“A baker’s dozen” of strategies for hotel banquet managers

By. John Hogan 11th Mar 2009

Over the past three years, this columnist/hotelier has prepared a series of articles that have offered insights into specific tasks and duties facing many departments and professionals in our industry. The series was created after I read the front-page story of a late December 2005 Chicago Tribune that offered a most interesting headline: DOES ANYONE HAVE TIME TO THINK ANYMORE?

With the turbulence facing our industry and global economies, the need to find the time to “think” has become even more significant. The unfortunate tendency for knee jerk responses is evident if one watches the daily rise and fall of global stock market prices, as companies and industries are critically devalued for reasons that have little to do with the actual company’s quality or performance.

As much as we want improved processes and product, we need to remember to maintain the foundations of our successes strong, and not accept the negativity of the naysayers.

In preparing these columns, I have added consulting and training insights to examples shared with me by professionals in those positions to provide these capsulated snapshots. This particular column on HOTEL BANQUET MANAGERS addresses a very important component of many full service hotels and is the first of eight topics planned for 2009 columns. Banquets are important to the profitability and reputation of many hotels and important to the individuals who have elected to host a group event in an organized banquet.

We often see a top ten list of ideas but thirteen are offered here in the tradition of the “bakers dozen”. This phrase arose when bakers started giving away an extra loaf with every dozen purchased to make sure the total weight of bread sold complied with the strict Weights and Measures Regulations which came into force at the time. Since then, the number thirteen has been referred to as “a baker’s dozen”.

“A Baker’s Dozen” of Strategies for Hotel Banquet Managers

  1. Whenever possible, identify who your staff should be, then hire and train accordingly. A main responsibility of a Banquet Manager is to achieve customer satisfaction at banquet events and build loyalty to encourage repeat bookings. This means hiring and training a GREAT team. As was highlighted in the F&B Director Baker’s Dozen strategies, training must be augmented – this is critical in these days of cautious or reduced spending in banquets and restaurants. When revenues are flat or declining, cutting ongoing training to “save money” will really cost more as it will drive the good staff to consider leaving and the loyal customers to the competition because it appears you do not care. Banquets are often the most profitable segment of many hotel food operations and staff attentiveness can be the make or break point. As attendees, we all remember the challenge of receiving coffee, or trying to claim a pre-arranged vegetarian or other entrée. We remember the frustrations – do we as banquet management include sensitivity training in our efforts so that OUR banquet staff can be the exception?
  2. Be the “host” as appropriate. Our favorite successful hometown independent restaurant will usually find the owner or manager at the door – welcoming each guest individually. While banquets do not have the same style of operation, many successful banquet managers at full service hotels welcome guests, along with the individual who arranged the event. Having someone visible in management acting as the “host” or sometimes, problem solver insures small issues do not escalate.
  3. Update the “small touches” regularly. Both banquet spaces and hotel restaurants should be high touch. Use of flowers, interesting table settings, a welcoming entrance at the front door and tasteful holiday decorations can all distinguish your hotel.
  4. Insure great food presentations The best Banquet Managers have excellent two-way communication between the kitchen and serving staff. Even though there may be several hundred of an entrée served at one sitting, each dish should look special to each guest – there are many established practices to make this happen at no extra cost other than training. (see #1)
  5. Embrace Reasonable Care. This may sound very unusual to discuss reasonable care in banquet service and management, but practicing it in all areas of food service is important. Paying attention here can be essential, as there are so many different types of food service, including buffets and service in non-traditional areas. The late Tony Marshall shared dozens of ideas relating to care of furniture, buffet service, china, flatware, glassware and general operational practices.
  6. Provide incentive programs. Depending on the kind of hotel and venue, there may be ways to improve revenue at banquets. There are all kinds of calendars and web sites that highlight ideas and ways to promote your programs internally and occasionally with external advertising as appropriate. Let me suggest four very different types of approaches:Ken Bergins, http://www.profitablehospitality.com/public/137.cfm
    Max Hitchins http://www.restaurantowner.com/public/93.cfm
    Jim Sullivan, http://www.sullivision.com and
    Bill Marvin http://billmarvin.com/gamble.htmlI have heard and/or read each of these professional’s work several times on a range of topics and their sites, links and resources offer dozens of low cost or no cost common sense ideas on driving revenue. These websites and other offer ideas for incentives for both serving staff and others. Incentive programs should reward the extraordinary efforts by an individual or a team.
  7. Share the messages of cost containment The people who work in our hotels today are intelligent professionals who understand that higher costs at work lessen their opportunities for raises or other benefits. Effective banquet managers create a master communication plan with the F&B Director and Executive Chef to share logical and equitable ways for everyone to understand cost containment.
  8. Proactively strive to build positive working relationships through teamwork and clear communication as a member of the hotel management team. Banquet Managers at large hotels are likely to have one of the larger staffs and should be a regular Manager on Duty. Banquet Managers must execute company and/or franchise programs and resolve daily operational problems through consistent monitoring of banquet operations. This includes compliance with safety and security regulations, and the best possible level of service, quality and hospitality.
  9. Embrace responsibility for both long and short term planning, as well as day-to-day operations of the banquet section. Banquet Managers should recommend procedural changes if needed, and keep an eye on the department’s operating budget guidelines and performance.
  10. Monitor and control banquet budget, including labor guidelines, beverage costs where appropriate, supplies and equipment. Banquet Mangers should coordinate with catering sales managers and event budgets to maximize revenue, while providing quality guest service. This includes regular scrutiny of banquet event orders
  11. Communicate effectively with customers, managers and associates to ensure that all room setups, equipment, supplies, staffing and menus meet/exceed customer’s expectations. Two-way communication is the key to effective delivery of service. The expression holds true that the only thing worse than a trained staff that leaves is an untrained staff that stays to service your customers. If one looks at the crisis facing many of the casual dining chains in 2008 and 2009, it becomes evident how important each customer must be made to feel. Satisfaction does NOT mean loyalty – we need to build customer loyalty and training is the key. When you serve hundreds of people at group settings each month, the opportunities to excel are enormous.
  12. Be Professional as appropriate. Making your banquet service special need not be a challenge, and the most critical distinguishing factor is ensuring your team consistently provides excellent customer service EVERY meal. There are many other responsibilities for banquet managers including reviewing schedules, equipment and supplies and organizing workflow. Today’s professional banquet managers need ongoing knowledge of the principles and practices within the catering, food and beverage and hospitality professions. The ability to make occasional business decisions guided by established policies and procedures are supported by solid communication skills.
  13. Thank you – come again. This is exactly the same as #13 in hotel restaurants’ Baker’s Dozen and one that often makes or breaks the final impression of the person who booked the event and is likely responsible for payment. The final check delivery or guest signature can be a small thing, yet can be critical, as it is likely the last impression. Look back at #1 through 4 and remember the lessons of your favorite successful hometown independent restaurant. The owner or manager is often at the door – thanking each guest individually and saying, “please come again soon.” How do you say “thank you?”

About John Hogan

John J. Hogan is a career hotelier, author and educator who has held senior leadership with responsibility in several organizations involving operational, academic and entrepreneurial enterprise. He has been affiliated in management roles with Sheraton, Hilton, Dunfey (now Omni), Park Suite (now Embassy Suites), Med Center Inns of America, Best Western world headquarters and independent properties. He

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