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Four Seasons Hotels Taps Local Tastes To Expand Its F&B Business

August 9, 2011

Toronto-based Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is 50 years old this year. The luxury chain of 85 hotels worldwide is known for innovation and the highest quality standards. Founded by Isadore Sharpe, the company went public in 1986. In 2007, Four Seasons was sold to private investors in a deal worth $3.8 billion. That group was led by Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal through his Kingdom Holding Co. and Microsoft Founder Bill Gates, through Cascade Investment, and they now jointly own 95% of the company, with founder Izzy Sharpe retaining 5% ownership. Shanken News Daily recently spoke with Guy Rigby, Vice President, Food & Beverage, Americas.

SND: What’s your management philosophy regarding food and beverage at Four Seasons?

Rigby: We have food and beverage directors at each hotel, and they’re responsible for creating their own beverage program. Our locations are all very different. We have a lot of resorts, for example, in places like Costa Rica, Punta Mita (Mexico), Hawaii and Palm Beach. Whistler (British Columbia) and Jackson Hole (Wyoming) are ski resorts. Then you’ve got, for example, New York versus St. Louis—two totally different markets. So we couldn’t just mandate one program for every single market. It’s up to the F&B director to do what Steve Wancha (assistant director of food & beverage at the Four Seasons in San Francisco) has done: put together an interesting beverage program. Vancouver is another example. We have a restaurant there called Yew, where the F&B director created a very interesting program. I’m not interested in a 500-label wine list. I’m interested in selling wine—and having people come back and recognize this as a place to get great wine. We understand the sweet spot for our customer.

SND: And what is that?

Rigby: It’s about $60-$80 a bottle. In Vancouver, I wanted a wine list of no more than 200 labels—but with 70% of them under $100. I also wanted a large representation from British Columbia, because people visiting Vancouver are interested in wines from the area. So the restaurant manager did some research—and then did some deals with great local wineries to feature them in the by-the-glass program. Customers can order any wine on the list by the glass, though it must be a two-glass minimum.

SND: You’re willing to open any bottle on your list there?

Rigby: Yes. With two 6-ounce pours, you’re left with half the bottle. We then offer the rest of that bottle at the bar. You can sit at the bar and get a list of opened wines, and it’s a fresh list. With today’s bar-keeping systems, the wines are kept in perfect condition.

SND: What about spirits and cocktails?

Rigby: We have very passionate bartenders, but we also bring master mixologists to work with the bartenders—not only in the restaurants but for banquets as well. Francesco LaFranconi, for example, is a master mixologist who works with Southern Wine & Spirits (as director of mixology). He’s been to just about every one of our hotels and trained the teams. Not only is he very knowledgeable, but he’s also a very good trainer. We have bartenders who’ve been with us for 15-20 years, and the presumption might be “I’ve been there, done that, seen everything.” But they’re energized when Francesco comes along and shows a great cocktail. We’re looking for cocktail lists that recognize the latest trends, with a nod to the local market. There also must be some showmanship. If we’re doing food that’s a ‘wow,’ then the cocktails have to be a ‘wow’ as well.

SND: How dependent are you on the business traveler?

Rigby: Originally, we targeted our hotels’ restaurants strictly to hotel guests. Nowadays, we tell all our hotels that their restaurants must target the local community. If the hotel restaurant is full of businessmen, local people won’t frequent it. So the message to my people is to design a restaurant for the local community. That’s your clientele. And if you do that, your hotel guests will still go there.

SND: What sets the Four Seasons F&B program apart from other leading luxury hotels?

Rigby: I think we all attribute our success to our service culture. You can always build a beautiful hotel. I recently returned from Budapest. Our hotel there is built within the Gresham Palace, and it’s one of the most spectacularly beautiful hotels you’ll ever see. But it’s nothing without a true service culture. That’s something we take very seriously in hiring, training and motivating our people. The golden rule of our service culture is that we treat people the way we would want to be treated ourselves. That’s what sets us apart.

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