Laura Hartmann, CPCE, PBC, is co-founder of H&F Redefined, an Orlando-based network that supports individuals on their furlough/lay-off & new business journeys from all over the globe. Prior to her own layoff due to COVID-19, she worked in various positions within the industry across brands such as Marriott, Starwood, Hilton, and Waldorf Astoria as Assistant Director of Events.
An Industry Redefined: Stepping Back Into the Kitchen
This month, like so many millions of others, I acknowledge one full year of being without a job. So to me, it's one full year of not having the privilege to work alongside my people, and surrounded by culinarians for inspiration. I've been incredibly curious about what chefs have been up to, and how they have been re-branding offerings, utilizing their time off, changing their mindsets and preparing for a future with live events back in action.
While I won't be returning to my pre-pandemic property, I am gearing up for my next adventure at a new hotel as director of events. To prepare for what's ahead and what to expect from the culinary world, I turned to Executive Chef Philip Thompson for the scoop, professional guidance and his perspective on what his peers should be doing to stay competitive and guest-centric during such an unpredictable era. For me, understanding where a chef’s head is feels critical to understanding how to approach leading an events operation.
Most recently known for his long tenure within Hilton, Thompson now calls the Hilton Aventura Miami home and is stepping back into the kitchen after eight months of furlough and a property transition. Chef Thompson generously offered up several techniques that he's been adhering to over the course of his return to work.
1.) Focus on Developing and Motivating Your Team
Having been furloughed for eight months, Thompson knows that feeling of stepping back in the kitchen again for the first time. “It’s exhilarating but also daunting as you wonder whether you have gotten a little rusty over time,” he said. “Telling people that you want to build a family here at a new hotel and they can be a part of it is a welcome relief after the struggle, and training and developing people for the next steps in their career is something I have always believed in.” He believes standup meetings and training have never been more important, as understanding local rules and regulations and communicating them to the team is vital. However, he also believes that sometimes just getting the team together and talking them through the current situation is just as vital, as he acknowledges it can be pretty scary for a lot of them.
2.) Consider Ways to Cross-Utilize Staff
One of the big changes in the industry this past year is the size of the culinary teams. Every hotel is opening/re-opening or just continuing to operate with a much smaller team than they were a year ago. So cross-training and cross-utilizing staff are more important than ever. Many pastry cooks and pastry chefs unfortunately are some of the first people to be cut during down periods. As a chef, he suggests thinking how you can utilize their skill set in your kitchen in new ways.
3.) Be Open to Sourcing Creative Food Products That Help Labor Costs
With hotels faced with increasingly smaller culinary teams, working with vendors to maintain costs and sourcing products that you typically would have made in-house has never been more important. Thompson has partnered with Sous Vide specialists, Cuisine Solutions, on many products that offer a consistently high-quality product that negates the need for hours of prep and cooking time. Networking and brainstorming with vendors is something he finds greatly beneficial. The vendors get to talk to many different chefs in an array of operations and offer much-needed input on different ways they have seen chefs use products. Thompson never likes to turn down a vendor that wants to show him a product because, he said, “You never know when you are going to need it – even if it's something that you don’t think you will use, everything has a time and place.”
Chef Philip also provided additional perspective on staying flexible within your market, offering safe solutions to your guests, re-imagining hotel outlets, and thinking outside the box with banquet experiences in an expanded interview found on H&F Redefined.