THE GUITAR MAN

yoga
The Orange County was decked up like a pretty bride, much to the delight of its loyal guests and faithful staff. It was the anniversary celebrations and the entire Manipal Centre was going into a carnival mode. The Wild West themed county was the best and the most hip restaurant in Bangalore, right in the heart of the central business district. It was famous for its mouth watering steaks and pizzas and the mini burgers were fondly nicknamed as ‘Honey I shrunk the kids’.

Chef Abraham Varghese was a crowd puller.Ready to please every guest with his personalised service, he knew the guests not only by their faces, but also by their discerning taste buds. “Why don’t you try our most popular item- the Deep, our star seafood dish? The prawns and the squids have just landed straight from the ocean into my baked casserole!” He called the pizzasthe Corleone family, after theinfamous Italian family. The Times of India awarded the menu as the most creative ever. As the Food and Beverage Manager, it was an uphill task to match the services to the exemplary cuisine. But we pulled it off, with proactive staff and attentive service. The winding, long queues during the weekends and the general table wait for an hour, was the proof of the pudding.

We had another great USP – The Guitar Man, the soul of the restaurant. His playful, mischievous and nostalgic country songs, lent a certain ring to the air. No meal was complete without being accompanied by his tunes. Dressed in a cowboy costume with a Stetson hat and a dummy revolver holster strap, Allan Rego looked the typical Wild West movie star: Rugged face, muscular build and a beard that complemented him. His endearing, yet dreamy, smile attracted everyone and his charm engulfed the guests wholly. His mouth organ would sit on a sleek stand, just inches away from his mouth, suspended from his hat,much like a dancers mike. All he did was gently nudge the organ to his lips and it would bring out the melodious notes. The guitarwould comealive,as the magical fingers would start strumming.

That day, he was in an upbeat mood, being the man of the moment, belting out all his favourite numbers, ‘Congratulations and Celebrations’, ‘Coward of the County’ and ‘The Gambler’. The guests were having a great time lunching. He was the quintessential man… I went up to him and said, “Allan, after lunch,be ready to go around Manipal Centre on a horse back, strumming your guitar and singing.” I had planned to show him off, bring the traffic at Manipal Centre to a halt and be written about in the papers the next day. The main aim was to attract some attention and it worked. There was a big traffic jam at the T -junction when Allan came out with a posse of cheerleader girls. They sang and danced right on the road, singing ‘We are the World’ and ‘American Pie’. The traffic police forced us into the central quadrangle and threatened us with dire consequences. Nevertheless, I was satisfied. Let us face the boss another day, by then things would have cooled down and some positive publicity would have come to my rescue.

Allan was not just a great musician, but also a true friend to many, including me. My meal would seem incomplete if he wasn’t there singing Elton John’s Nikita. He was a confidante to many too –some of the guests would discuss their personal issues with Allan. His music was a solace to everybody. There was an uncanny quality in him and one could not dislike him. Behind the big façade of a macho man, Allan had a kind heart and a ready to mingle attitude. He had an unwritten rule – make all the guests happy by the end of the day, but get really close to three people. I hadseenguests’ look and feel better after their quota of songs and some entertainment from our cowboy. Probably, it was the healing smile that did the trick. I was happy too, as business was booming. Amusingly, there used to be some days when our man would go into the depths and cast a pall of gloomin the restaurant. He would sing ‘Bye Bye Love,’ or Elton’s John’s‘Sacrifice’! It was amazing to see the guests merge with his feelingsand start looking gloomy! “Allan, I would not take your sad songs for a minute, I will pack you off right now,” I would threaten him, but to no avail.The sad strums would fill the air and the food too would look depressing. I used to dread those moments…

Our mornings at home were quite hectic, seeing the kid off to school and having to report to work by nine. But that morning was different. It was my daughter Aabana’s birthday. That morning, wetook a long stroll around the apartment block to invite the neighbours for the evening bash. Getting her ready was a major problem, as always. Finally, as I got her into her new frock and shoes, I said, “Darling, we will have a great party in the evening. Make sure that you are the first to arrive. Tell me all your school stories once you get back home. I will keep the ten candles and the goodies in place.”

At six in the evening, the friends were ushered in, with their smiles matching the colourful streamers and cartoon characters. My colleagues, too, dropped in to see the little Princess. Chef Abraham had made a chocolate cake that looked sinful, full of calories and topped with yummy, gooey purple jelly. Aabana had her little hands around the carving knife, ready to slice the cake. As she raised it, the familiar strains of the guitar wafted in, filling everyone’s sense like a storm. She threw the knife and ran towards the door, where he was making little progress trying to come in through so many people. She jumped on to him and hugging him, shoutinggleefully – “Allan uncle… sing my happy birthday song please?”

