Sunday, August 8, 2010

It's Supposed To Taste Bad

Our new food and beverage manager, Carol, was eager to make some changes. It didn't matter to her or the brilliant general manager who promoted her from the front desk that she had never worked in any capacity of food and beverage in her life - not even as a cashier at Dairy Queen - she was gonna straighten things out, particularly in the banquet department.

One of Carol's first moves was to get rid of the coffee that all of our customers loved and replace it with Starbucks. At the time, Starbucks was what all the yuppies were lusting after - the status symbol of coffee drinkers who didn't really like coffee in the first place, but sure liked holding that Starbucks cup so everyone could see how "hip" they were. Starbucks' banquet/institutional coffee service demands that only Starbucks' equipment is used, coffee is never to sit on any kind of warmer, and that it be served using Starbucks' own thermal pots, so we had to practically re-design the whole banquet kitchen to accommodate the switch. An early clue as to how successful this change was going to be could be found in the training Starbucks provides to waiters to convince customers that their coffee is actually "higher quality" than the coffee that the customer prefers. It's essentially a convoluted way of telling them they don't know their butt from a bulldog.

You know the old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"? Well, Carol didn't. Half of the comments we got from clients were complaints about the coffee. It wasn't just because Starbucks coffee is bitter (it is), it was that it didn't stay warm in the pots they provided (that we were required by contract to use) and the pots were unwieldy (probably 20 inches tall) so they made it nearly impossible to serve at a round top without pulling the cup and saucer completely away from the table (dangerous in banquet service) and the pots leaked. (We learned the hard way: Pouring from a pot that tall put the bottom of the pot in the face of the patron to the right, sometimes clipping them on the chin, and caused the pot to drip on their plate.) Bitter, lukewarm coffee poured from a leaking pot is really hard to sell as "higher quality" to anyone, let alone groups that had been meeting regularly at our hotel for years and were perfectly happy (even pleased) with the coffee we had been serving all along until the status queen showed up.

There are some very basic first rules to a successful banquet: Good coffee, good bread, and a full water glass. If you've got all those things going for you, you can screw up a lot and still manage to please most of your customers. By the time Carol went on maternity leave (to give birth to her designer baby, no doubt), she had all but destroyed the client base we had by getting rid of the homemade bread rolls in favor of some brand name earth grain crap that had to be warmed and was frequently found to be molding upon delivery, and imposing her Starbucks fetish on the department. The waiters were so busy dealing with complaints about the bread and coffee, they barely had time to pay attention to anything else. Even stranger is that the new bread and coffee were so much more expensive than what we had been serving, but the new stuff had brand names Carol thought were more "in line with the clientele we would like to attract."

Carol exemplified the shift in those yuppie years from integrity to pretentious phoniness that still prevails, and not just in food and beverage. One of the last full time jobs I had was in sales, and I was under pressure to perform to a strict quota. I explained to my manager that I was looking for features in the product that I could sincerely identify as valuable to my clients. He said, "Oh I can help you with that. I have some sales pitches that sound really sincere." You know, that boy will probably never understand the difference.

1 comment:

  1. Instead of fixing the problem, let's dress it up and tell people it's not really a problem!

    Hmmmm...sounds familiar...;)