneficial to all parties involved. However, from the standpoint of the hotel’s position – do you feel that, generally, consultants and planners are too demanding? What could we do to work better with you?

I look forward to reading your comments and, most importantly, advice for what REALLY works in your establishment.

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My New Year’s Resolution Request

While I don’t know what the future holds for the hospitality industry, I do know that an introspective glance back never hurts as you make plans and promises for the coming year. I grew up at a time when in grade school we practiced crawling under our desks as a preventative measure against a nuclear war. My parents cried for joy when I was vaccinated against Polio. I came of age with 8-track tapes and still enjoy Zagnut candy bars. If it doesn’t test your mettle to hear from someone who has crested fifty years in life, read on!

I started working for my first restaurant when I was fifteen years old and was glad to have found a part time job. The daily challenge of providing food and drink to an unknown number of patrons and making a business out of transforming strangers into regulars had an allure for me that continues to this day. It suited me and I stayed.

Now when I say ‘suited,’ do not mistake that for a belief that I had some sort of a special gift. I am not a famous chef, but instead I grew into the role of manager because I had a knack — a knack for thinking, talking and doing. Subsequently, I led and managed places of my own, as well as places for other folks of all sizes and styles: restaurants, taverns, nightclubs, casual service, quick-service, fast-service, entertainment complexes, single units, multiple units, local, national and U.S. government-owned.

As is likely the case for many of you, I am visited by ghosts of the past during this time of the year. They weave and wisp through my mind reminding me of where I have come from and how rocky that road has been. Just imagine…when I started out in this industry there weren’t any POS systems or computers in the office and people blew their cigarette smoke right in your face every chance they had; I watched as red meat was frightened out of fashion, then back in, out again, in; Disco (the music and the lifestyle) self-emolliated before my eyes (and rightly so); I made some money when Country music galloped into the city and lost some when sports became a 24/7 fixation; and I flirted around the abyss of addictions that vanished many of my friends with the slow efficiency of a hand crank meat grinder.

Read more of this >>

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Gaze Into My Crystal Ball

Somewhere between the third and the (always a mistake) fourth Manhattan over the holidays, I found myself in a transcendental trance that ripped the very fabric of the space-time continuum. I was able to look deeply into my past, a relatively mistake-laden era and also see off into the future. Since I like to keep my own future a mystery to me, I looked into our collective future. Here are the fearless predictions for 2010.

January: In an effort to “start the new year right,” new marketing campaigns will hit the ground running, extolling the glories of “new service, new low rates, and free breakfast and/or lunch and/or dinner.” These campaigns will cost a combined $4.5 million. Occupancy increases by 1.75% and net additional profits will total $17.53. Sales and Marketing people deem the effort a complete success. Most chefs shake their heads and mutter something profane under their breaths.

February 2010: Most F&B folks are beginning to ponder things in their operations since cutbacks have forced many managers into doing more day-to-day functions. Questions pop up like: Why do we need all that liquor on a banquet bar? Why do I have dark and light crème de cacao on that same banquet bar? Green and white crème de menthe, are you kidding me? How many grasshoppers are we serving? If I sell approximately 50 bottles of wine a month, do I really need a fifty-bottle wine list? Streamlining happens in a big way. Spring menus start to get written. F&B people realize that, yes, the capital plan was approved and, no, we’re not getting squat.

March 2010: The government declares the recession is indeed over. There is much rejoicing. Relishing the news, most hotels tell their owners they’ll only miss GOP by 15% for the quarter. The owners are less than thrilled. A steady increase of high quality, in-house coffee products is seen in the form of kiosks and cafes, since we finally figured out the $8 dollar venti-soy-latte-cappa-frappa-no-whip-half-skim craze isn’t going away. Starbucks Corporation reportedly says, “Well, duh.”

April 2010: Most hotels realize there are three or four places in town that are known for doing Easter brunch really well. So they let them do it and save a ton of labor and product cost. Spending money wisely continues. Servers and cooks who have been saving really good, albeit phony, excuses for why they need the day off are understandably disappointed. Fans of Arbor Day fear their hopes of a glorious buffet are doomed. In sports news, with the 2010 season just weeks old, the Pittsburgh Pirates are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.

May 2010: Another sign of economic recovery appears. Brides who once had $45 dollars per person to spend are now coming in with a budget of $46.50. Congress hails this as a “return to the boom time.” Also, due to swift movement on the healthcare reform bill, each employee who is injured on the job will now receive $1.8 million dollars. This entitles them to a three-hour stay at the emergency room, ten minutes in front of an actual doctor, 200 mg of ibuprofen, and a SpongeBob SquarePants Band-Aid.