The request was made and he adeptly sang, continuing for an hour nonstop, all thoughts of the cake forgotten. He had let go of his regular work at the Orange County to be with my daughter. What a well-meaning soul, he needn’t have done this. Merriment and laughter continued unabated. Finally, I said, “Look kids I think we need to cut the cake and sing happy birthday.” Everyone rushed towards the cake, which tasted heavenly. Obviously, she fed the first piece to her beloved G uncle. He gifted her a mini guitar, which she took to bed for many years on.

Aabana is twenty now, and she still goes on a flashback mode and remembers one of her best days ever with her guitar man.

Peep Inwards

yoga
We hoteliers are indeed a breed apart in every way; though not rich ourselves, we have all the rich man’s disease and habits. Why? Simply because of the posh surroundings our work hovers around. After a sixteen hour shift, I would make tracks to the coffee shop at the Windsor Manor at 2am, even though I was an outlet manager at the Taj!! Just had to be seen and heard about syndrome I guess. We do crave for tons of externals attractions all the time- always.  But for how long? Before the call comes … That’s when we need to see Inwards and explore. As our learned Swamiji’s inform us- seek your self- go beyond the body, mind and intelligence to see the eternal Jyoti (light). How do we carve out the time we busy bodies are so limited with!

Yoga
Enrol in an early morning or an evening course. The mere action of the various asanasas gets you started to focus your attention inwards. Dive in. The mind starts accepting the yoga activity initially though before wandering off; but with applied concentration, the down load of self gets activated. Initially it may not be possible to get totally  focused, but with consistent determination, we could achieve a little bit of success. The restless mind anchoring temporally. Our mind is akin to an adorable hungry baby monkey. This first baby step would be the most crucial one; don’t let it get side tracked, temptations do arise – there are bloody Marries and Moitoes. The question is, haven’t we tried them all these decades! How much more? Please don’t label me as a Sanyasi, yes we do need to be in touch with the industry surely, but all I am inviting you is to go in for those few moments. Pause and play. Seek the divine Dhrusti of which we are all a part – I am THAT.

Meditation
As busy professionals we may not have the time to perform extensive rituals or elaborate Pujas, but definitely can spare some time for meditation. This has the power to focus your thoughts to go inwards effectively. There are experts to guide you on a starter course; one can do a Mis-en place of a simplistic meditation. Just sit in a peaceful area (not in the staff café with all your buddies over crusty pizzas) and start chanting: spare ribs, lasagne, tiramisu, Om Swaha.  Simply pick up a holy word like Ram or Vittala; utter inwardly and silent. It does have the power of focusing your thoughts and channelize these into streams of powerful yet relaxing waves. Look at the various colours with your eyes closed, do you see ARR, APC or Revpars or slowly start see a different spectrum altogether.

You may be a houseman or a general manager, but internally you are THAT: Soham; as our great sages say. You are part of those billion years entity which has been going through the process of spiritual evolution, actually a never ending part of HIM. All we need is to realise this simple truth. It’s the tip of the iceberg once we get slightly closer to this revelation; our mind gets into a more peaceful mode.
Meditation is that process which rekindles your brain with the mind space. Like we do deep cleaning in Housekeeping, we need to go delve deep into ourselves and focus inwards to the ultimate source of strength. It is here we can realise the happiness of gathering our thoughts, emotions and connecting with the higher self. This positive feel is truly alleviating. The peace coming from these truly life changing little actions which are really simple to action, but we keep procrastinating due to assumed heavy and unhappy bottom lines which takes us to the ocean floor daily. These moments of truth may last us happiness in small packets of time before you get into the real world of hospitality: Yes Maam, Sorry Sir. Hmm No sir…..

Those Magical Words

VENUS BYTES: A collection of little stories that touch the heart

Some give up their homes, families and pleasures to achieve something in life. Earlier they were called sadhus. Today, we call them Hoteliers!

With his debut book, Venus Bytes, Hotelier Venu Rao has managed to bring out the human side of an industry that he knows so intimately about. A tribute to fellow hoteliers, Venus Bytes is a collection of stories that provide glimpses of the exciting hotel life and three reflections wherein a girl named Venus takes a delightful tour of a Heavenly Hotel.

