CURATING THE PERFECT HOTEL EXPERIENCE | DALE SIMPSON Comments Off on CURATING THE PERFECT HOTEL EXPERIENCE | DALE SIMPSON 582

This week the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group rebranded to Radisson Hotel Group. Meet one of its most high profile general managers Dale Simpson, who launched the Radisson RED in Cape Town last year, and here he explains the thinking behind the evolving brand and the changing role of the GM.

Irishman Dale Simpson has been in the hospitality industry for 15 years and nine of those with the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, rebranded this week to the Radisson Hotel Group. “I was involved in opening the first Hotel Missoni in 2009 before moving to their Radisson Blu brand in 2013 as an Operations Manager,” he says. His landed his first GM role was at the five-star G&V Royal Mile Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, and then in 2016 he moved to the group’s head office in Brussels, Belgium, Corporate Director of Food & Drink – and it was there that he supported the opening the world’s first Radisson RED.

The launch of RED brought to eight the number of hotel brands under the Carlton Rezidor umbrella, with more than 1,400 hotels in operation and under development. Radisson RED has a vision for its guests identified as “united by an appreciation for unique but intelligent design, energetic social spaces, technology that makes their lives easier, and a customisable, personal experience,” says Dale. The success of the new brand in Brussels was followed by launches in Minneapolis, USA,  and Campinas, Brazil. Then Dale was offered the opportunity to move from Brussels to Cape Town in January 2017 to open the first Radisson RED in Africa.

A decade ago Dale have probably been called a general manager, but at Radission RED all staff job definitions are wider, and his job title is Curator. He says: “When you consider what we are really trying to do in our hotels, it is essentially to curate the guest experience, create it thoughtfully, a unique experience that celebrates our location and comes to life through our inspirations.

“Life at Radisson RED should never be dull and as a brand our inspiration is derived from three pillars, music, art and fashion.”

 

You know its special when you enter The Radisson RED on the redeveloped V&A Waterfront. There’s no lobby, you arrive in an art gallery, with a huge mural by artist Cameron Platter on one wall, and on the other are Coca Cola crates stacked from floor to ceiling – a reference to the Porky Hefer artwork in the Waterfront. “It’s an energetic landscape and requires attention every day,” says Dale. “It removes the traditional silos that exist in hotels which tend to over departmentalise everything by having departments for an overabundance of tasks. At RED, we simplify it, we are all on the journey to create the guest experience, especially the Curator.”

 In the world of hospitality even the most traditional brand knows it must adapt but Radission really does offer a unique take on the guest experience. It’s an ever-changing landscape, which means we have to keep our own landscapes interesting and enticing,” says Dale. “As hotels we compete on so many levels, now more than ever and with so many accommodation offerings. “Hotels have to be experience orientated, whether that be visually, through our senses, through interactions, through IT or through our team members. They have to appeal and have an attraction that is beyond the bricks and mortar and repeat feel. Delivery and consistency are important but arguable an ever-changing landscape eventually can be defined as being consistent.”

It would be easy to slip into the current fashionable hospitality narrative, saying that Radisson RED is all about appealing to millennials – the generation that was born between the early eighties and the early 2000s.Of course, it does appeal to that generation but Dale refuses to accept any age barrier, it’s the mindset he explains. “A lot is made of millennials and what it means, who they are etcetera. However, it is important for us that we don’t age define, but rather in our world, millennial is simply a mindset and they are wonderful travellers.

“They are experience-focused. We know that they will take 30 per cent of their trips alone, they are content-enthusiasts, image conscious, more health aware and embrace a localised mindset with an attraction to shared spaces or even experiences. Naturally, they live most of their lives via mobile and instant communications.” But this experience-focused guest has other expectations with regard to the effect that their travel has on the places they visit , says Dale.“Like us, they think and act responsibly, therefore, we do not serve buffets – which reduces our food waste dramatically – and we have paperless rooms. In addition, millennials are content seekers, so we ensure that we provide them with lots of creative content.”

