Gaining the edge

Raheel Ahmad, culinary director (APAC), Marriott International, guides us through the company’s journey to deliver and improve customer service in the F&B segment

By Gurmeet Sachdev

You head close to 300 properties and 22 brands of Marriott; what has been your biggest challenge?
Handling 300 properties is never easy, and with another 100 properties in the pipeline, yes, we do face immense challenges. Finding skilled resources and talent is one of the most critical aspect for the growth and development in the company and that is one vertical we are focusing on a lot – how to engage them and get the best people on board, etc. Also, the scale in itself is humongous. Physically handling so many hotels and chefs is quite challenging at times and then to maintain the desired standards and quality is another additional aspect. So, in order to combat that we have a plan of action in place – we have charted out various development programs – conducting workshops and training sessions, etc. This has immensely helped boost the performance and efficiency of our resources.

Standalone restaurants today have become a major competition to in-house hotel restaurants. How are you addressing this competition?
One of the biggest problems with restaurants in five-star hotels is that we complicate tasks by doing too many things to match up to the domain we operate in. But as a company we, now, have realised some key facts – after a thorough research we’ve listed down some of the best characteristics of standalone properties and their USPs and are trying to adapt them within our own action plan.
For example, when it comes to the profitability part – many international hotel brands in India are managed on franchise basis. Hence, delivering profits for the owners is a very important aspect. Whatever the investment is, they need to get that money back. Thus, looking at each of our P&L statements, the major difference what I have noticed these days is that many hotels owners don’t compare their P&L in percentages now. They look at the figures and focus mainly on the topline. If the topline is good – i.e. if the restaurants are packed with customers and there are good reviews from them – then I don’t think you need to worry about the cost and other aspects. Yes, of course cost is important when you do the analysis – but at the end of it, it’s mainly the topline that matters the most.
Many hotels today are adopting this strategy and going forward, we definitely aim to be ahead of them in this game.

What is your one key strategy in this game?
As always, the game plan to succeed is always a combination of various factors, and not just one or two. In our domain, several factors need to be taken into consideration – the concept, the marketing strategy and how well the social media platforms are managed, how actively the customers are involved, how the staffs are hired – be it a good craftsman or a bartender, etc.
All these aspects come together to create a success story. If these can be worked upon to build a strong foundation, I am sure that with the kind of talent we have, the kind of design, resources and development team we have, we can easily compete with them; it’s not rocket science.

What is the contribution of the F&B segment to the hotel’s revenue?
Globally, it is close to INR 15-16 billion, which basically sums up to 35-40%. As compared to other regions, Asia-Pacific markets have recorded one of the highest growth and generated maximum revenues from their F&B sector. And we still have the ability to grow further. There are many hotels that record higher revenue percentage from their F&B segment than from their rooms; this obviously varies with the hotel’s size too.

How do you choose your procurement partners?
It all depends on parameters set by the hotel, chefs and the procurement team. We, Marriott as a company, have tied up with some of the best brands in the world – right from crockery to kitchen produce to in-room products; we have best of the best brands and people who want to work with us. Given the scale and range of consumption across our properties, we deal with suppliers – right from luxury to premium to select. We also work very closely with the local vendors and producers. This is our priority, especially when it comes to F&B.
We have a nationwide network of vendors and our procurement team and chefs work very closely with them on day-to-day basis and I think we’ve got a great understanding with them about our needs. So I don’t really see many challenges here. Markets are witnessing a great growth – there are lot of vendors, farmers and producers with an amazing portfolio that constitutes quality and standardised products.

What are some of the latest design trends and innovations in the kitchen?
A hotel kitchen is a universe in itself. We have got dedicated design and development teams, who constantly keep researching on the latest technology, space management techniques, design trends, etc. We also work closely with many international brands to know more about customisation, design, efficiency in operations, etc. Given we have our basics rights, we’ve got the best of the kitchen equipments in our hotels.

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