“My role is very time-consuming, but very fun,” says Alex Valencia, food and beverage director at The Langham Hotel in Boston. He’s in charge of managing the F&B programs at the hotel’s three restaurants: Bond, Cafe Fleuri and The Reserve. “There are so many outlets but it’s always changing and fresh,” he says.
Each of the restaurants is open varying hours, but together they cover breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and late-night shifts, which Valencia and his culinary team manage. He works with his team to ensure that guests, whether they’re staying in the hotel or not, have an exceptional experience and get the same level of hospitality — regardless of which restaurant they’re visiting. For Valencia, it’s a welcome challenge. “There’s nothing more fun than connecting with someone in this environment,” he says.
Running distinct concepts housed in the same space comes with its own set of nuances. Different concepts require different staff training and offer different dining experiences, which all have to be managed simultaneously. Plus, The Langham’s three restaurants are designed to appeal to different diners.
“Bond is our refined New England restaurant that has a great atmosphere, and the menu plays to the high energy and after-work crowd,” Valencia says. Cafe Fleuri, which serves breakfast and lunch, is one of the few restaurants in the business district of Boston that is open for full sit-down lunches on weekdays. “Cafe Fleuri is more business-driven, and we can do 100 to 120 covers in an hour during lunch.” The Reserve is busy during afternoon tea and when a large number of guests check into the hotel.
How does Valencia manage the teams and cater to the needs of guests at four different restaurants? Below, he shares four tips for managers about how to manage across different concepts.
Start with good training.
Training across the different concepts is key. “We do a lot of staff training at The Langham,” says Valencia. Beyond the typical restaurant shift training, staff is also trained on what each concept offers and what distinguishes their restaurant from the others on the property.
“Product knowledge is key,” Valencia explains. “We dedicate department meetings and pre-shifts to tastings and take questions from the staff.” Making sure all staff is educated on the other properties means they can talk to guests about the other concepts and help guests find the right restaurant for their dining experience.
“I always tell my staff that if they have a question about a dish we have no problem ordering it for them so they can try it.” It’s all about equipping the staff with the tools necessary so they can create a great atmosphere for their guests. This training also extends to management: managers are cross trained between concepts so they can help other managers when it gets busy.
Encourage open communication.
One of the quintessential elements of working with different concepts is having open communication, says Valencia. “We do a lot of pre-shifts with our teams to go over VIPS, specials and really the flow of the business that night.” He takes a holistic approach to talking to the team about that night’s service and is sure to let them know what’s going on at the other restaurants or in the private-event space. “It’s critical that your team meets and goes over things for at least 10 minutes every day,” he says.
The holidays are very busy for The Langham, so the staff needs to be aware of any business dinners, weddings, or private parties that may affect the flow of service in any of the restaurants, says Valencia. To make sure everyone is on the same page, The Langham’s food and beverage team meets every morning to discuss the day’s events, and each restaurant meets before a shift to go over shift notes, private events, or menu changes. This is in addition to a weekly managers’ meeting.
“Sometimes there’s banquets at Cafe Fleuri and then Bond gets busy so we have constantly check in with each other,” he says. “We communicate about everything.”
Stay true to the brand…
One of the key things that makes each concept successful is that Valencia is clear about what each restaurant offers its guests. For example, Cafe Fleuri does a lot of business on the weekdays during lunch. “Our servers know that those guests are looking to dine quickly and get back to work, so servers keep that in mind,” he says. “At Bond, it’s more of an after-work crowd that may stay for dinner after a few drinks.”
The service at both restaurants matches the clientele’s needs, and so does the culinary program. It wouldn’t make sense to introduce a new martini menu at Cafe Fleuri or a brunch menu at Bond, because that’s not what the clientele wants. While it’s important to make sure that each restaurant is giving the same quality of service and food, knowing what guests are looking for when they come in means that you’ll be better equipped to serve them and their needs.
…But don’t be afraid to innovate.
At The Langham, Valencia and his team are looking for new ways for their guests to enjoy their restaurants. “I work together with the culinary team and different department heads to brainstorm and create different promotions for each concept,” Valencia says.
Cafe Fleuri has introduced a Chocolate Bar on Saturdays and brunch on Sundays to accommodate daytime diners who want to visit the restaurant on weekends. Bond is always updating both the food and the drink menus to keep their clientele interested. One of the positives of having different concepts under one roof is that it allows the team to try different things and keep each concept fresh. “It’s very democratic,” says Valencia. “We really try to take everybody’s ideas into account and incorporate them into the business,” he says.
Valencia’s final tip? “I often tell new managers to have fun with it,” he says. “Enjoy your position and engage with guests. Just enjoy what you do.”