For Successful Banquets

These days F&B is an important revenue earning segment of the Indian hospitality industry. An important sub-segment of F&B, especially in large sized hotels, is banqueting. Banqueting in hotels and restaurants is usually done for occasions like weddings, private or official luncheon parties, cocktail parties, seminars, meetings, conferences, fashion shows, exhibitions, etc. Ashok Malkani takes a kaleidoscopic view of the banqueting segment in the backdrop of the Indian hospitality industry, and examines several aspects of it.  

Food & beverage has become an important revenue earner for the Indian hospitality industry. According to HRAWI, the food & beverage segment contributes to nearly 50 percent of the hotels’ earnings in the Indian hospitality industry these days. The industry experts are of the opinion that in the Indian hospitality industry of today its food and beverage can easily be the deciding factor behind many a hotel’s success or failure.

And wedding receptions, celebrations for special occasions as well as business meetings, which require banqueting hall facilities, account for a substantial part of the F&B earnings of hotels in India. Today, banqueting facilities form a sizeable revenue generator for the Indian hotel industry. That is one of the major reasons why you find several hotels in the country having huge banquet halls.

 The word banquet is derived from the French word ‘banque’. It refers to a gathering of people. The history of banqueting can be traced to sumptuous feasts held in honour of a monarch or a visiting host.

Impressive Revenue Generator

Sujeet Kumar, General Manager, Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway, stated, “Though it is true that rooms are the major source of income for hotels, along with being the product with a high profitability margin, the banquets also form a significant part of hotels’ earnings. The banquet spaces at Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway cater to a variety of corporate as well as social clientele and contribute approximately 25 percent to the hotel’s business. Banquets operate with the highest profitability margin in the food & beverage segment of the Indian hotel industry, with a profitability percentage of 65-70 percent.” 

Pawan Sharma, Food & Beverage Manager, The Mirador Mumbai, contends that the trend of rooms being considered the major revenue earners for hotels is no longer valid. “At our hotel, the overall revenue for F&B, if we compare with rooms, is almost 45 percent,” he asserted.

“Gone are those days when room revenues used to be holding 60-70 percent of the hotel’s income. Nowadays, many of the guests book the hotel on the reputation of food and service available in it. Revenues from F&B in hotels in India these days is either at par with the room revenues or even surpasses them in some cases. Banquet’s contribution to the hotel’s revenue at Holiday Inn Chennai OMR IT Expressway is about 20 percent,” disclosed Varun Kumar, F&B Manager, Holiday Inn Chennai OMR IT Expressway.

Krishna Rao, F&B Manager, The Corinthians Resort & Club Pune, said, “Though it is believed that major revenue comes from the hotel rooms, the scenario at our place is very different. The share of revenue generated from the overall F&B segment at our hotel is more than 50 percent and in that banquets’ contribution is almost 55 percent.”

“Banquet space also helps in room sales as companies also book hotel rooms to organise residential conferences and people book for residential weddings.  The design of our banquets is so flexible that it attracts and suits everybody’s needs,” offered Santosh Jori, Director of Food and Beverage at The Westin Mumbai Garden City.

Gaurav Agarwal, Director of Catering, Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel, is also of a similar view. “Room revenue is the highest revenue contributor for most hotels in the country but banquets also constitute a substantial portion of it. Being a convention center hotel, our banquets contribute 25 percent of the total hotel revenue,” he affirmed.

Staff Training

However, banqueting, though a good revenue earner for the Indian hospitality industry, is not an easy task to perform successfully. Special training needs to be provided to the staff for hosting successful banquets. It may be mentioned that a Banquet Server performs all tasks associated with setting up, serving, and breaking down of function rooms where banquet food service activities are performed. He / she is responsible for the prompt, courteous, smooth and efficient service of food and beverages to guests during banquet and outdoor functions.

 “At our The Westin Mumbai Garden City hotel, the operations team is trained on different types of setup, whether conference or social event. They need to be well aware of the trend in the market and always be innovative with the setup. They are also trained in soft skills which help them interact with the guests and anticipate their needs. They are trained on the menu compositions so that they can plan the buffet setups accordingly, especially the live counters,” claimed Jori.

“The catering sales team is equally trained in soft skills. This can only be possible by training them on knowing the product (banquet space, audio visual arrangements, different licenses for different events, dos and don’ts). It is very important to close the deal covering every aspect of the event requirement. The same is detailed and handed over to the operations team,” he elaborated further. 

“Operations team and catering team are also trained on the importance of team work as they are dependent on each other to contribute towards the success of any event,” averred Jori. 

“At The Corinthians Resort & Club Pune, continuous training and development is in place. Most of the parameters are set on how you deal with the client. The first point of contact is giving comprehensive training to ensure that they supersede the expectations of the guests,” stated Rao.

“The operations team is responsible for the execution of services. With regards to training, every associate in the system is trained and groomed before we send him/her on the floor,” Rao pointed out.

