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Serving Up Satisfaction

Hotels Look To Personnel To Help Differentiate Food & Beverage Experience

Monday, April 22, 2019
Steve Pike
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Among the more visible and least appreciated employees (from a guest standpoint) at hotel/resort restaurants and bars are servers and bartenders. They are, however, among the more important employees at a property as they interact with the guests more than anyone.

Those interactions make it imperative that property general managers and food and beverage directors hire and train people with the right personalities and work ethic that reflect the cultures and guest experiences of their specific restaurants.

“The experience is not about only one moment or one special gesture, it is all about the details from arrival to departure," said Sybrandt Windell, director of food and beverage at Acqualina Resort and Spa on the Beach in Sunny Isles Beach, FL. “Yes, it is great to have a ‘wow’ moment during any meal, but you want your establishment to be remembered and talked about not only for the 'wow,’ but also the experience from start to finish."

Acqualina Resort features four restaurants, including Chef Michael Mazza’s Il Mulino New York and beachfront restaurant Costa Grill. It all begins (and continues), Windell said, with training – from studying the menus and ingredients to table and seat numbers, and even verbiage.

“But I also believe in stepping outside of the general spectrum of the everyday training and challenging the team." Windell said. “Currently, for example, we do a Wine and Spirits Quiz daily. The Quiz has subsections that consist of Spirits, Red Wine, White Wine and regions.

“I have the team select the topic and we take the Quiz together. This keeps them interested, motivated and continues their learning. Without a strong base of the skills and training needed to serve the growth potential is limited. What I mean by this, is that you have to get the basics perfect before you can take on new challenges or advance in your skill-set as a server."

Experience is a big factor, particularly in a luxury environment, according to Bryan Long, assistant food and beverage director at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan, FL, but personality and social skills can sometimes trump experience. Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa features four dining outlets, from the luxury Angle restaurant to the poolside Breeze Ocean Kitchen.

“Our hiring process is pretty strenuous," Long said. “Sometimes a person can come back three or four times. And the training program usually takes about two weeks.

“We like to curate the dining experience, so menu knowledge and product knowledge is the key, because the training style we use is called ‘funneling.' It really comes down to knowing the products. Drilling down like that helps our servers curate the journey. If the guest doesn’t like seafood, the server has no business talking to him or her about seafood. You learn to talk about the dishes that pertain to that person. That’s what we emphasize here – as opposed to just being an order taker."

At The Breakers Palm Beach, vp of food and beverage Nick Velardo and his team first look for potential servers who exhibit outstanding personality skills, enthusiasm, and easy smiles.

“What we are looking for, first and foremost (in the initial interview process), is someone who really makes a good first impression," said Velardo, who oversees the famed resort’s nine restaurants that include Asian, Italian, seafood and steakhouse eateries. “We want to see contagious personalities-- someone when you meet for the first time, you feel good. That’s an intangible you can’t teach.

“In an interview, we ask a lot of open-ended questions to get to know each as a person. We try to get some indicators as to the types of values they might have. Are these people going to fit into our culture here at The Breakers? It’s a culture of team orientation and rooted in service to others and to each other. If you don’t have those things, we don’t even get to the résumé.’’

Some prospective servers, Velardo said, apply for work at a specific restaurant at The Breakers, but in general, they are not asked what outlet they want to work during the interview process.

“We see them as Breakers employees, first, not a Seafood Bar or (Flagler) Steakhouse employee," Velardo said. “We find something about them to where they might fit best – some people are better for more casual outlets than others. So we just try to fit them an environment where they are comfortable."
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Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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