Here, he presents an excerpt from ‘Sunset Bar’, a deeply poignant tale of endurance and relationships:


SUNSET BAR

Her rosy face lit up when I entered the dull hospital ward. Manju gave a broad and welcoming smile. My Mom was on the next bed, her body almost shriveled up, and her head tonsured. She gave an equally big smile, but it was weak. Chemotherapy was taking its toll. The two women were ravaged by cancer, one still in her early twenties and other in the sunset of her life. Sometimes, our choices make all the difference. Had we opted for the hysterectomy earlier, Mom wouldn’t have been in this terrible state. Manju was luckier as she had been diagnosed at a very early stage. The treatment had started and now she was on the road to recovery.

The two bonded well and became bosom friends in a short span of two months. They spent all their time together. Mom was her moral support and mentor, constantly pushing her to be courageous and positive. The young lady soon believed that it was just a matter of time before she could go back to her husband…

…The water front bar at the Hotel Viceroy, Hyderabad attracted all our guests. There was something very captivating about it. Maybe the orange sunset over the calm Hussain Sagar Lake added to the magic. Mr. Satyadev was our daily early bird guest. He checked in to the bar at six in the evening, straight from office, to have a couple of quick shots and then head home like a good boy. I worked there as the Food and Beverage Manager. Over the months, we became good friends. At times, he used to seek special requests. Earnestly, I would suggest exotic cocktails or finger licking yummy snacks. He loved my ideas and was always keen to try them out.

One evening, it was raining and the waters of the Hussain Sagar were turbulent. We were watching these waters as Mr. Satyadev nursed his quick drink.  “See all our lives are like the foam, struggling endlessly and getting extinguished in a flash. My Mom is fighting her battle with cancer at the Niloufer Hospital,” I said with a tinge of sadness in my voice. “Here I am in a proper business suit, dressed impeccably, while she is lying on the bed moaning as they suck out the pale water from her sides with sharp needles!” Leaving his drink, he said, “Let us go now.” His response was moving. “I appreciate your kind gesture, but it is alright sir. Please finish your drink and enjoy the sunset,” I said. But, he insisted.

The two beds were empty; we heard her agonized pain and moans from the room in the far end corner of the corridor. Manju was a source of strength, pacifying, caring and cajoling, while holding her head gently. Satya and I were moved to tears instantly. We stood there silently till her ordeal was over. Her life was diminishing by the days. Satya held her head and spoke gentle words of comfort, wiping her sweaty forehead. In between all this, he chatted up with Manju asking her questions about herself. She seemed well at ease with him. He told her a few jokes too and she bloomed like a fresh flower, eyes sparkling and deep dimples forming. As we left the ward and bid goodbye, he turned to me and said, “From tomorrow onwards, I will be here at six in the evening and not at the sunset bar.” I was dumbstruck.

He soon became the darling of the two women. They could not take his absence even for a day when he reluctantly had to call to say, “No show today.” Some of my most memorable moments with Mom were spent in his company. She died three months later, but with a big smile…strong one at that.

Manju was inconsolable, refusing to eat or sleep; it was quite a task for the nurses. Satya held her hand, nursing confidence into her. He would say, “See, Aunty’s last wish was that you recuperate fast and return to your husband. Do you want her soul to wander due to your stubbornness? Come on, we have to move on, do something that would make her proud in Heaven and say – ‘atta gal’.”

The arrow found its target and Manju became a new being thereafter. The transformation was unbelievable. Her eating habits changed overnight and she took medication properly. She was all over the ward, sitting with the other patients and caring for their comfort. All her conversation included Mom and she was often seen shedding a few tears in a corner, before putting up a big dimpled smile for the patients. It was a sort of medical miracle, soon the doctors declared her totally fit and ready to move out very soon.

Manju took her rebirth seriously, and she decided to enroll in a course that would help her serve people. After much consideration, she opted for a course in nursing. She wanted to give back to the society with gratitude. Satya went with her to every nursing college where he knew people, and helped her enroll in the nursing course. He sponsored a major part of her studies. She finished her nursing course and declared, “I shall work in a cancer hospital and help treat dear patients. I would like to give back what my aunty wanted.” I was proud of her and so was dear Satya.

Our friendship bloomed further at the tank bund where we used to sit in the gentle breeze, listening to the evening birds singing and flapping happily over the water surface. One evening, he looked across to the sunset bar and said, “Look, I can see the sun’s reflection on your bar’s large glass and can choose to ignore the great cocktails, since they no longer interest me. I am looking for the Manjus of the world now, so that I can continue to make small contributions.”

I salute you Sir, as your deed is no ordinary one…

Sunset Bar is from a beautiful collection of short stories and reflections from Venus Bytes, written by Hotelier Venu Rao. Well received by the industry and all its readers, Venus Bytes has been featured in leading magazines and newspapers such as Deccan Herald, Express Hospitality, SKAL Spain International, FHRAI Magazine, Voyager’s World, amongst others.

