Could you give us an overview of your career path?
All I ever wanted to be is a chef. I worked in Australia, did my training and then moved many years later to Grand Hyatt Muscat and Jumeirah Beach Hotel. This is a while back post which I took up an offer at IHG which is exactly 10 years ago. I moved to Seoul as the executive chef at InterContinental. I was appointed in that role for four years and then moved to become the food and beverage director in the same property. My stint at the InterContinental was for six years post which I was transferred to Egypt to InterContinental City stars – three properties together. I worked there as the executive food and beverage manager for the three hotels. I then moved to Crowne Plaza Dubai where I moved in just from March this year as resident manager.
What has been the performance of the food and beverage outlets?
The performance has been good, if we look at growth year-on-year. However, we need to realise that the market is growing so quickly and there is lot of competition be it stand alone restaurants or even hotels. Considering all these options, we are very happy with our performance which is on a constant upward trend.
Are there any specific outlets performing better than the rest, from the 13 outlets at Crowne Plaza Dubai?
It is difficult to say one particular outlet as they all have been performing well across the board. We are particularly very happy with the outcome of Chamas, which completed a year and Al Tanor has been an all-time favourite with our guests. This outlet is certainly growing in numbers and popularity.
For a lot of hoteliers, the challenge is retaining their guests within the property for food and beverage. How do you manage this challenge?
It is always something people ask me. I know from my perspective as a guest when I go somewhere, I would typically like to stay at one place but from there check out the parks, restaurants, bars in the surrounding areas. So in our property, the one thing we follow is communicating with our guests in-house what we have to offer. This is right from the time they are picked up in the limousine to around the hotel through our signages. We are constantly keeping our guests updated on new promotions and offers. This is an area where we are very active.
What are the challenges you face in the F&B section?
This is purely focused on what is going on in town. If someone is doing their research and they are looking for something in particular, it is someone who is very difficult to retain. Lunch business is hard for us to capture. This is because we have a good mix of corporate and leisure guests but whom step out in the afternoons. Then again, we are continuously trying to work on improving this challenge.
What is the kind of innovations you bring into the F&B department and how do you see technology playing a key role?
We stick to what we know and what we do well. This is the core essence of food and beverage. The minute guests want to make a reservation, we need to make sure we impress them and touch upon all the feel-good factors. Training staff, developing new offerings and talking to our customers is an on-going activity on our part. We are constantly trying to find out what our guests like and cater to their tastes.
Technology on the other hand plays a huge part in terms of marketing. This is something everyone is trying to get their head around as everything moves so fast. With technology in actual dining, we do not engage in too much to be fair. A lot of places are going back to what service is all about – interaction with customers. There is a place for technology with dining. I have certainly seen some things recently like interactive tables, lasers that shine food and do things with the table. This is all good for now but not in terms of longevity.
IHG launched the training for chefs, could you highlight this new feature?
Yes, we do a lot of training internally which is very text-book based. However, IHG has launched a new initiative recently which is ground breaking called Lobster Ink. This is an online training platform, wherein the team registers online and all of the tutorials are on high definition videos. This is specifically tailor-made for the Crowne Plaza brand. This could be anything from setting up a buffet breakfast and how should it look and what should the table have. The high-definition video goes through every detail – such as how the name tag should be, where the spoons should be placed, how the spoons should be uniformed, what kind of cereals used and how many cereals to use, how many hot dishes, what kind of juices and it also goes into a lot of detail on the service – on welcoming a guest, how to welcome a guest exactly, offering them newspapers, escorting them to a table, how to escort them to a table. The online training platform is a great step in the right direction. What it does is that through one video, the company addresses all of the Crowne Plaza hotels. This brings in consistency and standard across the board.
This programme is on-going and the company is also looking at further expansion. It is also a fantastic tool as it is easy to understand. The chefs also have the same platform for recipes. This is one of the biggest challenge in restaurant – to maintain the consistency of a recipe.
You have quite a focus on Korean food, what is the uptake of this cuisine for this region?
The uptake of Korean food for this region has great potential. If we look at what is happening in US, Europe and Australia. It is one of the most exciting cuisines. The uniqueness is the varieties, taste, lots of pungency, fermentation, slow cooking and very healthy. Korean food is a feast for the eyes; it is not just one or two dishes but hundreds of them that date back up to a 1000 years in tradition. Till today, the culture of food and way it is served is very strong in Korea. I have written two books on Korean cuisine which are pre-sold.
How do you see bringing this cuisine to this part of the region?
I see concepts that are lot more foreign-friendly. I can see this being brought to Dubai in a fun way. There are a couple of Korean barbeques in town but they are very typical and very traditional. The biggest problem with Korean food now is that if one goes to a restaurant, they would not know what to eat. The way it is explained now is not done in the right way as they are lost in translation. It is a matter of explanation but in a really simple way.
What key trends have emerged in the F&B industry over the years and which ones according to you have evolved?
The latest trend nowadays is moving towards the fun dining aspect of food. For fine dining, there is still a place for it. You have places that were low key and are now coming up. For example, it is amazing to see a brand like Nandos in the UK on how they are innovating with the food, outlets and menu among others.
Do you see an outlet being associated with the brand sell better or a stand-alone restaurant works well?
When a restaurant is associated with a brand, the key benefit is instant recognition. People associate with a brand. However for a stand-alone, you have to build your reputation and is possibly a little more difficult. However, with the right strategy, marketing, word of mouth and great delivery of product, these outlets can also do well.
How do you see incorporating the whole fun-dining concept across the outlets at Crowne Plaza?
We have 13 restaurants and bars. Each and every one of them is fun and unique. Crowne Plaza is great platform to showcase concepts that are fun. This is done with a two-pronged approach. One is that we do not take ourselves seriously and second, the team loves what they do.
What is the performance of rooms versus F&B revenue?
If you look at room versus and food and beverage revenue, the latter would be just under half. This would work out to be 45% for food and beverage and 55% would be room revenue. This can be based on the fact that the hotel has been around for long. However, at least 70-80% of our guests are from outside such as people are living in Dubai or the neighbourhood. It is the quality and service that retains our customers.
Could you highlight on the new developments for the coming year?
We are always looking for new opportunities. We have a couple of new projects in the pipeline. The one we will be rolling out soon is a totally fun concept and very different. This is a pub-bar concept. We are doing a Friday concept called Big Helgas. This is going to be a German Beer hall style get-together. We will be rolling this concept out in early December this year. Moving forward, we are also working on a few things. We have put together this website – fundining.ae – which should be launched soon. The interactive portal encapsulates everything that we do in terms of our outlets. Guests can also book online in real time while the website is constantly being updated on a regular basis.
What is the focus on healthy eating?
We always have fresh products that we work with at the hotel. I also think what is healthy is the way food is prepared – less playing with food, less cooking – the better. The one key objective we all have in our mind at IHG is health and hygiene.
Do you see guests’ demands changing over the years?
The only one thing that has changed over the years is the dietary requirements. People are now becoming a lot more health conscious in terms of what they are eating, how much they should eat in terms of certain things and perhaps allergies. Back in the old days, people would just put up with things.