“Training plays the most crucial role for driving banqueting revenues. It is imperative to have all areas of banquets, represented by sales, events, banquet operations, banquet kitchen, kitchen stewarding, kitchen purchasing, F&B controller, etc. to undergo its role specific trainings to drive sales and customer satisfaction. For example, the banquet sales team needs to be trained on product knowledge and negotiating skills while the events team needs to be trained on event detailing and upselling techniques. Hence each associate contributing to banquets, at the Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel, has to complete necessary trainings to enhance the customer experience,” declared Agarwal.

 “Training is necessary for the banquets staff. At The Mirador Mumbai, they are specifically trained in product knowledge, salesmanship, maintaining quality and standards of service as well as on being polite and to act with humility and honesty,” averred Sharma.

 “Continual training is mandatory for the success of any organisation, both in terms of operations and sales. It is a competitive market with many key players experienced in handling both social and corporate events. We need to analyse market trends to know the competition’s strengths and weakness and make strategies to train staff accordingly,” proffered Varun.

“Trainings vary from property to property as per the need. Be it guest interaction, which is often neglected in banquets, innovative themes and concepts for business meetings, upselling of packages like snacks, beverages and audio-video equipment. At Holiday Inn Chennai OMR IT Expressway, we provide specific training in all the above segments,” he pointed out.

 “Banquets is a dynamic vertical of the hotel operations, with varying degree of client requirement and expectations. The banquet associates, in turn, need very special training to deal with varying nature of events and guests. They need to be equipped with overall hotel knowledge along with a flair for flexibility to accommodate the guests on ground. Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway ensures that the staff is given adequate training to provide a commendable service to the guests,” asserted Sujeet.

Tackling Food Wastage

There is a strong belief that banquets result in wastage of food. Jori, however, insists that there is not much wastage of food in banquets anymore. “This is because the banquet kitchen team nowadays is a specialised team which anticipates the food requirement based on the nature of the event i.e., whether the event is a social event or a conference working lunch or a cocktail dinner,” observed Jori.

“For example, in a social event, there is always a difference in the number of guests attending the event in proportion to minimum guests guaranteed. In this case, we usually promote live counters which helps in controlling the wastage as the food is prepared ala minute. It also creates a wow experience for the guests attending the event as they get to eat the food as per their likings and taste,” he explained further.

“For a working lunch, food is usually light and comfort food. It is prepared in small quantities and refilled as per the flow of the event. For cocktail dinner, more emphasis is given on pass around snacks and buffet is laid as per the minimum guarantee, which does not change much like social events,” Jori elaborated.

 “Food wastage actually is inversely related to staff training. With the correct training and experience, banquet kitchen Chefs cook food based upon the information provided to them by events and banquet operations about the minimum number of guests attending the event. If the relevant information is passed correctly, food wastage can be reduced considerably,” explained Agarwal.

Krishna Rao is also on the same wave length. “Wastage of food is inversely proportional to the quality of your culinary team and its planning. At our place we have a Chef who has more than two-and-a-half decade of experience. One needs to understand the clients’ requirement. In our case, food wastage is almost close to zero since we try and do mostly live cooking, which reduces wastage,” he stated.

 “Food wastage in banquets is not very common. However, it cannot be completely eliminated. There are a few events where we have food wastages. Currently, we do not give away the leftover food. However, we are exploring the opportunity to enter into partnership with NGOs and local food and catering companies, where the food can be made available to certain sections of society who do not get enough food,” conveyed Sujeet.

Varun however, differs from this point of view. “The belief that there is rampant wastage of food in banqueting in the Indian hospitality industry is completely erroneous. And if it exists in any property then it should be considered as mismanagement of resources. Excess food leads to high wastage and eventually high food cost. These days hotels’ banquet food is prepared in batches similar to that of restaurants for ensuring good food quality, freshness and low or nil wastage,” informed Varun.

Pawan too stated that “At our hotel, we have great control on food.”

The Challenges in Banqueting Operations

Banqueting is favoured by several hotels these days and many of them boast of the large banqueting halls they possess for occasions like weddings, etc. But having this facility in the hotel poses its own problems.

 “Any last minute requirement is a big challenge in terms of manpower, especially during odd hours. In this case, time effective decision making is very important,” disclosed Rao. 

 “There are times when we have corporate event in the day time, and in the same day’s evening we have a social event like wedding reception or anniversary party. So there is very little time to turn around the place as the set up and the look need to change completely for these two events. At times, the conferences finish late which further reduces the time to do the turn around,” disclosed Jori.

 “With the growing competition in the market, more choices and varied USPs (unique selling points) available in banquets and restaurants, it is getting very difficult to target and differentiate the product. That is another challenge in banqueting operations,” stated Sujeet.