 Venus Bytes is available online at www.sapnaonline.com on a two days delivery basis at just Rs 100. The book is also available in leading stores such as Shankars (Mumbai, Pune, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram), Strand and Sapna Malls.

 

Venus Bytes – Press Release

Little anecdotes from an hotelier’s life : 

Some give up their homes, families and pleasures to achieve something in life. Earlier they were called Sadhus. Today, we call them Hoteliers!  Work can be very stressful at times for hoteliers. The monotony very often makes them look for something to pep them up – humor or interesting anecdotes. They work hard so that others can enjoy, and in the process, meet many wonderful guests.

In his debut book, ‘Venus Bytes – short stories’, Venu Rao, hotelier and director at Peacock Group, a hotel consultancy firm based out of Bangalore, presents his first collection of 16 imaginative short stories and three reflections of a girl named Venus in a Heavenly hotel, drawn from his experiences in the industry. These works of fiction invite the reader into a world of intrigue and fantasy, of dark endings and equally joyous ones, altogether unexpected and hard hitting, but all enjoyable.

“This book is a tribute to my fellow hoteliers. Being a hotelier is not only challenging, but demands a lot of sacrifices, some times the ultimate… our brave colleagues at the Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai, who laid down their lives during the 26/11 attacks, are the real heroes. The general manager who lost his family while ensuring the safety of his guests first… I salute them,” says he.

With a career spanning thirty years with well known Indian hotel chains such as the Taj Group, ITC Welcome group Hotels, RMS International and Viceroy Hotels; Venu has used this great exposure to create landmark properties – be it a boutique hotel or the niche underground Guhantara resort. He brings out Budding Hotelier, a newsletter that focuses on the people working in the hospitality industry and also contributes articles to many hotel journals and magazines. The opportunity to travel extensively has given him the insight to develop his wide network, and a need to share some interesting hotel anecdotes has resulted in this book.

Fore word is written by Mr. Mohan Kumar, COO, Taj Gateway hotels and resorts, Indian Hotels Ltd, Mumbai.

Your Best Choice

Whatever we are today is the result of the choices we had made at some point of time joining catering college after the PUC or the hotel directly was perhaps the most crucial step towards this pro-journey. Having made that, why not give it hundred percent and make it to the top. There should be no choice in between. Mr. A Madhok had a clear choice: continue a comfy Vice presidents job with a huge group or struggle to strike own. He dreamt big and went on to own a chain of hotels. He is a role model for many talented youngsters. We are trying to highlight these special young ones in our newsletter called Budding hoteliers.

The choice of providing exceptional or mere service is also our choice. Happy and satisfied guests tell wonderful stories praising your hotel. They make a hero out of you. A smart hotel     hinges on  clever decisions and careful research, all depends upon how we groom ourselves  and  choose of our very important constituents of success . Lets glance at few choices so to speak …

Choosing our Talent

Wise people say that talent is not inherited but acquired .A chef is a true  experimenter  creating new recipes brushing aside little frustrations  to achieve big breaks. In this process he is fine tuning his culinary talent. Further makes the choice of show casing his talent to the whole world. Star Chef Sanjeev Kapoor and now chef Ajoy Joshi are the leading luminaries. Their shows are such a rage. They made that choice of going the extra mile. The process of nurturing ones talent is painfully slow and expensive .The chef creates that euphoria extending beyond mere cuisine. His talent in presenting the food to get that wow factor is a fine art. He is also a true hurdler out smarting road blocks to net those rare ingredients .The unique recipe creation is his goal and will go any length to achieve that.

Play or toil endlessly

One of the biggest choices is how much time do we need to chip in for work and personal side? Its tough .To quote Mr. Sanjay Sethi  “ Life is a roller coaster! If you don’t enjoy it, then there is some thing wrong”. He emphasis – play hard and work harder, but enjoy. In a playful mood we tend to think differently, like an experience architect we start innovative methods for our guests .Recently the house keeper of a Bangalore hotel created a fine silk cover for the mineral water bottle from waste silk trims , the guests were flattered to see silk  kurtis even for a bottle!!  We like our guests to play and enjoy when we are ourselves having fun at work. The rub off definitely works, give and take policy I guess.

