Hilton Worldwide's regional director of food & beverage, UK, Ireland & Israel, tells Janet Harmer that, despite its corporate image, the company can still set new trends
Why did you decide to move from a general manager's role within a single hotel to a more corporate role as regional director?
Food and beverage (F&B) has always been my great love. A hotel general manager is a multi-functional role involving sales and marketing, revenue and bedrooms, as well as F&B. I have a real appetite to explore new trends and cultures and I was keen to move into a regional role and travel. This role allows me to do what I do best, across multiple establishments. Before I was in just one hotel and I dealt with the needs of 15 to 20 managers. Now I oversee F&B in 82 of Hilton International's 122 hotels. I support franchised Hilton properties, but don't get involved in their management.
I'm also responsible for three hotels in Israel: Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, Hilton Tel Aviv and Hilton Eilat Queen of Sheba.
How does Israel fit into the mix?
Oded Lifschitz is the area vice-president, UK, Ireland and Israel, Hilton Worldwide, so it makes sense that my role is aligned with him and that we work as one team.
What did you gain in your recent period away from Hilton Worldwide?
I went from knowing Hilton inside-out to a company where I knew absolutely nothing and nobody, overnight. It was good to learn something about another company and proved to be an enormous personal learning curve. Then, after nearly two and a half years, I knew I wanted to move on to a role involving multi-destination outlets, preferably one focused on F&B where I could make a difference and drive real change. It could have been a role with either Hilton Worldwide or IHG.
How significant is F&B in the mix of Hilton Worldwide business?
The fact that every executive chef and F&B director and manager across EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) has recently been out of the business at the company's annual F&B Conference in Istanbul is testament to how serious Hilton Worldwide regards its F&B.
What were the key outcomes of the F&B Conference?
We used the conference, held at the Hilton Istanbul Bomonti Hotel & Conference Centre, to highlight how well F&B in conference and banqueting can be delivered. For example, we worked closely with the hotel to put on displays of how to serve great coffee during break times. It is no longer good enough to have a trestle table with coffee that has been sitting in a flask for three hours, so we brought in baristas to serve artisan coffees.
We also showed that break times can be about putting on a show and creating an emotional connection with delegates. We introduced a fairground theme with clowns and candyfloss stations. The F&B offer has got to be inspiring in order to enthuse delegates.
If a company is holding a convention that is all about inspiring its employees, we as a hotel company need to provide an inspiring environment and serve food that will impress.
How is Hilton Worldwide intending to appeal to the next generation of F&B customers?
We are looking at ways of making the environment appeal by making spaces that change from being somewhere people want to do business in the day to somewhere they can socialise at night (see below). We also have a strong approach on sustainability and we are looking at how this translates to our menus: for instance, by making the switch to free-range eggs or evolving the F&B to provide a greater depth of international flavours, to tap into the fact that the group has travelled more internationally.
How will you ensure these initiatives are put in place across the board? I'm heading a global Hilton Worldwide project to create a manual that will outline our new extraordinary approach to conference and banqueting. It will outline best practice for our staff to elevate the key touch-points for a delegate to cover the arrival, friendliness of service and relevance of the style of an event. We shall be focusing on the importance of coffee breaks and looking at ways of making them more exciting, more localised and more unexpected. We will be working with our key partners, such as our tea supplier Twinings, to create greater depth of knowledge among staff. We want to provide a much more personalised service for delegates.
Where do look for outside inspiration to help you move the F&B offer forward?
Jillian MacLean of Drake & Morgan spoke at our conference in Istanbul and was hugely inspirational. She is renowned within the bar sector and she is now working with us on a bespoke conference and banqueting project. It is something that we want to make relevant in the corporate world, and introduce fun, emotional and intelligence elements.
It is important we are brave and don't just deliver the ordinary. Drake & Morgan has an extraordinary approach towards blending cocktails and we shall be introducing more mixology into conference and banqueting in a fun and attractive way.
What other new F&B initiatives are you working on?
We are creating extraordinary breakfasts. One focal point will be on porridge, which we want to make more consistent and exciting, as well as highlight why it is so good for us. We will be setting up stations devoted to porridge and looking at serving it with a host of toppings, such as honey, syrup, fresh fruit and nuts.
We're also setting up the Hilton Cocktail Club, which will involve serving great cocktails across the portfolio. We've launched an extensive training programme called Raising the Bar, through which we aim to bring something of the destination experience we have within our star bars like TwoRuba (see panel) into all of our hotels. Rather than having to seek a destination bar outside the hotel, we hope our guests will stay with us, as well as attract customers from outside.