Dale is one of the panelists at this year’s Leadership Forum, the three-day conference at The Hotel Show Africa 2018, at a headline session which will examine the changing role of the Hotel General Manager. Dale believes in 2018 there are key priorities: “Be with your guests. Be out front, be visible and most importantly always be approachable. Focus always on the guest experience and avoid creating silos in your business. Too many silos leads to guests being passed around… and in a service industry, this always creates huge frustration.”

Some GMs may laugh at such a suggestion and point to their workload as one reason they have slipped into back rooms. But Dale believes the benefits ultimately will be reflected in customer loyalty and return visits. “Simply put, in businesses we tend to use profit and loss accounts to measure certain efficiencies within our business,” he says. “Payroll is usually one. Operationally, we’ll measure against business performance indicators/benchmarks.

“But what we don’t do is consider always how we spend our payroll and time when it comes to GM positions and those akin. For example, spending 50 per cent of your week in meeting rooms away from guests and away from the guest experience isn’t always helpful and creates a cycle whereby we are completely removed from and out of touch with our guests.” And now he has brought his vision of management to Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group’s first Radisson RED in Africa. This huge continent has seen the big hotel brands lining up to invest and grow over the past five years. Africa provides unique challenges, but Dale has embraced them completely.

“It’s a wonderful continent, full of diversity, different experiences and naturally with that, lots of opportunities,” he says. “For big brands, it’s a developing market and provides opportunities to find great locations which can be more difficult in the more mature markets. “The African market is beautiful and unique, but it must be remembered: one size does not necessarily fit all. So, adapting to all the different locations and respecting them is absolutely key.

“In fact, you really want to embrace the location and develop with them. Brands need to be ready to do that and I think at Carlson Rezidor, this has been a critical component of our success.”

So, what would Dale Simpson top three tips for success in the hotel sector for the coming five years?

  1. Create environments that inspire from design, feel, delivery, whatever. People want to photograph it, share it, they are content-enthusiasts
  2. Focus on the guest experience, this is not about design, it’s about feel, it’s vibe, it’s sensual
  3. Collaborate, don’t try and be a master of all things, work with great partners and talented people

Learn more about The Hotel Show Africa 2017 and The Hospitality Leadership Forum at www.thehotelshowafrica.com

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THE ART OF SABERING A BOTTLE OF CHAMPAGNE 0 449

Have you ever given thought of opening a bottle with a sword that adds drama to an occasion? Well, in Mauritius, that has become a trend, or rather has a seriouspurpose in promoting the enjoyment of Champagne, the lifestyle of fine diningand as they call it ‘The art of Sabering’. The Confrérie du Sabre d’Or in Mauritius has made it more memorable recently, during an annual initiation night that was hosted on October 9 at the Château Labourdonnais, by Mr Ravin Untiah, Ambassador of the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or in Mauritius where the association shared insights on ‘Sabrage’, which is a technique for opening a champagne bottle with a sword, mainly used in ceremonial occasions.

To begin with, The Confrérie du Sabre d’Or is devoted to promoting the act of Sabrage and the enjoyment of Cham- pagne. It can seem challenging when one is initially handed a sword and a chilled bottle of Champagne with the expectation that you will open the bottle with the blade of a sword. The Confrérie du Sabre d’Or was created in Senlis in France in 1986 by Jean Claude Jalloux the Grand Master, with the aim of sharing the expertise of opening a champagne bottle with a sword, a no- ble product that is celebrated around gourmet dinners. However, it should be noted that the actual tradition of Sabrage dates back to Napoleonic days (the Regency period here in Great Britain). Although the custom continued for some time in British Cavalry Regiments, it is now encouraged across the world by a society of like-minded Sabreurs – the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or.In the United Kingdom, it was first setup in 1999 by UK Ambassadeur Emeritus, Julian White. Jean Claude has helped in setting up this prestigious Confrerie in Mauritius since 1996. It’s been 22 years since its launch, and they are among the oldest and one of the first outside Europe.