Fair or unfair practices

Short charged is a very rare word in our industry, the guests take it for granted that we don’t cheat! So there is no choice actually for us. Why then some unscrupulous hoteliers choose to  cheat the guests; which is pure short term, the result comes back faster than an Australian  boomerang .Cost control is fine but cost cheating is suicidal. Adulterating ingredients to reduce the cost only leads to poor taste and quality .The guests then make their only choice – move it – to the competition.  As we know it takes eons to create a good brand and establish trust, hence fair play is of paramount importance.

Class or Mass

Inadvertently we get into the maze of number building .Is it the correct choice. Just filling rooms, not adhering to the class can be costly and bleed us internally .Not only the revenue could suffer due to low ARR but unwanted guests could slip thru. During these turbulent times some hotels are giving ridiculous deep discounts catapulting the operational difficulties in to a further spin The money generated with this kind of business is not good enough issues like quality and attrition come to the fore .You need to be hurdler to overcome and tackle marketing initiatives. Collaborate with the travel agents in a classy manner or tie up with Cruise liners to get the cream of the guests This leads us to the next level and away from the mass section. Like we know guests do recognize exceptional service and are willing to pay more happily.

Improving your profile

No time for further studies is the most common excuse we hoteliers give. I have been putting aside my choice of doing MBA for the last twenty years! The  ones who chip in extra get to the top much faster, no doubt it about. Take your senior mentors into confidence and get advise to sharpen the skills, whether studying further for Cornell MBA, CHA , what ever ….

Care Giver’s Choice

Being the boss is not easy, either the staff look at you as a Hitler or a Mickey. Your choice is there fore understandably very tough, if you are the former, they leave in droves and attrition percentage climbs an all time high competing with the inflation.  Conversely if you are soft laziness and indiscipline rot sets in. Proactive team player with a directors skill is required.You need to give the centre stage to them for performing with little interference. Choice of playing different strokes for different people is a great strategy. Learning their problems and quickly helping with their challenges would serve the purpose. Our GM some time ago was a perfect director with right choice. He used to encourage all the staff to write down the problems and pass the wad list to his office. The HOD was of course kept in the loop. All critical issues were called in for an audience while the smaller ones were deputed to the managers. Most often solved by the managers in a jiffy .The staff believed that even their minute stories were personally addressed by the boss. He was all time favorite hero. Would the staff make a choice of throwing in their lot behind such a wonderful leader? You can bet your hard earned monies please.

Finally as Edison said, “ I am only a little boy with a few pebbles in my hand looking at the ocean “ There are innumerable choices in the sea beckoning us to explore them. Lets make a perfect one, even if it should be a little failure, to brush it aside and avoid a big mistake later. Probably Choice is our only Brahma-Asthra…

 

The author is Venu Rao,
Director
Peacock Group, Bangalore

Building Blocks Of Trust

Building Blocks Of TrustRecently a very high profile management company parted ways from a well established hotel . The first causality was Trust. The owner felt having invested crores, the management company took him for a jolly ride . While the latter felt that they were used like a news paper, absorbed all the knowledge and threw them out in a day!! The point is both sides should think that they are complementing each other and not pulling in the opposite directions. Despite their excellent technical systems, these companies are sacked. Obviously in these hard times the comfort factor is slowly missing between the two and the crack widens beyond the trust lines. Care and sensitivity is the watchword. The owner is vary naturally, but he needs to be embedded in a circle of trust. The company being the industry expert needs to be the catalyst and warm the developer so to speak.

 

Educating the promoter

Our high profile owners who have “arrived in life “ tasted success already in other walks of life. Training him should not be a challenge .He expects the employees to be trained. So we spending a 30% time on him is well worth the effort during the initial period. Bring in the finer nuances of hotel business to him. Take him to the trade shows such as Express Hospitality world, IITM fair etc. Meeting the industry experts at these events broadens his vision hospitality wise. Invite him to your training manager’s seminars or trade conferences. Interesting industry clippings should be sent to him with regular frequency. Forward emails on current topics and hoteliers quotes. Subscribe magazines for him. Bench marking is another fine example of enlightening him. We always show him similar hotels in his class. Discussing few strategies on the spot makes effective sense. You are giving him the Look and feel experience.

Project the owner

We follow a very effective approach, the new clients are presented in our news letter –Budding hotelier. Their background, strengths and talents are show cased.  This gives them the innate feeling of being the star of the management company. We had organized a series of Udaya TV interviews for Mr. Ramesh, director of the underground cave resort – Guhantara. He felt good and was able to talk about his resort with great passion, as he was the architect too. The spin off was a great bonding between us. Take them to forums such as SKAL etc .Get him to quote few times on Radio instead of your GM/ chef.

