by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | May 01, 2006

hotel F&B directors

Kings of the kitchen (from left to right): Barry Sondern, Dan Piccolello, David Holland, Todd Kohls, Michael McPhie, Brian Pierce

Sometimes, it’s the people in lesser-known roles who turn out to be the key players. So it goes with food and beverage directors. Most guests never lay eyes on them; few actually know what they do. Even meeting planners often funnel their F&B concerns through intermediaries, such as the conference services manager or event team specialist. Yet, these directors are the lodging industry’s most important employees when it comes to driving F&B revenue -- hotels’ second most important profit center (after room rates), upward of a 40 percent margin in any full-service property.
    The F&B directors who share their expertise on the following pages were chosen for their hands-on approach to meetings business. All are adamant about establishing an early and ongoing communication with planners, from site inspection to on-site arrival. They believe a quality meal can be served on any budget. They are committed to the notion that the ultimate success of an event is indelibly tied to the food and drink served.
    “There are a lot of moving parts involved in food and beverage,” says Dan Piccolello, F&B director at the 800-room Hyatt Regency McCormick Place. “Sometimes I feel like I am standing there, baton in hand, keeping them in sync. If they move out of sync, they’ll collide, and if that happens, the banquet will be a disaster.”
    Every F&B director is responsible for a hotel’s entire food and beverage operation, which includes all restaurants and bars, room service, banquets, weddings -- in sum, all in-house meals -- as well as off-site catering. Add to the job description the oversight of the staff supporting all of these operations. In large convention properties, that could be as many as 300 or more regular employees who require constant training, along with support staff brought on to help out during peak times. In addition, directors must purchase all the food and identify and retain key suppliers. They also work side-by-side with the executive chef in designing all of the hotel’s menus, from fancy banquet to fleeting meeting break.

Knowing what works
The F&B directors with an added creative edge are those who have a hands-on culinary background, whether having worked their way up in hotel kitchens from dishwasher to sous-chef or having studied cooking at a prestigious culinary institute.
    “At a lot of properties, the F&B director’s role is very institutional, almost clinical. If the conference services manager comes to them with a planner’s question about wine pairing, they have to go to their sommelier for the answer,” says Brian Pierce, F&B director at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale (Ariz.) at Troon North. “Because I have culinary training, the planner knows I can speak directly to their question, and that immediately makes them feel more comfortable and confident.”
    Michael McPhie, F&B director at La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa and a formally trained chef, agrees. “When a meeting planner asks me if I can add this to the plate or change that, I can tell them from experience whether it will work,” he says. “A lot of my F&B colleagues will have to check with the executive chef.”