Well, it can seem frightening when you are initially handed a ‘sabre’ (a Champagne tool: sword) and a chilled bottle of Cham- pagne with the expectation that you will open the bottle with the sword’s blade. Do not be discouraged! The technique goes like this: Take a chilled bottle of champagne, not ice cold but suitable for drinking. The ideal temperature is around 37°F or 3°C. Carefully remove the wire around the cork. Find one of the two seams along the side of the bottle. At the same time, you can remove the foil which will impede the sliding movement of the sabre. With your arm extended, hold the bottle firmly by placing the thumb inside the punt at the base. Make sure the neck is pointing up – around 30 degrees from horizontal. Calmly lay the sword flat along the seam of the bottle with the sharp edge ready to slide firmly against the glass annulus, or ring, at the top of the bottle. With a firm sweep, slide the sword along the seam to meet the ring at the top. Your firm sliding of the sword against this ring is aided by the internal pressure of the bottle, so that the cork flies dramatically away. This leaves a neat cut on the neck of the bottle and the champagne is ready to be enjoyed. Not as easy as we think, but all it needs is a firm wrist and you’ll be telling tales of how easy it really was! Furthermore, as one gets well versed and experienced with this art, there are different titles you can associate yourself to depending on the years of experience, such as, “Chevalier Sabreur”, “Officier Sabreur” and “Commandeur” which can become official after five years of being an Officier and by opening a Jeroboam (4 bottles/ 3 Liters).

Since its creation, the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or has acquired worldwide fame bringing together lovers and enthusiasts of Cham- pagne. In Mauritius, Mr Untiah together with the support of the Confrérie du Sabre d’or, have so far launched 12 champagne vaults which means that 10 percent of the resort and hotels here are already practicing the art of Sabrage. It should be high- lighted that this percentage is much more than the number of hotels recognized by La Confrerie in France. With the success and interest for this art, the association has recently opened a cellar in Madagascar and at the beginning of this year, at LUX Resort, Ile de La Reunion.

Having said that, as some might consider the art of Sabrage a theatrical alternative for the unknowingly clumsy twisting and explosion of the cork, or as some say, weapons and alcohol don’t mix; This French tradition is being given a new lease of life in Mauritius and is definitely being appreciated as a very spectacular way of celebrating Champagne!

CHEF JORDI – “THE CHEF’S JOURNEY NEVER ENDS” 0 758

“Jordi Vila describes his journey from helping out in family restau- rants in Barcelona to becoming Executive Chef at Constance Le- muria, on the island of Praslin, Seychelles, where he has the free- dom to bring forth his experience and creativity to create unique dishes to tantalise the taste buds of the clientele.”

The position of Executive Chef at Constance Lemuria, on the north-western side of Praslin island, Seychelles, is one which Jordi Vila truly relishes. Constance Lemu- ria is one of two Constance Group luxury hotels in the Seychelles, which opened inDecember 1999. The five-star eco-friendly hotel is one of the Leading Hotels in theWorld, and it has five restaurants offering a range of different cuisines.

So what is it like working at the heart of the culinary operations of the hotel?

Jordi explains that “at Constance Lemuria the concept of “cooking” is about perfection and precise timing – everything has to be on time! Operating the timing of the restaurants, the time service of our restaurant and kitchen team, the timing of the dishes, how long does it take to prepare a dish and the pace of the guests according to their needs, therefore during the day I am busy with many timings! It is difficult to balance home and work as a Chef, considering as well that it is not easy in a small island like Praslin and I can say that my “normal” working day reflects many timings, many meetings and of course the passion for food.

PLANNING THE DAY

The life of an Executive Chef is certainly a busy one with many meetings and activities over the course of the day. “Every day I wake up at 7am! At 8am I have my first meeting over a coffee with my Executive Sous Chef, and at 8.30am I have my second meeting with all the heads of the departments where we all discuss the daily operations. At 11am, I have my third meeting with all the chefs de cuisine in my office and my last meeting is at 1pm, with the team from the ‘Diva’ restaurant where we always brainstorm new menus, new concepts and trends,” Jordi explains.