Be Transparent Always

This is the most critical constituent of the business relationship. Explain the details with tons of patience, repeating if he doesn’t get it. Don’t use jargon please. What may seem a normal simple term like ARR( average room rate), may be Latin for him. Tell me how many us know FAR. It just flew over you know? This a common word from the  construction industry it seems.(Floor Area Ratio ). The devil is in the details, any projection / quote should be sieved well with him, this gives him confidence in  you. Your genuine oversight sometimes is seen with tinted glasses. During pre opening always approve a quote from a basket of at least five proposals. While recruiting the senior managers, see many candidates if they are going to be on his rolls. Lets not force his decisions, but take them together. Maintain a balance though, its not that you are bulldozed. Behave like an owner in words and deeds. After an exhaustive negotiation the other day, Mr. Narender Reddy, the owner of  Time Square hotel , Secunderabad commented “ I was wondering who the promoter was, you have handled  the  deal so well without compromising  the quality or quantity “.Get on to his side of the fence. Due to exigencies if the management company has changed some plans, ensure that you keep him posted as if there is a fire. Hearing from you is always desirable, there’s no room for miscommunication. No strategy change is to be ignored.

Dispel the fear

dispel-the-fearAfter a great presentation and having impressed Mr. Naidu sufficiently, We could see the contract on the horizon. This was for a 90room hotel. After a while He was very silent and almost brooding. Inexplicable .He said much later “If something happens between us, you will pull out all the staff and I will be rudderless!! This is a genuine fear most owners have, respect it. Take pains to dispel the fear. Don’t switch staff even if the contract is over, its not worth to spoil a relationship over a bar man, albeit you may miss his awesome cocktails.
It’s a good idea to get his nod in case we need to quote his property in the press.  Many a time he wants to keep it under wraps until the launch.

 

Talk Bottom lines

Many MCs make it a ritual to get the owners attend the monthly Profit and loss meetings. The total   Kundali is presented there and he envisages the picture directly. After all he has the right to know the good or the ugly side. Create happy visions if the bottom line is great and present solutions /strategies other wise. Be proactive.

For instance the inventory in Bangalore lately has increased by over 4500 rooms, with a similar number in the pipeline .The occupancy is slowly climbing up to 70%. We have yet to beat the recession blues , this is as per the industry sources .The developers know these trends and  need the  experts to worry about the operations , sales and  marketing challenges .  It’s a win- win situation for all if the trust is omnipotent .The management company just needs to work on the WOW factor.

As a parting shot may I say  “ Its easy to get a management contract, but lot tougher to retain the trust and make an impact “

 

The author is Venu Rao,
Director

Peacock Group, Bangalore

No – Cost Communication

zilchThere is a popular saying, “out of sight, out of mind”.  I believe it’s as true in our industry too, yet we often tend to overlook- staying in our guests’ mind constantly. The best restaurant in town may lose out in terms of business if it doesn’t create a buzz, through promotions or guest recalls. This needn’t be a time consuming and  expensive affair. I have successfully ensured some of these simple, low-cost yet practical ideas have borne fruit,  positioning them judicially for our properties.

Social Networking
Even a toddler knows the power of Face Book nowadays,  probably has a huge fan following if he happens to be a celebrity kid!  FB has all the movers and shakers, and  mere mortals like us too. It’s the in thing to have hundreds of friends. You Tube has made teenager singer Rebecca Black a celebrity overnight, notching few million hits in a fortnight. These sites are nowadays extensively used by hotels and resorts  for practically all in-house promos.  I had earlier posted a TV interview clip of the high tech hotel La Marvella, the results were fabulous, what’s note worthy is that the locals visited my F&B outlets extensively. The internet has changed the travel and hotel scenario all together, the clients can pool in their own info in real time, giving them tremendous deciding power. Book or go else where with a click of a mouse. Tweeting is another success story that many organizations took piggy back to shoot into the global arena with little or no cost, courtesy Tweety Bird. Linked In connects you with such a simple process, the updates makes you “seen” with your professional groups and some where a silver line of business is streaking up- Ahoy.

Travel Portals
I am portal friendly, as they are literally free and function purely on perform or perish style. No strings attached, the portals give me rooms and I am only too pleased to offer the TAC, that way both  are winners. The big four Make my trip, Clear trip, Yatra and Travel Guru are the pioneers and are reaping the benefits of their vision and foresight.. The foreign portals are keenly watching to make a niche in this no cost solutions for us hoteliers. Customer service and consolidation are the mantra for these portals, we should enthusiastically ride on this wave and establish a double digit growth faster, again with none or meager costs.

