Food & beverage Manager
His role in the hotel and his prospects
In a hotel, the food and beverage manager has the highly sensitive job of managing and looking after the entire catering department.
The role and the story
This profession which developed in the USA to tackle the difficulty of finding a professional figure capable of looking after the room department (accommodation) and a manager capable of taking care of and making catering (food&beverage) profitable, is no easy task. These are two key areas of the hotel that deserve different vocations and attentions from experienced, tested and specialised people, both capable of understanding numbers and able to organise the workforce of the departments we have just mentioned, but with a sensitivity and an almost feminine operative style, a typical and essential value in the field of hospitality.
These figures and skills were created and then developed within large chain hotels such as the Hilton and Intercontinental, whose complexity required both economic and quality control. A synthesis embodied by the food & beverage manager, who controls the quality and quantity of all the activities connected to the catering sector, from the contractual management of the staff that oversee purchases, inventories, freshness, to the supervision of food production and the management and optimisation of costs. Without forgetting the menus: he must be wellversed in food specialities, the wine cellar, wine list, liqueurs, as well as crystal, glasses, crockery, tables and chairs. The skills required of this figure are infinite and difficult to find concentrated in just one person.
Executive chef e food & beverage manager in Italy
In Italy, therefore, we are hunting for a sort of unobtainable unicorn. With no disrespect to the ten who have succeeded in obtaining the qualification! One option in seeking out these figures would be to study the staff of large hotels with 300-400 rooms with at least two catering offers (in addition to breakfast, banqueting and room service) belonging to large international chains, with a team of assistant food & beverage managers who could adapt to Italian roles.
Because in Italy due to the training methods, types of internship, size of the hotels and deficiencies in hotel catering, it is not possible to train and test this figure that is often confused or part of the duties of the executive chef and restaurant manager. The significance and importance that cooks have within the hotel organisational structure means that it is often the executive chefs who also occupy the role of food & beverage manager. The chefs who also deal with the economic situation, the budget and the management of dining room staff, room service and banqueting are a boon, however, a wide range of responsibilities makes it almost impossible to elegantly and appropriately look after the fundamental component of hospitality and catering services: customer satisfaction.
What can a general manager of a hotel do then?
If food & beverage manager managers cannot be found, who could the general manager assign to manage the staff, costs and revenue of the food & beverage manager sector? It is, first and foremost, a question of defining the skills that in Italy are held by a handful of chefs, maître, and restaurateurs. And these are the skills requested by major hotels and the main international chains of a potential food & beverage manager:
- legal know-how related to administration, collective contracts (sector-related collective bargaining agreements), the governance of human resources and relations with suppliers of raw materials;
- an in-depth understanding of marketing and digital elements (community management, social media, merchandising, etc.);
- administrative skills (accounting and cost control) and ability to read a financial report (creation of value, performance indicators, etc.);
- computer skills on “internal” (warehouse management, etc.) and “external” management systems (notions of graphics for the presentation of orders, menus, wine list, etc.);
- in-depth knowledge of the wine & spirits sector;
- extensive expertise (to deal with maître, restaurant managers and chefs) in terms of mise en place, service equipment, cooking techniques and product maintenance;
- empathy, in the sense of participating with the sentiment of today’s guests ... Evermore “complicated” (vegans, coeliacs, people on macrobiotic diets, allergy sufferers, etc.);
- strong management and leadership skills, starting with the identification of talents to their enhancement.
Even if you find these skills, or many of them embodied in a person, the much sought-after food & beverage manager cannot win the competition with a chef already nominated “executive”.
The latter will always tend to impose the service, style, his taste and dominance of the kitchen over business and the economy of catering and banqueting.
In short, the chef usually does things his way (like artists do) and expects everyone to align themselves with his vision.
Finding the fundamental balance is, therefore, the job of the general manager, while the owner in person has the difficult task of understanding the essential role (or otherwise) of the F&B manager, the value of the executive chef (whose talent and ambition should be tempered), to make sure that the catering sector (and the whole hotel) functions like a well-rehearsed orchestra, with the few soloists (allowed) involved in team work to produce the perfect performance.