F&B INNOVATIONS SPECIAL: If Your Daughter Can’t Get Married in Bukhara, Get Bukhara to Her Wedding
From re-creating restaurants at weddings to reviving lost recipes, or even pampering guests with turn-down cocktails, five-star hotels are doing everything innovative to connect better with guests and retain their loyalty in a competitive market. Senior executives share their F&B innovations and paradigm-changing technological tools in this special feature first published in BW Hotelier .
TEJINDER SINGH, Resident Manager, ITC Maurya, New Delhi
“Your value proposition should be such that private caterers would find it impossible to replicate”
Most hotels and private caterers have mastered the art of laying out lavish buffets with innumerable live counters and multi-cuisine spreads at outdoor catering assignments. It is common in weddings to find a 10/12-page menu or one with 300 dishes or even more sometimes. This has now been done over and over again, so the idea has lost its novelty. Independent caterers, moreover, have a clear advantage in this segment because they can offer very competitive prices mainly by ‘managing’ the tax component, which a reputed company cannot do.
Our challenge therefore was to do something completely out of the box that the competition would find impossible to replicate. We were also confident that our clientele is prepared to pay top bucks for a value proposition. Our F&B team led by Prashant Gupta therefore came up with the idea of setting up one of the four immensely popular branded restaurants of ITC Hotels – namely, Bukhara, Dakshin, Dum Pukht and Royal Vega – depending on the choice of the host, at an outdoor catering venue. The restaurants function just like they would in the hotel and the guests can order their favourite dishes a la carte, which is not easy to cater for at a Big Fat Indian Wedding.
In other words, if you can’t have a wedding at Bukhara, you can always get Bukhara to your daughter’s nuptials. These are initial days yet, but people have loved this idea and we have already started getting repeat orders. This, we can say with confidence, is an idea that no hotel or private caterer has attempted to implement anywhere else in the country.
SATYAJEET KRISHNAN, General Manager, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi
“We take great pride in being a hotel that values guest feedback as an important tool to stay relevant”
As an iconic hotel that has stood the test of time for more than three decades, it has been the constant endeavor of The Taj Mahal Hotel to evolve and innovate to meet the changing demands of our guests without losing our authenticity and essence. In the critical area of menu engineering, authenticity and innovation have been our buzz words.
Some of our key innovations have played around the big revival of vegetarianism, seasonality and healthy eating. Some of our recent offers that have got us kudos from our patrons are unique food and beverage pairings. We have introduced the idea of food pairings with exotic teas, for instance. We also regularly offer regional and international cuisines through food festivals or the chef’s table: Argentinian cuisine and delicacies from Coorg have been very popular in the past.
On the critical matter of revenue maximisation, we believe that the key to growth lies in selling the right product at the right time to the right customer. The principles of revenue management remain the same, but we are better equipped now with modern techniques and tools such as the revenue management software, customer relationship management (CRM) data and market metrics on competitor pricing, and so on. These tools help us take sharper, timelier decisions.
Also, with the growing influence of online and mobile channels in the distribution environment, and the contribution of the social media in influencing travel decisions, revenue maximisation is now a targeted approach based on seasonality, market segmentation, geo-nationality mix, and so on. These factors are taken into account whenever we introduce special packages with innovative offerings to enhance guest engagement in the social and digital marketing space.
Our banquet sales have benefited greatly because of our unmatched location replete with indoor and outdoor options, but we cannot afford to rest only on these advantages. We believe we now provide a unique offering to suit the needs of those who book our banquet spaces. We offer them back-end software, customised event planning services, dedicated catering sales representative, high degree of engagement with the chef, entertainment and ambience detailing, and high service orientation. This 360-degree approach to banquet sales has greatly enhanced the value of our inherent advantages.
PARVEEN CHANDER KUMAR, General Manager, Taj Land’s End, Mumbai
“We have turned around the tradition of turndown goodies by giving you a new F&B experience before you go to sleep”
At Taj Land’s End, the process of innovation just doesn’t stop, and it keeps showing up in the array of new offerings we line up for our guests. Our most recent introductions was the microbrewery at the Atrium Lounge, which now produces three popular ‘Heat Chasers’: White Zen, Doppelganger and Lost Monday. This followed our tie-up with Fratelli to produce the Taj Land’s End Reserve, a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, created exclusively with its own unique branding for the hotel. The Atrium Bar & Lounge also has some of the rarest whiskies – a part of our Whisky Trails collection, these have become hugely attractive because of their competitive pricing. We have our exclusive house liqueurs as well. One of these is Limoncello, the popular southern Italian ‘digestivo’. We also have a variant named Arancello made with Sicilian blood red oranges.