Also new is the work we are doing with key new partners, such as Jamie Olivier, with whom we opened the first Jamie's Italian within a hotel - at the Hilton London Tower Bridge. It is about looking at ways of constantly improving the guest journey and providing more choice in the hotel. We're also talking to a well-known chef for a great destination restaurant at the new Hilton hotel opening in Bournemouth in the winter. The property, which is part of a dual development with a Hampton by Hilton hotel, is owned by Ray Kelvin, the founder of the Ted Baker clothing brand.
How do you ensure you have the right staff to meet the demands of a growing business?
You cannot just drop new staff into a new outlet - they must be trained properly so that they are at ease. While it is important they are always technically correct, they should also have a relaxed, personalised approach - the result will be real, genuine service.
We work closely with universities when it comes to recruitment and we also have our own apprenticeship and graduate programmes as well as receiving huge support from the HR team, who ensure we have a new pipeline of shining stars.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I'm constantly looking wherever I travel - nationally and internationally. I might see something that impresses when I'm on holiday - such as the personalised service on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship for 4,000 people. I also ask team members and often get great ideas. It is so important to engage from the bottom up and listen to our people. Many of them are a generation down from me and they are very close to the demands of customers.
It is so easy to become so tied up and busy at the corporate level that you forget to engage with exactly what our guests want. When it comes to staff uniforms, I look to the fashion industry, as well as speaking to our teams. The uniform can often be the starting point of allowing the personalities of our staff to shine through. If staff feel comfortable and are wearing the appropriate outfit for the job, their performance will be enhanced.
I know how important this is from personal experience. When I worked for a hotel that went into receivership and was then acquired by Hilton many years ago, I was asked as a junior manager to wear a very corporate-looking grey waistcoat, which I felt would not allow me to perform at my best. After communicating this to my boss, the hotel introduced coloured waistcoats, which made a huge difference and I got my motivation back. We want to allow staff to feel individual at the same time as being part of a highly professional brand.
Can a corporate company like Hilton Worldwide be a trendsetter in F&B?
Yes, I think it can be. And it is why I've taken this role, as I hope to make a difference and that my personality will influence some of the key decisions in F&B. Working with people like Jillian demonstrates how serious we take F&B and actually go about setting trends.
Anthony Worrall's CV
- 2014 Regional director F&B UK, Ireland and Israel, Hilton Worldwide
- 2012 General manager, Crowne Plaza London - the City (InterContinental Hotels Group)
- 2010 General manager, Trafalgar hotel (Hilton Worldwide)
- 2008 Director of operations, Hilton London Metropole
- 2007 Area general manager, Hilton Southampton and Hilton Portsmouth
- 2005 General manager, Hilton Leeds City
- 2003 General manager, Hilton York
- 2001 Hotel manager, Hilton Nottingham
- 1993 Various F&B and revenue positions, Hilton
TwoRuba bar, Hilton London Tower Bridge
According to Anthony Worrall, bars are an important focus in driving forward change within the Hilton Worldwide's F&B offering. Cloud 23 on the 23rd floor of the Hilton Deansgate, for instance, has set a benchmark for a successful, busy outlet that has established itself as a brand in its own right.
When it came to making improvements at the Ruba bar at the 245-bedroom Hilton London Tower Bridge - which has been in situ since the hotel launched 10 years ago - Worrall's dilemma was how two distinct spaces could be created within one venue. "We wanted a bar that served coffees during the day and then becomes a great destination bar at 5pm," he explained. "As a result, we have been able to make a transition in the look of the bar by changing the energy of the space."
This has been achieved by drawing metal curtains in the evening to create intimate zones, while during the day the bar is a more open outlet. Lighting is dimmed and candles lit at the cocktail hour and a more upbeat style of music is introduced. The space is the same but, through sensory changes, the mood is completely altered.
The look of the staff also changes, with the waitresses swopping from a business-like trouser suit during the day to a cocktail dress and heels at night, with make-up and hair that is more edgy. Waiters who wear a waistcoat and tie during the day change into a more relaxed waistcoat, worn with a crisp, white, open-necked shirt and ruffled hair at night.
"The look is very professional and slick during the day and becomes more relevant and personality-driven for the evening," explains Worrall.
To create an additional buzz in the evening, the bar has introduced a seasonal cocktail menu, which includes five drinks, one of which is a timeless classic such as a PiÁ±a Colada, alongside two new cocktails and two alcohol-free ones.
The new-look bar - now named TwoRuba to reflect its dual personality - has been a huge success with an impressive 100% uplift in business since its opening in October.
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