June 2010: Lady GaGa eats a caper and claims, “It was salty.” Every news organization in the country picks up the story. The beef industry raises prices due to “recent events in the news” and, oddly, no one seems to notice that cows and capers have nothing to do with each other. Thousands of watermelons are then recalled but mostly because watermelons feel they could use the press.

July 2010: A hotel in California has created an ultra-high-end, organic, triple-filtered frozen fruit juice that is placed on a stick-like serving device. The Kardashians become fans and the price rises to $13 a piece. Several trade publications pick up the story. Most everyone in the Midwest eating a popsicle thinks most everyone in California is nuts. Attempting to cash in a growing nostalgia market and get adults to relive their childhoods, Coca-Cola announces that Dasani water will now taste like “the hose” for just under $8 a bottle.

August 2010: The GM announces it’s not too early to think about next year’s budget. Otherwise, it’s hot and miserable. No real holidays exist. Group business is down. No real point to August, so let’s just skip it.

September 2010: Catering managers around the country wonder when the 2010 holiday menus are going to be out since they’re getting “lots of calls.” They will send this request for 15 straight days. These calls will abruptly stop on September 16th. At this point, all inquiries will be to use last year’s menus at last year’s prices because “the clients really liked it.” Chefs all over the country are treated for head trauma from banging their heads against their desks.

October 2010: All catering departments announce that sales for holiday parties are drastically down. In an effort to add some spark to this trend, ads will be placed in all local media. These ads will cost a combined $500,000. Holiday party business increases by 1.75% and net additional profits will total $17.53. Sales and Marketing people deem the effort a complete success. F&B operations begin to tighten their belts since “we don’t want to blow the year in these last two months.”

November 2010: With the holidays looming, on-call servers who have bugged you for additional shifts for 42 straight weeks will suddenly fall off the face of the earth, and you are now understaffed. Sensing we’re being fiscally conservative, every piece of equipment that has been limping along for ten months will suddenly break. The banquet department will suddenly announce, “We don’t have enough plates/teaspoons/Champagne flutes,” etc. Even though you asked and were given 100% assurance that “We have you taken care of,” your purveyors will suddenly be completely out of something from your holiday menus, both this year’s and last.

December 2010: Proclaims that if 2011 is as tough as 2010, you’re going to quit the business and do something else because you’re sick of this. Have it pointed out that you said the same thing at the end of both ’08 and ’09. Consider firing the pointer-outer, have a cocktail, and realize you love it no matter what…

Happy New Year and a successful 2010 to all!

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Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

How are you? How are the reindeer? I was going to send you an e-mail with my list, but Mom says this is more personal, and I want you to know it’s from my heart. I may suffer from unbridled holiday avarice, but at least I’m sincere. (Not that it should factor into what is delivered…but have you lost weight?)

I’ve been very good this year. Okay, good might be a stretch, at least when accompanied by “very.” Personally, I’ve tried to be a good husband, friend, and father. I think that I’ve done okay there, but you’ll have to check with the others on your list to be sure. Professionally, it’s another story.

I am, after all, in the hospitality industry, and we have had a good and bad year. I’ve been good at doing more with less: less revenue, less hours for my cooks, less of an opportunity to do many of the truly fun things in the business of Culinary Piracy such as wine dinners, educational trips, etc.

Managing in a recession, which has become squeezing orange juice from a brick, can only help make me a better manager and that has got to be considered good, I think. By the way, I know the phrase is blood from a turnip, but I don’t like turnips and seeing a bloody one would just be kind of gross.

I’ve been bad because we’ve been bad. We’re losing money every month. I may have become a savings and money management machine, but I haven’t been within spitting distance of budgeted revenue even though much of that is out of my control. I may like to thump my chest about how great I am and how delightfully evil the sales and catering department is, but as they say in Backdraft, “If you go, we go.” My ability, and the ability of my restaurant and banquet managers, to manage costs simply means we suck less. I don’t have to tell you, Mr. Kringle, that phrase is never making a t-shirt or one of those cool motivational posters. (By the way, I’m thinking of copyrighting the phrase, so keep your corporate paws off.)

So, let’s call this year a push.

Since the great gift grab is seemingly about competition with the whole naughty/nice thing, I would think I’m entitled to a few requests. Since I’m neither an executive member of the banking, home loan, automotive, or insurance industries, nor am I a member of congress, I like my chances.