Chocolates have been the traditional turndown goodies, but we have re-defined the tradition by giving you an entirely new F&B experience before you go to sleep, provided you have checked in to one of our Taj Club Lounge rooms. Our line-up of these hearty sleep inducers includes: Coffee Correto (espresso ‘corrected’ with a shot of grappa); Masala Milk; Classic GinTo (Gin and Tonic); Espresso Martini; Kumquat Scented Eau de Vie (cognac infused with kumquat peel); and Bombay Sundowner (Bombay Sapphire gin with watermelon juice). Guests at Taj Land’s End must certainly be sleeping tight!
RAVITEJ NATH, Executive Chef, The Oberoi, Gurgaon
“My culinary mantra is simple – home-grown herbs and vegetables, hand-pounded masalas, fresh as opposed to frozen ingredients”
Chef Ravitej Nath is no stranger to new ideas. He pioneered the idea of ‘Bay to Plate in Eight Hours’ at Delhi-NCR’s first seafood-only restaurant, the multiple award-winning Amaranta. He also lifted the idea of healthy cuisine to another level by introducing a ‘Eat Healthy’ menu at the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant, threesixtyone°, where every appetiser has less than 150 calories and no main course item has more than 300, yet they taste just the same as the original dishes.
His most important contribution, though, has been to develop the idea of ‘Rivaayat’ (revival of old recipes), conceived by The Oberoi Group’s President, Kapil Chopra, and to lead, together with his colleagues Rohit Gambhir and Parvinder Bali, the hotel chain’s chefs in a national effort not attempted by any other group – that is, to work with traditional ‘home cooks’ and standardise the recipes of their best-known dishes. A passionate practitioner of Indian cooking, Chef Ravitej has kick-started a movement that will not only lead to the development of an archives of rare recipes, but also lend variety to the offerings of Indian restaurants. “It is all about innovating, creating and offering guests something new to try when they come in,” says the chef.
The executive chef’s other passion is sourcing and promoting organic food. He has liaised directly with farmers to bring organic produce to The Oberoi, Gurgaon, by working around road bumps such as erratic supplies, introducing innovative payment cycles and providing logistical support. “My culinary mantra is simple – home-grown herbs and vegetables, hand-pounded masalas, fresh as opposed to frozen ingredients,” says the chef. “I follow this philosophy to the core and encourage young chefs to do the same.”
RANJAN BANERJEE, General Manager, Crowne Plaza New Delhi Rohini
“Banquets generate a significant chunk of revenues in our hotel, so we are constantly innovating in this area”
From introducing chocolates dusted with 22-carat gold to serving dal and paneer, the most popular vegetarian items at any banquet, to the guests at their table, and introducing a live seafood ‘market’ at the all-day dining restaurant, Mosaic, we are constantly exploring new ideas to enhance the quality and depth of our food and beverage offerings.
We have introduced an exclusive buffet for children at Mosaic, non-alcoholic wines at the poolside, and customised minibars for groups and long-staying guests. For our resident guests, we have introduced the well-received tradition of ‘Table for One’, which enables such guests to order a variety of items from the Mosaic buffet and enjoy them in the comfort of their rooms at a fixed price. Such gestures greatly enhance our guest engagement, even as we leave nothing to chance in our efforts to deliver quality and consistency.
One of our most successful technological innovations has been to produce popular tandoori starters such as chicken and paneer tikkas in Combi ovens. This not only brought down our consumption of charcoal in a significant way, but it has also greatly enhanced our productivity. This extremely important for us because we have Delhi-NCR’s largest banqueting space sprawling across 50,750 sq. ft. and we need to produce high quantities of snacks in limited time.
VISHVAPREET CHEEMA, General Manager, Radisson Blu Plaza New Delhi
“Our online guest feedback system has helped us provide quick responses and take corrective measures”
Five F&B and banqueting initiatives at our hotel have yielded good results:
(1) We have been pushing promotional deals to encourage companies to have team lunches at our best-known restaurant, The Great Kabab Factory. Similarly, we have been welcoming them to conduct their annual training meetings/workshops at the hotel in the summer months, when both occupancy levels and MICE movements are low.
(2) We are getting a good response to our efforts to get small meeting and incentive groups to have their meals at our all-day dining restaurant, NYC.
(3) We have also enhanced the quality and variety of our NYC buffet by continuing with our ‘star’ items and working with available seasonal produce. Also, by providing selections from different cuisines on a cyclical basis, we have managed to create a big variety for our guests.
(4) We have been conducting a number of innovative promotions to connect with our customer base. The most successful among these have been the cooking classes that we conduct from time to time for our guests. These are not just marketing activities for us, but also great opportunities for our guests to learn from our star chefs and enhance their individual repertoires.
(5) Our electronic guest feedback system, which we have just brought online, has helped us provide quick responses and take corrective measures whenever these are required. It has helped us understand our guests better and we have enough data to work towards creating a WOW experience for our guests.