Blogs and magazine articles
An interesting article written by one of the hotel staff enhances the image of your
establishment.  I practice this to the hilt, a full page article such as this in an industry magazine gives great mileage with no cost except for your time. There are definitely a  few budding writers amongst us hoteliers. Choosing a recipe or a cooking tip, a funny incident or a management technique written well can have a great product recall. A charity event such as lunch at an orphanage be could also be covered in these articles.

I use our peacock website blog extensively, needless to mention, all my readers are gently guided to my site and this gives me a rare opportunity to show case my profile and services. The shared links from the happy readers can spread visibility exponentially propelling you to a different level. All your blogs need to be in first person, people want to listen to your personal experience, thus the message goes loud and clear.

E-mail marketing
I consider Guerilla e-mail marketing to be a real cost-effective way to advertise. It is also an unobtrusive way. All I do is to design a very effective signature, logo and a message at the bottom of the page. After reading my mail, I tempt the reader to click on the flash message. The box would offer a reward or an interesting info. I make sure that this mail lands into my receiver’s inbox as a plain vanilla byte and not as an attachment. Most of the travel agents retain them in their inbox and show it on their LCD screen while showcasing to the clients.

freeFood demos
Demos by chefs are a great way of attracting socialites. Treat them to some super new recipe sampling and you will have them eating out of your hand. Naming the dish after one famous person in the group creates an interesting twist. You could use that in the tent cards, festive menus or simply on the table mat menus.

Venturing out
Senior executives like housekeepers or chefs can be encouraged to appear in  talk shows. A simple housekeeping tip, decorating the living room or stain removal methods will catch the fancy of the housewives. The GM can be invited as the chief guest for a college/school event, perhaps muscle in a motivating speech at the catering college. Regular quotes on current hospitality issues/trends are other areas where the GM can be in the limelight. I conducted a 4 day seminar projecting sales strategies with technological innovations at the Institute of hotel management Bangalore, I was well received and the news spread, giving me and my Peacock company wide coverage.

Newsletter
Newsletters, either hard copies or sent through the web regularly, are effective and subtle sources of information reaching your select corporate guests directly. The shelf life of these letters is about a fortnight. Simple ideas placed forth in an interesting manner will prove to be an attention grabber. Events such as food fests, chef’s charity shows or a wine taster’s promo by a winery may be highlighted. Outstanding capabilities of the staff may be included. This will not only motivate them, but connect them to the regular guests who have one-to-one relationship. The bond will result in tremendous publicity for the hotel and lead to increased revenues. Focusing on select guests in their areas of expertise connected with the hotel industry is a good option – for example a whisky distillery owner writing some interesting facts about the liquor.

Go direct
My favorite almost No cost advert, the ever reliable direct mailer, even though the return on investment is only four per cent of the guest response. Having said that lets take an
Example: 10,000 mails can give 400 guest responses, which is not too bad. If you can
convert even three per cent of this into actual business, its 300 people using your hotel.
Just make sure that the design and copy is simple, attractive and attention grabbing. Inserts in newspapers, distributing through smart staff at trade shows (not in parking areas but at stalls) are some of the ways to disperse these mailers. A sure way is to send them along with credit card statements.

Innovate constantly, our technology and services should appeal to his senses, giving him a feel that he is reaping value for money. Do whatever is necessary to stay in the limelight but don’t fade away as the guest memory is very short.

As Bill Bern Bach said once, ‘The greatest risk of all is the risk of going unnoticed’

The author is Venu Rao,
Director

Peacock Group, Bangalore

A good Consultant Breathes life into a kitchen

Most often the owners and the architects don’t focus on back end, away from public scrutiny areas like the  kitchen. They treat it as an essential part alright, but don’t consider it as a revenue source nor as the heart of the hotel. Tasty and healthy food presented well has the power of pulling the guests from far and wide. This has the potential to spin the desired effect on room occupancy and the F&B bottom lines. A good consultant is one who breathes life into the kitchen, his aim is to ensure that no costly mistakes are made and the life of  the hotel is free from  resultant  blunders. His main goal is GREAT FOOD AT ALL TIMES, at reasonable rates and crisp service. Having said this, I see a good consultant as one who makes it a point to see the following criterion are adhered to:

  • Correct functional layouts
  • All services are interconnected and co-existing with in the layouts.
  • Optimum lighting / sound systems.
  • Adequate kitchen equipment, with correct specs.
  • Kitchen control apparatus (read POS and food cost soft ware) and empower the chef technically vide touch screens, remote printers and CCTV panels.
  • Ensure that time and motion patterns are followed
  •  Standard trials are done, leading to set Recipe cards
  • Makes the bible for the kitchen (SOPs)…. motivating and training the staff

Owner’s Vision and concept:
A good consultant understands the central theme of the hotel and infuses those core values into the service drawings. He has the words and the vision to make the architect  realize the central functioning of the kitchen. Reviews the flow of the drawings several times till the concepts and the goals are clear on paper and in the implementation stage. He doesn’t believe in rogue kitchen brigades having their own agenda within the department, but ensures, that they are controlled by a single point through his sectional briefs.

