WITH MICHAEL ELLIS
25th April 2022
Do you think that covid will have long-term effects on the hotel industry, on F&B in general and on FEBC as a whole? If so, which ones?
I think it’s too early to tell, if we look at what’s going on now in many places. For example, I just came back from the US after a week in San Francisco, California and there, and in the US elsewhere, it’s business as usual, no more masks or social distancing, hotels and restaurants are back to normal. The federal aviation administration has dropped the requirement to wear masks in airports or in airplanes, everybody has taken off their masks. I think there will be a certain impact in the hospitality field, especially in the F&B world, and this could have long-term consequences: the huge lack of qualified staff is a major barrier to growth, or even coming back to normal operations for many establishments. Many front and back of house have changed careers, and it will take some time to replace them. But I also see a positive impact from a certain point of view: it’s a good idea to wash your hands and it’s a good idea to have hand disinfectant available, after the pandemic will probably see a lot less common colds and flu. I don’t expect there’s going to be a long-term major impact from Covid except once again with the recognition that we know the next Covid 19, maybe 20, is right around the corner, and we will be better prepared.
Do you have a plan B for a similar situation in the future?
Sure, I think that’s something very important in there. There’s no question that in when you have a highly communicable and transmissible airborne virus, you have to make sure that people are separated and you have to make sure that people are not transmitting the disease. FEBC will have the ability to help those restaurants that are using buffets, and restaurants that are having fairly packed seating areas, we will be able to quickly help them move towards optimizing their seating and moving outdoors quickly as possible, and also moving towards an “order at table” system or digital ordering system. Digital technology will enable us to reduce contact between a hotel’s customers and staff if something like that happens again, so I think that moving towards a digital order-based system and spacing people out can be really beneficial.
What measures and solutions did you come up with in F&B? How did you implement them in the individual hotels?
We were able to work with some hotels and restaurants in terms of helping them rearrange dining areas, mainly using a new and lighted space, using terraces, even heating terraces when it was cold. This type of solution is helping them look at some of the areas of the hotel or restaurant that were not been used. The digital solutions provide different ways to improve safety and guest needs, for example being able to put in an order using a WhatsApp type system to have guests place their orders directly to the kitchen; helping them use a kind of a ‘bag in box’ type system, where people can pick up their meals that are pre-prepared. A lot of times during these months people wanted to have breakfast or lunch either in their rooms, with the family, by themselves or outside: we put in a system where the order could be placed by either a kind of messaging system and it goes directly to the kitchen and enables it to be prepared and then the guests will receive a response back, a text message back, saying the order was ready. Those are the kinds of systems we were ready to put in place.
Do you think that this type of service will last in the future for the customers, maybe because they love it? It’s a very personalized service, what do you think about it?
I agree. There’s no question that if in the future, guests will continue to appreciate that. There will be certain holdovers for example in the beach and pool area, I think there are certain utilizations of this type of technology or this type of logistics system, because at the end of the day it is really a logistics system that was useful during Covid, and would be also useful in general because it reduces the friction, it saves time and ultimately it increases customer’s satisfaction: it gives us the customers what they want when they want, it so I think there will be definitely some spill over for that.
About FEBC, what is the long-term F&B strategy for the next five years?
The most important thing in what we do is to make sure that we adapt the solutions we provide to our customers so that they are in tune with what their customers want. FEBC is obviously a B2B operator but our clients are in the B2C arena, they are working with individual travelers or individual guests. What we tried to do is to supply a given property whether it’s a hotel or restaurant or a hotel that wants to create a restaurant, based upon their guest profile: from demographics to socioeconomics; the country origin; age group and what type of food and beverage offerings the guests would like, and based on that come up with new and original solutions that the guests would be happy with. There is a lot of different data that goes into the decisions, especially what percentage of guests want to come from the hotel or what percentage they want from outside the hotel and the local community, or guests from other hotels. These are the types of questions that we asked when we make custom-designed F&B solutions for hospitality services. FEBC wants make sure that our clients are capturing as much of the desired clientele and revenue as possible.
Do you have any suggestions, any projects you are working with, to share with me on new ideas for F&B?
We’re working on a number of different concepts. You know It’s hard to talk about “new concepts”: at the end of the day you are delivering food and beverages, and you have certain parameters that are always there, but you can certainly be creative. There are different types of F&B you can deliver, create, and come up with new ideas, variations on a theme if you will, for example, we are working with a large Middle Eastern country that is investing heavily in developing their hospitality industry, and that means everything: from hotels to restaurants, theme parks, bowling alleys, ski resorts, golf resorts, cinemas…so there’s an investment of a size that the world has never seen in hospitality and leisure. FEBC is working with them on a number of different initiatives that they have and that we’re hopeful that we will be able to make a big impact on their plans.
Do you analyse also the evolving of the taste inside of the hotel restaurant (the evolution of choices in cuisine)
Sure. I think that one of the things we tried to do is something new and exciting and it’s not necessarily revolutionary. Taking popular concepts and cuisines and elevating or evolving them is what we do, something variational, or we try to come up with existing ideas that have not be implemented in that country or region. For example, let’s talk about the “steakhouse” concept, obviously you have seen American steakhouses, Japanese steakhouses, Argentinian steakhouses, etc. but also, you know, Italian steakhouses (“bistecca Fiorentina” for example, which is not really seen outside Italy and outside Tuscany). Or Asadors in Spain. We want to share some food ideas that may exist but may have not be developed outside their own countries, and I think that maybe a successful idea we have is a “why don’t you see that in our country” type of reflection.
What about beverage?
Beverage is presenting another big opportunity: the wine world is evolving rapidly because you have a lot of new producers that are coming out with different styles of wine, obviously in the U.S. and Europe even now in East Europe (from Georgia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary). Also, China is making its wine, Japan as well, and of course that are some other evolutions in the whole world, in France and Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Austria and even the UK so it’s a rapidly evolving scene. Some exciting things going on are fresh new ideas in beverage programs and cocktails and non-alcoholic cocktails. There are a lot of exciting things going on in beverage pairings, wine but not only (restaurants are not only pairing wines but different beverages with their food) so you’ll see more and more restaurants using “sake”, the Japanese rice wine for the wine pairings, or beer, not only Belgian beer but there are a lot of interesting beers coming up with good taste profiles and teas, not only Japanese or Chinese tea but Indian that has been used in beverage programs. So I think there are a lot of different options for beverage programs for people that are always looking for something new and exciting, I think that the limit on that is only far as your imagination can take you.
What about the future?
As the world reopens up and enters into a new phase, there is a lot to build up and a lot of people are very eager and willing to go back to life: traveling, meeting people and living experiences. I personally think that people are going to forget COVID as quickly as possible and go back to doing exactly what they were doing. We are social animals and people want that. It’s a great opportunity for hospitality operators to come up with new and exciting ideas or variations on a theme. The operators, who are successful in making people happy and comfortable, will have enormous rewards: it’s an opportunity for those people who were thinking about the future, thinking about new ideas, and thinking about new experiences. It’s all about that: it isn’t only about food and beverage, it’s about the atmosphere, the music, the lightning, the comfort, and the aspect of going out and even restaurants know that the “food” isn’t the only criteria that matter. You can have the best food in the world but if your restaurant is not fun, good-looking, comfortable, welcoming, or something that delivers a great overall experience, people will probably not come back; but if you are delivering a wonderful experience, welcome and making people happy with the atmosphere, and your food is just ok, you can capture a large and loyal client base; and if you are able to deliver a beautiful moment with the right food, that’s the ticket to the ultimate success.