THOMAS ABRAHAM, General Manager, Park Hyatt Goa
“Healthy Balance is the new mantra – offer your guests flavourful, healthful and perfectly portioned menu options”
Being a luxury resort we want our guests to make healthy choices that are both enticing and easy to get. That is why we created the Healthy Balance menu, offering flavourful, healthful and perfectly portioned options so that you can maintain a healthy lifestyle while you’re away from home. And if you are looking for something that is not on the menu, our chefs will work with you to prepare an item to your liking or specific needs.
Another popular healthy option offered by us is the Energise Your Day complement of fresh squeezed fruits and vegetables perfectly blended into juices and smoothies. The Good Energy Juice, for instance, has Beetroot, Baby Spinach, Carrot, Red Apple and Chopped Dill. We also believe in serving perfectly portioned mix of local and international favourites that are both light and come in the right size. Our Thai BBQ Chicken has 150 gm of meat cooked with cucumber, tomatoes, shallots, coriander, fish sauce, soy and lime dressing.
MICHEL KOOPMAN, General Manager, The Leela Ambience Hotel, Gurgaon
“Strategic partnerships and constant tracking of people’s preferences help us connect better with guests”
We tap various channels to increase our restaurant footfalls and thus shore up our F&B revenues. We have our own Connoisseur Club members, we have promotional tie-ups with banks, and we have partnerships with institutions such as the Delhi Gourmet Club and Eazy Diner to showcase our products and services. We also use our online database to reach out to existing customers and discover new ones. This constant tracking helps us ensure a high level of guest retention. We also use the Oracle/Micros Opera software to plan our banqueting events, track down guests who have not used us recently, and have details of our various functions readily available, to be shared with event planners.
Our Executive Chef Ramon Salto Alvarez, meanwhile, is actively involved in menu engineering. Our menus change according to the seasonable availability of ingredients and the feedback of our guests. We also have blackboard menus to highlight special offerings of the day. And we use the WINHMS software to help us maintain food cost and requisition reports and help us plan and order in advance by being able to foresee the upcoming requirements of restaurants.
TARUN SETH, F&B Manager, The Oberoi New Delhi
“Our social media channels are constantly widening the reach and recall of the hotel’s offerings”
The Oberoi New Delhi has moved its reservation system online for Travertino and threesixty°, so guests can now log in to our website, place table reservations and even leave behind specific requests. To encourage this move, we have also begun displaying our menus online for all our restaurants.
To ramp up our banquet sales, meanwhile, we have added a charming new venue to our portfolio. It is called The Drawing Room. The venue’s size makes it ideal for a small or medium conference, helping us garner additional business from a space that was not being put to any use.
For our regular guests, Executive Chef Rohit Gambhir has prepared a special menu designed exclusively for those who are seeking a culinary holiday experience within the city because they have decided to stay back this summer. Our idea is to make our guests share our belief that they do not have to go far from the city to savour a holiday experience. Chef Gambhir has created dishes such as the pizza with scrambled egg, cheddar cheese, chicken sausages and chives, or the spiced mutton raan wrap with red onions and mint tzatsiki, or the Bloody Mary watermelon gazpacho with crab meat. These are dishes you wouldn’t find otherwise on the menu.
SHOBHIT SAWHNEY, Hotel Manager, Grand Hyatt Mumbai
“GEM is one of Hyatt’s biggest initiatives to tap the collective intelligence of our Operations, Analytics, IT and Brand teams”
One of our notable successes has been the way we have incentivised guests to book online through our food and beverage booking engine by offering them exclusive discounts on this platform. This initiative has led to encouraging results and online booking is now a preferred mode of making reservations at our hotel.
We have similarly become very active on our social media channels to promote food and beverage offerings. We made an exploratory foray for the 11th-anniversary celebrations of the Grand Hyatt Mumbai and the campaign’s success has encouraged us to mark the 17th of each month as the celebration day when our guests get to enjoy various discounts on our food and beverage offerings. This campaign has been run entirely on our social media platforms and has become a great guest engagement and revenue maximisation tool.
Understanding guest needs and expectations is the big challenge for all hoteliers, but we are fortunate to have access to Hyatt Worldwide’s Guest Experience Management – or GEM – system, which ‘went live’ officially in September 2014. GEM isn’t a new database, computer platform or mind-reading device. It is a set of tools, and a unique collaborative effort on the part of Hyatt associates worldwide, which allows us to keep track of what our guests value most from their Hyatt experiences. Using the insights collected through GEM, which are accessible to all team members, we are better equipped with information about each guest’s individual preferences. GEM represents one of Hyatt’s most comprehensive initiatives to bring together the collective intelligence of our Operations, Analytics, IT and Brand teams.