I want the economy to recover. Not only for all the folks who have taken a beating over the last few years, but because my industry depends on it. People need money to spend, and we need them to travel and spend. I want us all to be able to stand proud with our products and services and not have to automatically reach into the bag of discounts with every single phone call. I promise to do solid, highly thought-out, flavorful menus with the very best ingredients I can afford. The more money I can spend, the easier that is. Tell you what…fix the economy and we’ll figure the rest of it out. No? Well alrighty then…

I want my sales team to understand that I understand RevPAR, CPOR, and how the numbers for the STAR report are derived. I started to learn all these things when my personal financial success started to be tied into GOP (for those of Chef types who don’t know these acronyms, get on board, as they are WAY important). I can read a P&L. However, the vast majority of you don’t have any idea what it costs to do what I do, nor do you have any inclination to learn about it. So Santa, I’d like for them to think of F&B as a revenue maximizer rather than a necessary evil to be processed and discounted. Protect my budget like you protect your room rate.

I want my cooks to care, and I mean really care, about the work that they do. I want them to pass over “good enough.” I want them to work clean, safe, and at the top of their game everyday. I want them to label and date as a rule without me telling them to do it, to rotate their product faithfully, and to not play the oldest game in the book of day shift versus night shift. I know much of all that is my responsibility, but I can’t teach “want to.”

I wouldn’t mind a Red Rider BB gun at the risk of shooting my eye out.

I want my purveyors to continue to send me push lists so I can uncover hidden gems in the products they’re trying to get rid of. Pork shanks for $1.99 a pound? Why, yes, I’ll have some. I want them to realize I do my best to NOT run them around due to my lack of organization. I also want them to realize that in the big scheme of things, they work for me. When I call, you answer the phone. When I say “I need,” you go and get. I’m fine with you winning your sales incentive trip to Greece on my business…congratulations, you’ve earned it…but in knowing that I’ll not be nickel and dimed.

I want peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Run that by your legal department and see what they think. Generally, the cost on both is fairly small but the buy-in is pretty steep.

I’d like all the talented F&B folks who got bumped, displaced, laid off, canned, or cast out as a cost-cutting measure to be able to get back into the industry they love. We need their talent and passion in our industry. Also, my jolly fat man, for those who were pushed out not only as a cost savings but because it was a good excuse to cut ties with the untalented and uninspired, I’d like for them to keep walking and not take up our time, energy, and space anymore.

So, Santa, there it is. Do whatever you can for me and my industry…lots of us are really counting on it. If none of this is possible, do you think we could just settle on everyone being happy and healthy and have an elf scare me up a cocktail?

Stop in if you’re in the area, I’ll get you a good room rate. Send my love to the missus. Oh by the way…Happy Holidays.


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The Year of the Ox

Chinese New Year is based upon the sun, the moon, and Jupiter’s system of cycles. The year tracks to lunar phases, therefore the New Year can fall between late January and the end of February. The “great year” is actually 12 lunar years and represents the time it takes Jupiter to orbit the sun. These 12 years are most commonly known as the Chinese Zodiac, with each year represented by an animal from Chinese Folklore.

Known in China as Spring Festival and sometimes called the Lunar New Year, especially by people outside China, it is the most important of the Chinese holidays. The festival traditionally begins on the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th, a day known as the Lantern Festival.

Celebrated in areas with large populations of ethnic Chinese, Chinese New Year is considered a major holiday and has had influence on the new year celebrations of its geographic neighbors, as well as cultures with whom the Chinese have had extensive interaction.

Given the significance of the holiday, here are some opportunities to incorporate Chinese New Year themes into catering and special events:

  • Decorate your venue with paper lanterns, red dragons, and Chinese characters. Turn the lights down and use the lanterns for illumination.
  • Have everyone wear red! In Asian culture, red symbolizes good luck and is the traditional color for the celebration.
  • Play games. Tradition has it that party-goers stay up all night and play cards or board games.
  • Give away Asian-themed prizes and gift certificates to the local favorite Asian restaurant.
  • Have a Feng Shui expert give a presentation to educate attendees.
  • Hold a reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve. The New Year’s Eve dinner is very sumptuous and traditionally includes chicken and fish. In some areas, fish is included but not eaten completely and the remainder is stored overnight, per the Chinese phrase “may there be surpluses every year.”
  • What year are you born? Have fun at your Asian New Years Celebration and read each party-goer’s Chinese Zodiac personality traits and compare to your observations.

Animal Dates

Ox: January 26, 2009
Tiger: February 14, 2010
Rabbit: February 3, 2011
Dragon: January 23, 2012
Snake: February 10, 2013
Horse: January 31, 2014
Sheep: February 19, 2015
Monkey: February 8, 2016
Rooster: January 28, 2017
Dog: February 16, 2018
Pig: February 5, 2019
Rat: February 7, 2020

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