MyTravaly’s Interview with Hospitality Professional - Mr. Prrateek Chaudhary. Currently a Restaurant and Beverage Manager at The Grand New Delhi with diverse knowledge and experience with Banquets, Cruises, Restaurants, Food and Beverage. Read on to know more about the training, career, modernization, Covid-19 effects, recent changes and improvement in the hospitality industry.
Could you tell us a bit about your experience and years in the hospitality industry?
I have had a total 8 years of experience in hospitality, specifically in the luxury segment.
My experience includes, procurement team at Fairmont Jaipur, The Taj palace, Leela Hotel Chanakyapuri, The Lodhi New Delhi, the IHG chain and 1 year with MSC Cruises through which I explored 12 different countries. I also have experience working with restaurants, banquets and the bar. I got an exposure to destination weddings and worked with some well known brands of Food and Beverage. For example, The Leela famous for F&B, serves as the benchmark for years. I worked as a Manager for 3 years, so I was able to learn a lot about this industry, the various departments, roles, growth and I aspire to become the GM of Taj Mahal Mumbai. I am working towards that!
Recently you’ve been training young students into hospitality professionals. How has your experience been with that so far?
My experience has been quite good so far. Recently, the final hospitality batch had just passed out of the college with all their doubts and queries regarding their future prospects. So I started with some presentations and testimonials and trained them to prepare for all the things that have been changed in this industry. It is important for them to be introduced to the new trends and procedures. So while I was guiding and counseling in IHM Jodhpur, my alma mater, I had this idea of creating my own website for students across the globe who wanted to build a career in hospitality and were looking for mentorship.
I guide these students step by step and point them towards the things they need to work upon so that they could easily grab opportunities in the current competitive market. I made them realize that their competition is not just with their batchmates but also with people who have been laid off and who already possess the exposure (local as well as international) and relevant skills required in the industry. It is difficult for fresh graduates to survive without proper guidance and training regarding interviews, etc. So I launched the website and organised more than 40 webinar sessions in different colleges like IHM Gwalior, Bhubaneswar, etc. Soon I am also looking forward to sessions with IHM Kovalam and Chennai.
Students assume sending their CV to the vacancies gets their job done which isn't true. Making connections and getting the hidden jobs is the game changer nowadays. An open vacancy example of a restaurant manager invites more than 200 CVs for less than 10 openings which is far more difficult to get through. So I advise them to break the queue and apply for the hidden jobs and more tactics like these through my website.
So, what are some essentials that one can only learn through experience in hospitality and what are some qualities and skills that one definitely needs to grow in this industry?
We need people with calm nature, interactive and the smiley ones who can easily make a connection with the guests. Hotel is not about meeting the guests but more about creating relationships with them. They are continuously arriving and departing which is why we need people who can instantly engage with them. The three major departments have to ace it specifically. The Front Office which isn't just for check-in and check-out nowadays, The Guest Relations Executive is there to make a connection so that the butlers can assist them. F&B department is about interacting all the time with guests and is an engaging service which wasn't like this a decade before. Earlier, the kitchen was more like the backside of the hotel but today live kitchens are in practice and the chefs interact with the guests.
Hence, work and communication is of paramount importance. It’s about creating a bond, interaction, making memories for the guests and making them feel special. Nowadays, it isn't just about paying, anybody can pay, but the experience is cherishable if the guest visits again. That’s how hotels can increase the revenue. So a confident, competent and humble person who can be groomed will be able to build a great personality. About communication, once they get into the industry and experience everything they learn how to talk, when to talk, what not to say, all with time and exposure.
You’ve had extensive managerial experience at the Taj, The Lodhi, IHG and so on. What were some challenges you faced in your previous experience as a Manager and how did you tackle them?
Being a Manager I had a lot of responsibilities along with the positives and negatives like bad reviews on social media. Earlier we used to get feedback when customers would write on the comment card. But nowadays chances are that a complaint before reaching the manager, reaches all kinds of food delivery apps and whose reviews really matter because people consider them before investing. One negative comment can be a deal breaker. To tackle this, we need to improvise actively upon certain areas especially in the luxury segment. I started with resorts and villas where there's no space for delay or compromised service and everybody pushes themselves to provide the best service.
After I joined some famous luxury brands as a Manager in The Lodhi and IHG, I had back to back duties and responsibilities. The customers arriving and departing continuously, you need to train your team to provide a quicker but quality service and this was challenging. I started training my team about the algorithm of these rating apps along with the things I needed to improvise, the small gestures that make a huge difference along with managing the revenues. Being a Manager, I cannot handle everything alone. Teamwork is necessary to achieve results, so here's how I encouraged them to boost their performance. I told them do not work for the restaurant, but for your own CV, for your own skills so if the restaurant ranks in top 20 restaurants of the country, it'll increase the value of your professional experiences and resume. Your CV will create an impact and you'd get your desired job without applying. Considering this they worked hard with passion for themselves resulting in a steep hike in the restaurant's performance.