It has been observed that since the charges at banquets are normally on per plate basis, sometimes two people are seen partaking their meals from the same plate. Or, the same guest lifting same types of plates (for different sections of food in banqueting there are different types of plates) off the rack twice. This is another problem affecting the Indian banqueting industry, which can lead to enhancement in operational costs.

Varun disclosed that they averted this problem by taking a guest count and by comparing it to the plates count to make sure there is no duplication. “Hospitality industry is not just a revenue generation business but an industry which runs on loyalty and trust. Guests are comfortable in sharing the same plate only during social events and it is not a great concern if it remains under 1 percent. If the percentage of sharing increases it affects the revenue and reputation of the property. Hence, we need to communicate the same to the host politely,” he disclosed.

 “It is a general industry practice to charge the guests per plate and is one of the easiest ways to close a banqueting event’s billing. However, due to incidents such as guests’ sharing plate or the same guest using multiple plates of same types, with mutual consent of the host and the property concerned it is advisable that an event entry procedure is put in place where the property and host’s representative provide coupons or wrist bands or head counts, wherever possible. But this works in corporate set up kind of events,” averred Sujeet.

 “It is possible for such instances to take place and this is where minimum guarantee comes into being. Usually for corporate events there are reception desks set up for registration. These helps us to counter check the number of guests attending the event and inform the host prior if there are more guests than minimum guarantee,” said Jori.

“For social events, there is usually a representative from the host side who keeps a check on the plate count. For both social and corporate events in banqueting, different courses are divided into different sections and every section has different types of plates. This helps us to estimate the guest count,” Jori elaborated further.

Agarwal is of the view that these instances are rare in branded hotels and high-end banquets in the metros and in other urban areas. “Guests are more than willing to pay once the rate is negotiated and they also get value for money. Also, to avoid unpleasant and embarrassing situations, clients do not encourage and indulge in such malaise. Moreover, the hotel staff considers the count as per the number of plates utilised and counter check the same with the contract signed for the event,” he proffered.

 “We rarely get some clients who do this. Our team has been briefed to handle the situation very carefully since the guests and the host should not feel insulted. If such an instance occurs, our team gets in touch with the host or the coordinator of the event just to update about the meal sharing situation. If it is just one case we ignore it,” Rao puts across.

Impact of GST

The new Goods and Services Tax, which was recently introduced, has a beneficial effect on banqueting business in the country, according to the industry.

 “For the Indian restaurant industry as well as banquets, GST will have a positive impact as the guests will benefit, which in turn will create more footfalls. With these changes, the repetition of drinks at restaurants will surely see a boost, as well as an increase of 10-15 percent in the average spend,” pointed out Sujeet.

Varun affirmed, “Guests now get a great advantage on pricing perspective as the taxes have come down by almost 5-6 percent and this will allow them to spend more. This, I believe is a win-win situation for both parties.”

The Major Markets

The hosting of a banquet can be a glamourous and momentous event, often celebrating corporate achievement, wedding, marriage anniversary, success in business, etc. So who are the clients who normally host these events?

 “For a given year, we have a mix of corporate and social events. Our focus, at The Westin Mumbai Garden City, is to promote our open area called Westin Woods for weddings while focusing on socials at the banquet ballroom,” declared Jori.

“We have an interesting mix of corporate clients surrounded in the vicinity, and a galore of exhibitions in this part of Mumbai keeps us busy throughout the year,” he added further.

 “At the Sheraton Grand Bangalore Hotel at Brigade Gateway, we cater to a varied list of clientele, ranging from corporates to social gatherings,” stated Sujeet.

 “For Holiday Inn Chennai OMR IT Expressway, corporates play a key role in meetings and conference bookings. We have hosted several residential and non-residential corporate events such as seminars, annual days, trainings and team get together. We have been receiving great reviews and feedback from corporates who have conducted their events with us. The main comeback points for them is the quality of food and beverage and the service standards Holiday Inn brand has on offer,” elaborated Varun.

“Holiday Inn Chennai’s beautiful hall is also perfect for weddings and social events. Some of the events that we have already conducted are birthdays, anniversaries, kid’s first birthday, pre-wedding functions and so on. People are booking us because of the extra effort our team puts in to make guests’ event extra special. We have dedicated resources to take care of guests’ needs. There have been instances that a guest attends a relative’s event and has come back and booked us for their events. One of the reasons for choosing us is also that we are a new venue, which many people have not seen. Our guests love the ambience and the overall experience at the hotel,” he noted further.

 “At The Corinthians Resort & Club, wedding is our major source of revenues from banqueting. We are known for destination weddings. This is followed by the corporate sector and MICE,” disclosed Rao.

Yes, banqueting is becoming more popular across the Indian hospitality industry, but one cannot be laidback in its operations. It is vital to keep up with the current food trends while focusing on quality of ingredients and on perfectly executed cooking methods to make banqueting business in India a success story.

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