Recruiting and Retaining Culinary Talent in a Highly Competitive Labor Market
By David Cronin General Manager, Houston Marriott West Loop | August 05, 2012
How can it be possible for an existing hotel, like the Marriott West Loop, by the Galleria, in Houston, to operate Food and Business as a venture enterprise? It seems, at this point, a bit counter intuitive. The hotel has been around since the mid-70s and has had a kitchen, restaurant, catering, bar and room service all that time. How, then, could it still be considered a venture enterprise?
First, let's consider the definition of a couple of the terms. An enterprise is a business that is providing some good or service. A venture is something that is speculative or uncertain. A venture enterprise is a business that is operating "with some risk in expectation of gain." Food and Beverage operations for hoteliers are, in fact, risky propositions every single day.
The biggest challenges that we face are: 1. balancing food budget against customer expectations; 2. acquiring and developing culinary talent in a highly competitive labor market; and, 3. competing for customers in a geographical area saturated with stand-alone restaurants.
For the F&B team, meeting customers' expectations is frequently the most time consuming part of the day. The popularity of cooking shows on television, the rise of celebrity chefs to near rock star status, and the fast growing trend to make food experiential all serve to raise to new heights of what is possible in the world of food. Planning for a way to balance these possibilities against customer desires while still maintaining the budgeted food cost frequently requires creative solutions. On the event and banquet side of the house, it is possible to pass along much of the costs of higher priced food items. However, on the restaurant/bar/room service side, prices are set on the menu.
We invest a lot of effort in knowing how our competitive market is creating and pricing their menus. This is a key factor in planning banquet menus. Even with brand loyalty and integrity, there is still a large number of meeting planners and potential clients who will choose another venue simply based on price. Value for price paid is a big theme for a client when they are selecting a venue. We have a catering menu with many different options, but find that we are more often creating specialty menus or working within specified client budgets. We love this challenge; we are continually creating something new or different to exceed the guest expectation. At the same time, we are strengthening our base at the hotel for what we can accomplish and standing out as a unique experience for our clients in the myriad of venue options.
In the restaurant, room service and lounge, menus are a little different. Here we solicit as much feedback from our guests as possible. We have a number of guests that stay with us for an extended amount of time. It is very easy for them to get bored with the food options, even if they really enjoy them. For service, personalization touch points give our guests a warm and comfortable environment to keep them coming back. With the food, we keep it fresh. It is all about changing the soup and fish on a daily basis, running seasonal specials or tweaking the menu every few months. For food cost control we, like most establishments put a focus on purchase control and cross utilizing ingredients in creative ways for different menus. This helps us streamline inventory and turn over product faster.