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Managing F&B While Changing Brands

Maintaining Profitability, Service Levels During Transition Among Top Challenges

Sunday, February 24, 2019
Mr. Larry Mogelonsky
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Proud to be a Torontonian hotelier, I have been quite giddy these past few years as my hometown has seen numerous new property additions, especially at the luxury end. Specifically, one major recent build in the heart of the financial core has been the Trump Toronto.

This hotel never quite found its legs for a variety of reasons, though, so it was sold last year to new owners who decided to rebrand it as a St. Regis property, which is currently in the midst of reimagining all of its spaces and is slated to reopen this upcoming winter.

Interestingly, it wasn’t an immediate conversion, with the interim title of The Adelaide Hotel—named after the street it resides on—deployed while all the back-end processes were figured out. Managing this double transition hasn’t been easy in the slightest, though. Every operation has to be reviewed so that the brand standards are met and so guests are offered a distinctively new experience.

Above all, most takeovers must rapidly address some central financial issues before the property attains an inescapable amount of red in the ledgers. In other words, the clock is ticking and the new executive team needs quick wins as well as a viable long-term strategy.

I first met Arjun Gopi when he was the director of food & beverage at the Ritz-Carlton Toronto, another recent build just a few blocks away from the soon-to-be St. Regis Toronto. Not only did Arjun oversee a lobby bar and café, all banquets and catering as well as a huge expansion of the outdoor patio space, but he was also a key proponent of the signature restaurant’s in-house cheese cave—a uniquely interactive feature to any establishment, let alone a fully modern urban hotel.

When I heard that Arjun had accepted the role of director of food & beverage at (what is still currently known as) The Adelaide Hotel, on the one hand I was relieved because I knew he would be able to bring the operations up to speed, especially with the potential of the property’s signature restaurant located in an immaculate space on the top floor of the building. And on the other hand, I was curious to find out some more details as to how he planned to solve all the legacy problems.

With that as the premise, I sat down with Arjun for a delightful lunch to discuss the process and to learn about how he has tackled this situation.

Q: Describe how the F&B operations functioned prior to your appointment.
Arjun: The F&B operations were outsourced by previous owners to a third-party operator not affiliated with the management company. This third-party operator ran all aspects of the operation, including banquet and room service.

Q: What was your primary goal when changing the F&B operations?
Arjun: The primary goal was to just keep it running as it was an overnight transition. The prep period was only 27 days during which we had to understand the operations, hire a team, come up with menus, develop an operating model, takeover the restaurant and keep it running. Coming from a luxury brand background in partnership with executive chef Guillaume Robin, we determined the areas that needed training, the best process for implementation and how to change the operating structure, and then implemented all those during this transition in order to set up a model for ongoing improvements.

Q: What obstacles have you faced during the transition and how did you overcome these?
Arjun: The biggest challenge facing any transition property, especially going from one management company to another, is the culture shift. In our business, especially in the luxury tier, culture is such an integral part to the success of a team; it needs to operate at 110% all the time, and often with less than 100% of resources due to various reasons. Not that one is better than the other, but a new brand brings certain mechanisms and structure that work within its team dynamic and culture for which the previous brand may not have.

So, the smallest of operational changes can seem immense if the right culture is not in place. Through implementing a daily culture piece in our lineups, having executive team members attending lineups and driving the message home is how this can be slowly transformed. It’s not an overnight process. This is a unique transition where we didn’t go from one luxury brand to another straightaway so that has posed an additional marketing challenge. Through client events and one-on-one relationships, we are building our presence in the market in preparation for the new brand.

Q: What challenges are still on the horizon and what's the approach to tackling these?
Arjun: The largest challenge is still completing a reimagination of our key amenities (lobby, bar and top-floor restaurant) while still running the hotel. As well, being part of the larger integration between Starwood and Marriott, which involves a lot of system changes and implementing the St. Regis brand standards are both big-bucket items we have to accomplish in 2018.

Suffice it to say, we have a full plate. We have been strategic about sharing these goals and objectives amongst our leadership team, and we’ve added responsibilities to various key leaders at the junior level, empowering them to move initiatives forward so we can accomplish all that we have to in this protracted timeline.

Q: What advice do you have for other aspiring F&B Directors and all other foodie hoteliers?
Arjun: Stay current, stay relevant, eat out as much as you can and pay attention to the independent restaurant scene around your hotel. Especially in city locations, most times it’s not about what other five-star hotels do well; it’s about what that little Italian place around the block is doing to take away all your lunch business or the bar in the basement of the office building that’s taking all your night cap guests. How do you stay relevant to that experience for your guests? Are your spaces, concept, design and service style meeting the needs of your guests?

Larry Mogelonsky    Mr. Larry Mogelonsky
Managing Partner, Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited
Owners, Principals, or Partners
Hotel Mogel Consulting Ltd.

Bio: The world’s most published writer in hospitality, Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. Larry is also on several boards for companies focused on hotel technology. His work includes five books “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” (2012), “Llamas Rule” (2013), “Hotel Llama” ...
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