At the time when I was leaving, IHG ranked 8th or 9th in Delhi which before my joining was around 28-29. Along with housekeeping and room service, restaurants also have a significant impact upon the overall rating and when the guests are satisfied they visit again and again which increases the revenue and property's value in the market.
The hospitality industry has been one of the worst affected by the COVID 19 pandemic. What was the impact on the hotel chain you were previously associated with (InterContinental Hotels Group) and in general?
The impact of Covid upon hospitality was somewhat pioneering, which changed a lot of things in a very short span of time.
Some obvious impacts were loss of jobs... upto 40 lakhs and counting. Deduction in revenues, 40-50% pay cuts. But this successively led to some of the most significant amendments in the industry. The hotels which earned 8,200 crores in a year could only make 10-12 crores which is not even 10-20% of the previous. As a result all the VPs and MDs of major hotel chains came together to chalk out strategies to tackle the pandemic.
A positive impact of this pandemic upon hospitality is the emergence of technology. It isn't that technology was a complete stranger to hospitality a few years ago but it was used in strict limits namely for check-in & check-out and billing. But today, each and every department operates digitally. Also, the recent graduates have modern insights of improvisations in the industry. We have digital menus through QR code, room keys are handed through the vending machine, the luxury factor was maintained for home deliveries as well. Taj introduced 'Qmin' and likewise all the brands are working for their own, which encourages contactless service reducing the current ongoing risk associated, high upsurge in the level of hygiene like exclusive priority upon sanitation, cleanliness. Every hotel has appointed their own Hygiene Manager.
We are waiting for the next year because everything is getting back to normal, occupancy is gradually shifting and also apart from hospitality other sectors are improving as well. Not only the five stars but in the local banquets, hotels social functions, birthday celebrations, marriage functions, etc. have started happening again. Tours and visits cannot be avoided for long so we will definitely rise again after this crisis with focus on hygiene, digitalization and standardization.
What measures or strategy changes have the management and staff of such hotel chains been taking to tackle this situation and reassure customers to get them back?
For people who stay, we maintain all the standards, hygiene and measures. They're aware how the services are carried out maintaining zero contact, with a digital menu for accessing their live kitchen, and a cold buffet to prevent transmission.
For customers who order, we provide services like live kitchen through which they can see how their food is being prepared, carried and delivered all through the way. Untouched food in the respective hotel's car accompanied by either the manager or the chef reached the doorstep. The details of the person who prepared, at what time, temperature, till when one can consume it, the delivery time, are shared with the customer. Digital bartending and kitchen classes are being organised on the social platforms. Hotels are about making an impact through something special or unique that you do for your customers to build trust.
Do you think that post pandemic the hospitality landscape will change forever or will it go back to the way it was? What is your opinion on the same?
Every brand is taking efforts to build and maintain certain standards through certification and regular audits. For example, The Leela has issued it's certificate named 'Suraksha'. The Tourism and Health Ministry have come together to create measures and standards that we have to follow. There are things which will remain for a longer period of time, the hygiene, digitalization and contactless service depending upon the capability of the hotel and investments made into it.
Some suggestions on your part to even improve the hospitality industry.
Firstly, the pay scale which I think should be revised according to the revenue earned. Secondly, the working hours are a little more than usual in this industry, like 12 to 13 hours on average but slowly the culture is evolving towards 9-10 hours and a little more work on festivities like Christmas, New Year, etc. Still it’s fine because hotel jobs are different, and the main job starts after evening. Most activity is after evening. Only breakfast is in the morning, so we can adjust the working hours along with a little hike in salaries.
Some positive and negative aspects of working in hospitality in your personal life.
During my initial years in the hotel industry, I had long working hours though I enjoyed it. Apart from that nothing is negative in terms of satisfaction, experience, exposure and pay scale. The benefits are a lot in terms of skills. Having spent 8 years into hospitality now almost every sector is open for me be it call center, airlines, retails, training department and likewise. Being a hotelier I explored 12 different countries and that too free of cost. I basically got paid to travel the world with food, wine, meeting different people and I think that’s the best experience being in this industry.
What life experience do you owe to or are you grateful for to the hospitality industry?
Like I said, the exposure to 12 different countries, reputation as a manager because of my hard work, I was always growth-focused. So I looked forward to my career and set goals in this industry and only because of that I reached a certain level today which I owe to this industry. The luxury, lavishness and the knowledge helped me in real life. Your personality is groomed through your experiences. Through its network I could create my own website. There isn't anything which I would like to change. I also got job offers from other sectors but I want to endure a little more to achieve my goals and don't want to change for the same, every experience was a good and memorable one!
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