Safety   :
This is a huge responsibility of an owner while opening a hotel/ restaurant, unfortunately he may some times gets into an awkward position due to faulty planning of an inexperienced consultant/ architect. Having causality is the last thing a kitchen requires and a good consultant goes through thorough safety planning, flow and motion study, leaving no room for disasters. He must ensure safety and fire fighting aspects in a detailed note.

Cost angles and wastage minimalisation:
The age old saying, costs saved is profit earned is very true in this scenario. The consultant has a singular goal, to make an efficient and effective kitchen. The food cost reduction even by 1 % is note worthy and definitely adds up to the bottom line.

It serves :
A) Optimum staffing – we don’t need scores of Ronaldos roaming around the field to score costly foul goals.
B) Kitchen as a stage – Trainees and students are an integral part of any kitchen, they learning valuable skills on this pupil pit stage which infuses strong work culture.  Professional layouts help them to unlearn first, and then go on to learn practicalities again. The consultant keeps this aspect and coordinates for correct equipment placement.
C) Costliest item in the kitchen = Garbage Bin! So true again. Throwing food cooked or other wise sends shock waves across the kitchen and affect the owners exponentially! Over flowing bins due to faulty layouts/ unskilled staff is upper most on the consultant’s mind. He takes pains to see that the refrigeration systems, cooking ranges or the Garde manger are smooth lined and not way off the flow, or else the staff tend to just chuck the food  into the bin due to laziness or pressure of immediate work. Why take those extra steps to the walk In or the range fridge when its lot easier to toss the unwanted food at hand in the bin!!  Sounds trivial. One might think, the chef can supervise all these, but in reality it doesn’t happen.

The layout plan makes or breaks the costing of the food in the kitchen, some chefs are irritated if the equipment is badly placed or they don’t have enough elbow room, wastage is definitely bound to occur. In one of the startup kitchens we found the entire kitchen with 9 foot walls for each section looking like pigeon holed compartments. In this scenario, the communication was very difficult and the chef couldn’t see the cooks at all. Luckily we could change it in the nick of time.  Wastage results due to over production, duplication, service delays, communication gaps…and many small things which are overlooked.

Happiness :
The concept of a busy kitchen is changing of late, the chefs should look and feel happy, be it the work flow or the general mood in the kitchen. Such positivity can be created again when the ranges are planned well, exhaust functioning or the lighting is 110% ! Superb. The back ground music makes a huge difference to the speed of the hands while working, they move automatically faster if there is a happy and pleasant back ground tune playing. Even if the waiter irritates the chef, many times!!  The chef is still smiling, as he is listening to Katy Perry’s California girls. Care should of course be taken to see that it doesn’t become a kitchen discotheque with dancing cooks all around. All this add to the wow effect that makes happy chefs who feed happier people!

Placing flat TVs on mute but showing famous chefs presenting is a good idea, which the consultant can Try. Few natural scenes interspersed by cooking shows will add value. The ‘Hairy bikers chefs show’ is a tremendous draw for young chefs. They are witty, teach and demo cook at amazing locations. Padma lakhsmi with her good looks and stylish accent is a good bet, her cook shows teach you a lot, yet are entertaining too.

As they say, a happy Chef makes tasty food. And for him to be happy, the consultant goes through the growing pain, reinforcing that his work life in the kitchen is comfy, clean and clinical. Unwittingly the Consultant either makes or breaks the chef- turns them into Smiley Potatoes or grumpy Karelas. Owners who understand this simple yet important aspect go on to make a landmark hotel. They are the true blue leaders, the real futuristic hoteliers….

The author is Venu Rao,
Director
Peacock Group, Bangalore

Managed Hotels

clinton-park-innPeacock Group had the honor of setting this upscale ultra modern hotel at Velankani much to the satisfaction of the guests. All the public areas and the rooms were tastefully decorated and made functional to the global hospitality standards. The staff were trained and all operational procedures were supervised by the group. Sales and marketing too is handled by us.Today Clinton park Inn is a destination for exceptional value at an exceptional location and serves as a gateway to Velankanni’s best.

 

The author is Venu Rao,
Director
Peacock Group, Bangalore