Baha Mar's Hard-Earned Strategies for Hotel Hiring and Culture Creation (With Conch Salad Video)
Staffing smarts propel new-build Hyatt resort, but it's been a long time in the making.
(Bonus: Baha Mar Conch Salad Demo Video)
Perhaps lost in the decade-long saga of Baha Mar in the Bahamas—which officially opened in April 2017 after starting in 2008—is the enormous effort by Hyatt to train more than 1,200 Bahamian staff to work at Grand Hyatt Baha Mar (GHBM), many with little or no previous hospitality experience but with the desire to learn.
“My philosophy is to hire for the heart and train for the brain, because you can’t teach people to be nice, which is crucial in the hospitality industry,” says Danny Wells, F&B director at GHBM. “We’ve gone through a few trials and tribulations since opening last year, but now we’ve got a great core staff to build on.”
Baha Mar’s narrative is well known to hoteliers, but the abbreviated version goes something like this: renderings for the original $2.6 billion, six-resort, mixed-use Baha Mar complex on Nassau’s Cable Beach were unveiled in 2008, anchored by Harrah’s/Caesars Palace (this writer was present for that unveiling in Nassau) followed by a series of financing, construction, and ownership changes, which kept the ever-changing resort in limbo (with a near-opening in 2015) until it officially opened in April, 2017—anchored by Grand Hyatt and flanked by Rosewood and SLS, to comprise a $4.2 billion, three-resort property.
Of the 1,300 employees at GHBM, about 80 are expats, and within the 550-person F&B department, about 45 are expats. So the overall Bahamian workforce at GHBM is approximately 94%, with 92% in F&B. For many, this is their first job in the industry.
As Wells mentioned earlier, hiring friendly people eager to learn is essential for any F&B department to succeed, and Wells, along with Executive Chef Brent Martin, have put a series of foundational pillars in place at GHBM that emphasize continued education to advance the hospitality careers of their staff, along with numerous programs to show appreciation and build brand loyalty to Hyatt.
GHBM currently has 20 bars, restaurants, food trucks, and other F&B venues, including fine-dining Chinese (Shuang Ba), coastal seafood (3 Tides), French-inspired coffee, light bites, and pastries (Café Madeleine), Mexican street food (El Jefe food truck on the beach), global market (Regatta Food Hall), and much more. Since the average stay at Baha Mar is 4.5 days, it’s important to have as much variety as possible in F&B.
While most GHBM F&B staff grew up cooking and/or eating Bahamian/island cuisine (which is also represented on GHBM’s menus), many haven’t seen or tasted dishes more familiar to American tourists, which make up the majority of guests at Baha Mar. As a result, Martin organizes food shows as a core training tenet to familiarize staff palates to a number of flavors and textures, while raising awareness of the myriad food allergies customers bring to the table today.
“We showcase a lot of unique products they’ve never seen on the island. The food show is not just for cooks, but also front-of-the-house waitstaff who may have never seen asparagus before, or eaten a medium-rare steak, for example,” Martin says. “So for them, the cooking and service techniques are new, and we’re giving them hands-on practice with those products. It’s a great learning experience and helps to build our foundation in F&B.”
As the ongoing staffing crisis throughout the F&B industry continues regardless of location, an effective method employed by GHBM is to recognize a job well done, and offer an array of amenities, helping to build brand loyalty and retain top talent. This means a large, modern employee cafeteria that could almost double as another F&B venue, an onsite infirmary and pharmacy, an employee-only spa and beauty salon, a staff ATM, an employee-only grocery/convenience store with below-discount prices, and a number of “fun” activities based on success as a team or individual accolades via guest feedback for superior customer service.
“If someone gets positive comments from a guest, or they’ve been nominated by their manager for a standout effort, they’re entered into a Big Wheel race that we have in the employee concourse under the hotel, and winners can receive $100 or more,” notes Martin. “We work in a stressful environment, so we need to have fun and get satisfaction out of it rather than just being a job.”
Wells adds that “we’ve done water balloon tosses, had a carnival dunk tank set up for employees, and we’ll have BBQs if we’ve had a particularly successful week or month. I also do something called Danny Dollars, so if a team member gets mentioned on a comment card or one of our surveys, I’ll give them $10 they can redeem at one of our restaurants or our employee stores. We try to do little things like that, because they want to improve and get their names mentioned by guests, so it inspires good service. Overall, we have a fun, inclusive environment in F&B that brings a little loyalty to our brand.”
Another area of incentivization is tips. GHBM has a built-in gratuity for each guest check, which is pooled and divided among staff depending on the number of hours worked. But each customer has the option to leave an additional tip if service was exceptional, and the individual employee takes home all of that money.
For F&B staff looking to further their careers in hospitality, GHBM offers several discounted online classes under the My Learning program, which can range from basic computer skills to eCornell Hospitality Certificate courses. “It really opens their eyes to what business is like, especially in North America and around the world, and it’s been a great tool for our team members that have the drive and initiative to move ahead in this industry. They realize this is a good career and they can provide for their families too,” Wells says.
When the resort is less busy in August and September, Martin schedules training courses such as ServSafe to help staff sharpen their industry knowledge. Overall, Martin says “This resort couldn’t run without Bahamian talent. The goal over the next few years is to train our Bahamian staff to take on more responsibility, and send them out to other Hyatt properties to be exposed to different cuisines, cooking techniques, and just overall hospitality. In the future, we hope our current team members will be running this beautiful resort, so we want to give them every opportunity to succeed.”
Watch Grand Hyatt Baha Mar’s Calvin Rahming make conch salad from shell-to-spoon at the resort’s outdoor Conch Shack.
This feature originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Hotel F&B and is one of our Reader Favorites. It is updated regularly.