Voice of Experience

F&B veteran Craig Reed shares some career wisdom from 40-plus years in the industry.

Craig Reed & Michael Costa
Reed (right) reflects on a dynamic career, with Hotel F&B’s Michael Costa.

Craig Reed describes himself as “the luckiest guy in the food and beverage industry,” even after 40-plus years in the business. He started his career as a dishwasher while attending the University of North Carolina in the early 1970s, eventually moving on to key F&B positions at renowned properties including Virginia’s Williamsburg Inn, the Greenbrier in West Virginia, and the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, where he has spent the last 25 years as director of F&B, and boasts Colorado’s only Five-Star, Five-Diamond restaurant, the Penrose Room.

Along the way, Reed won an International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) Silver Plate Award, the Colorado Restaurant Association’s Distinguished Service Award, and continues to serve on the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Board of Directors.

Reed has seen tremendous industry change over the course of his career, and here, he reflects on his accomplishments, lessons learned, and what issues the NRA is currently tackling.

Hotel F&B: You didn’t set out for a career in F&B. What was the path that took you there?

Reed: I had a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from UNC, but after graduating I went down to Florida to visit some friends for a few months and started cooking in a restaurant. The chef/owner of that restaurant became a mentor, and he trusted me—a 21-year old kid—with minding his restaurant. That meant a lot. It was a lesson I’ve carried my entire career, which is that this business is about building genuine relationships.

When I landed at the Williamsburg Inn in 1976, I had the opportunity to work with more great mentors such as James Miles and Rod Stoner, who eventually recruited me to the Greenbrier.

The Williamsburg Inn was a Five-Star property at the time. It meant the standards, quality of the staff, and quality of the guest were all high, and that really clicked for me. The culture was to challenge yourself and strive to improve. That’s been a philosophy of mine since then: work in a quality place, work with quality people, get better every day, and have fun doing it.

Hotel F&B: Which accomplishment in your career gives you the most pride?

Reed:  I’ve had many, but one that stands out is when the Penrose Room achieved its first AAA Five-Diamond Award in 2008 and its first Mobil (now Forbes) Five-Star Award in 2010. We closed the restaurant for renovations in late 2005, reopening the following spring, and during that downtime we set the goal of winning those awards by reevaluating every aspect of the restaurant in the front and back of the house.

The easy part was all the tangible things, such as making sure our linens and China were the highest quality, our glassware was Riedel, our flatware was silver-based, and our uniforms were stylish. So all the physical requirements of what a Five-Diamond, Five-Star rating would need were covered.

The next step was to hire a new chef, and we brought in Bertrand Bouquin (now the Broadmoor’s executive chef) from Maisonette in Cincinnati, which at the time was the longest-running Five-Star restaurant in the United States. With Bertrand, we felt like we could achieve the culinary piece of the equation, because Five-Star was his standard, and he had the experience and ability to take us there.

Finally, we elevated our training and steps of service so the front and back of the house were coordinated and working as one for every customer. In 2007, we missed the Five-Diamond Award by a half point. That really got us fired up.  We re-examined every single aspect of  our operation, focusing on consistency  for every guest, every course, every  meal, every day. We never took our eye off the ball, and it was intense because we knew the slightest detail could be that half point difference. All the hard work paid off with our first Five-Diamond Award in 2008.

Even if we never won a Five-Diamond or Five-Star Award at the  Penrose Room, we elevated every  single facet of the dining experience by chasing those goals, so our guests leave saying, “That was incredible.”

Hotel F&B: What are some innovations in the industry you’ve seen during your career?

Reed: It’s funny, one of my first thoughts was wine by the glass. It didn’t exist when I got into the business, and now it’s ubiquitous. When I managed the Golden Horseshoe at the Williamsburg Inn in 1976, we just had half and full bottles. Then Inglenook came out with those little 187 milliliter bottles, and I thought if we put them on the table with a descriptive collar around the neck, we could sell them as a single glass. That was something new at the time, and it took off with our customers.

Technology has also grown to be an integral part of running an F&B business. We as operators also need to be aware of what technology customers have at their disposal. Recently at the Broadmoor, one of our guests scanned a bottle of wine on the table with his phone and told us he thought the markup was reasonable. His app showed him what the bottle costs retail. That wasn’t even a consideration in the past.

Hotel F&B:  You’re on the NRA’s board of directors. What issues are currently affecting the industry?

Reed: Predictable scheduling is one. In San Francisco, there’s a law requiring employers to post their schedules two weeks in advance. If business is slow or your covers suddenly dropped, you’re basically paying your staff not to show up. These types of common sense issues are frustrating because they don’t take into consideration the razor-thin profit margins for many restaurants.

Menu labeling and obesity are also hot-button topics that make headlines, but rarely is there effort to define all sides of those issues. Try to understand that the majority of people in our industry want to serve healthy food, and we don’t want to make people sick. We want to grow our business, and the NRA will continue to be the voice lobbying for that growth.

Hotel F&B: What advice would you give someone starting a career in F&B?

Reed: A high level of commitment needs to be made. You need to have strong support around you, and your family needs to understand you’ll be working holidays, weekends, and nights. But it’s also an industry that gives back to you. It’s not a corporate job where you work harder than the next guy and you all get the same 3% raise every year. Your efforts will be recognized and rewarded. And as you move into management, strive to be a leader and not a ruler. Being a ruler might work for a short time, but true leadership lasts over many years. If you can lead your teams wherever you work, they will follow you, and your operations will be successful.

Michael Costa is VP of industry relations at Hotel F&B.

Craig Reed (right) discusses wine with Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher at the Broadmoor’s Taste & Savor event in March.