In terms of his evening routine, “at 6 pm I start to supervise all the restaurants: our main buffet restaurant ‘Legend’, our Creole restaurant ‘The Nest’, private and exclusive dinners and our fine dining ‘Diva’ restaurant, where I work until 10pm, and at 11.30pm I have my first glass of wine…”

DEVELOPING CREATIVE SKILLS

Jordi has been working for Constance Group for the last four years and at Lemuria since January 2018. Describing his move to the company, Jordi comments that “what attracted me mostly was the freedom that was given to me to run the culinary team. It has been a good opportunity for me as well because Constance Group is well known and popular for its passion for wine and culinary experience. I just knew, from the beginning, that the Constance Group was giving me the chance to develop my creative skills with high quality products. For a Chef it is priceless to work with the best products in the world! I can surely say that Constance Lemuria is an essential port of call for lovers of rejuvenated traditional gastronomy,” he adds.

He also highlights that Constance Lemuria has a focus on local products. “At ‘The Legend’ and ‘The Nest’ restaurants we offer a big variety of local cuisine using local products such as rice, fish, pork, pineapple, mango, okra, breadfruit, pumpkin, eggplant, cabbage, exotic fruits, watermelon, chili, curry leaves and, of course, a lot of coconut,” he says.

“The sea is a real source of inspiration which provides me power and creativity”

ROAD FROM BARCELONA

So how did Jordi end up as Executive Chef at Constance Lemuria? “Well, throughout my childhood and my teenage years, my family ran a few restaurants in Barcelona. I have always been very enthusiastic about the culinary arts, hence when I turned 15, I started helping out my family at the restaurants,” he explains.

From his early days, doing odd jobs around the kitchen, Jordi’s interest in the culinary field and Chefs continued to grow, which led him to undertake a traineeship as a pastry Chef. “However, with more maturity, I chose to develop my knowledge and get closer to the business area. Hence, I have diverted my skills from pastry to the hot kitchen side,” he comments.

At the age of 20, Jordi started travelling around the world as his ultimate goal was to attempt to learn more and broaden his horizons in this field, and finally he has worked all over the world.

PROJECTS IN THE PIPELINE

While Jordi has already come a long way from his starting point, he has a number of new projects in the pipeline. “I have in mind a first project at Constance Lemuria with our Sushi Bar. I am planning to elab- orate a very personal tasting menu called “By the Sea”. The idea is to combine Japanese and Spanish products and maximize the umami’s flavours by using only seasonal products. The concept is to create a different menu each morning which will be served at dinner time. Therefore, we will offer new dishes on the menu on a daily basis which means a lot of creativity, and there will be only 15 seats available,” he elaborates.
He has a second project in the offing which is to implement a special menu called “The Raw” which will be served at the counter of ‘Diva’ restaurant, which is the hotel’s fine dining restaurant. “This menu will be tailor-made with the best products and the concept will be simply based on applying less heat to the ingredients. By using this method, it will allow the product to be served in its purest form and to be the centre of the nutritious natural flavor,” he enthuses, with the seating capacity to be around 10 seats for this special experience.

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION

To sum up, what are the key sources of in- spiration for Jordi as he seeks to improve the experience for his customers? First of all, Jordi highlights that “the sea is a real source of inspiration which provides me power and creativity”.

Secondly, and more directly, Jordi ex-plains that his customers give him the drive towards constant improvement of his creativity, day by day. “I must admit that my way to cook is a real personal interpretation,” he admits. “Hence, with any comment or criticism a customer might mention to me, I usually take it to heart but always in a positive way. My only goal is their satisfaction and to make them happy with the dishes I create. When I receive any comment or encourage- ment from them, it provides me with the strength to do even better and try to go always higher.”