Training, quality among ingredients for culinary success


CHARLESTON, SC—Food and beverage is an important guest amenity—and one that can be a key revenue driver. Hotel Business spoke with Jim Sichta, VP of operations with Charlestowne Hotels, about running these operations effectively. From hiring smart, to proper training techniques, to purchasing quality ingredients and listening to guests, these are some strategies that can lead to successful—and profitable—operations.

How important is it for operators to not only offer F&B programs, but to make sure they are run efficiently? As food and beverage programs present a unique opportunity for hotels to drive revenue, it’s crucial for hoteliers to ensure they are run efficiently and effectively, especially if they seek to remain competitive within this functional area. Every F&B outlet is different, but it will be successful if it’s designed correctly from menu to team. You want your hotel F&B to be the best amenity it can be in order to substantiate average rate and increase room sales.

What are some of the ways operators can ensure that they succeed? First and foremost, hoteliers must be willing to invest in human capital and program development for optimal success. Such an investment is critical in driving overall asset value, not only because F&B revenues increase, but also because hoteliers can leverage F&B to position a property within its market and drive revenues in the rooms division.

Simple strategies can also be implemented to pave the road to F&B success (even when dealing with limited resources, minimal margins and fast currents of culinary trends). For example, I advise not to wait until financial statements come out on the 15th of the month to really take note of what’s going on because by then, it’s too late. When you’re proactive, you’re profitable, so take advantage of the opportunity to address your revenue and expenses in the month, for the month, and correct any issues immediately.

What can be done in terms of hiring and training to maintain a positive food and beverage experience for guests? I can’t stress enough how much care should go into hiring a strong F&B staff. Oftentimes, hoteliers will simply hire warm bodies for F&B positions, but they do so at great risk. You need to take as much care as you do with hiring the rest of the team in order for your F&B outlet to thrive. Likewise, many hoteliers will hire a one-dimensional F&B director with no front-of-house experience or no kitchen experience. A great F&B director needs to be well rounded in all F&B operations if he or she is going to lead the team to success.

After you have your team in place, proper training is critical to a positive food and beverage experience for guests. When proper training isn’t forethought, bad habits are learned and become part of the team culture. It’s not enough for new employees to simply mirror established employees. That’s a poor practice because it can never ensure proper training. A lack of training translates to higher turnover, higher operational cost, lower employee morale and a diminished guest experience.

What about the food offered and its quality? Today’s consumers demand quality products and pay attention to what they’re putting into their bodies, as well as where it came from. While quality food items certainly can cost more, skimping in this area will cost more in the long run if unhappy customers never return. Understand that pricing on food can fluctuate daily, so strategize for it, but never cheapen the product in the process.

How does room service come into play? Room service can be profitable if it’s done right. For instance, we’ve noticed that the days of three-meal room service are now gone. I would recommend only offering room service during the meal times that most guests demand, namely breakfast and late-night menus. Don’t ever offer the full restaurant menu—instead develop a room service menu featuring items that are easy to prepare and transport, and that hold temperature well. Someone should also be dedicated to answering the phone for room service requests; this task should not fall on a front-desk associate. The same goes for food delivery. Remember, because you are not offering room service all day, there is no need to staff the service 24/7. The room service team also needs to check hallways for dirty trays, which promote pests and leave an unsightly negative impression of a dirty hotel.

How important is the way employees present themselves to guests? How important is it to have a consistent style of uniform? With so many moving parts in the F&B industry, the entire team needs to be on the same page—from a consistent and clean style of uniform to the daily menu specials. Daily team meetings ahead of service are crucial and often overlooked in the F&B space, but they are important for team cohesiveness and morale. Communication about the menu and any changes or specials, along with upselling opportunities, should be discussed during this time. Uniform and appearance should be checked. Reservations, special groups and VIPs should be reviewed as well, to ensure the team has a complete understanding of the day’s activity.

How about gathering feedback from guests? What are some of the best ways to do that—and respond to the feedback you receive? It’s important to solicit and genuinely listen to guests’ feedback; otherwise, they will respond by taking their business elsewhere. You are catering to these guests, and if something isn’t working for them, you need to listen to their feedback and make the necessary changes. Understanding guest feedback comes from understanding and excelling in guest service, which is managed with consistent employee trainings and understanding the F&B menu.

Servers need to taste every menu item and be well versed in the culinary and beverage offerings. Your guests will inevitably have questions about the menu, and servers need to be able to answer those questions quickly and effectively. Staff won’t be able to answer honestly without having firsthand experience with the menu, nor can they make upsell suggestions that will generate more revenue. HB