At inVOYAGE 2018 this week, guests were treated to a dine-around lunch experience in three of Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah’s restaurants – American-style food in Lexington Grill, Italian in Qasr al Bahar and Japanese in UMI. We caught up with the hotel’s Executive Chef Rudolf Segers to find out more about the hotel’s F&B offer and what the key trends are in event catering…
First up, thanks for the amazing lunch. Where did the inspiration for the dine around experience come from?
It’s really important in a five-star luxury hotel to give guests as many options as possible. A couple of years ago, I thought wouldn’t it be nice for our guests, especially group business, to experience our three signature restaurants in one meal period, and that’s how we created the dine around programme. The menu can change according to client preferences, but the core idea of Japanese, American, Mediterranean, and Arabic food runs through the programme. We have done quite a few dine-around set-ups and the biggest one we did was for 750 guests.
When it comes to catering to the events market, what kind of trends are you seeing?
I believe that everybody is looking for fast paced service when it comes to coffee breaks, lunches and dinner operations, because time is money. When it comes to coffee breaks – it’s about being creative. People don’t want regular stuff – they want to be excited and wowed. Lunches are very light as people don’t want to eat too heavily during lunch at a conference, so a lot of salad based, light food is required. For dinner, it really depends on how big the group is, so an interactive buffet setup up like we had for the dine around experience is popular. Or creative ideas we do like Brinner for example, which is a concept that we started that is breakfast and dinner, rather than brunch. We always try to bring other ideas into the group business as well. For brunch, we can go to the beach and use our cabana set ups for a high-end picnic experience, with lots of live stations. In general, live stations are very popular. People don’t want a regular self-service buffet anymore – it needs to be an experience.
How do you create the perfect menu for an event?
The perfect dinner is the dinner that the client wants. It’s not about what I want – it’s about the experience that the client wants, and their expectations. We are very flexible – if you want an ethnic food set up – Indian, Malaysian, Vietnamese – we can cater for this. We can do really nice high-profile intimate barbecues, or if you want to have a plated dinner, that’s fine too. No matter what the preference of the guest is, we will deliver. It also depends on the budget of the client – you can have a beautiful buffet for 200 dirhams but we can also create buffets that cost 1000 dirhams.
Catering for the increasing number of food allergies, intolerances and lifestyle choices is a concern for event planners – how can you make sure that people with special requirements get the same quality experience as the rest of the group?
Its crazy how much the world has changed. Many chefs didn’t really know how and what to cook for vegetarians and vegans ten years ago, but we have had to adapt. We’ve are fortunate that we are in the position that we know what our guests want when they come, because we ask. And that is really key because you have to know about food allergens and preferences so that you can create a tailor-made menu for the guests. In today’s society, you cannot go without the allergen set up, or the vegan or vegetarian set up.
One of our brand standards within Waldorf Astoria is to have vegetarian and allergens highlighted on the menu and you need to have a minimum number of starters, soups salads and main courses available that are vegetarian and vegan. It is not easy when it comes to creating these things because everybody thinks about the standard vegetarian fare like stuffed pepper, vegetable lasagne or risotto. But at the end of the day, when you have a conversation with a vegan or a vegetarian, that’s the last thing they want to eat. So we have to listen, we have to be open-minded and we have to learn. There is a chef called Yotam Ottolenghi and he creates vegetarian recipes and menus and cookbooks, and you can get inspiration from them if you are not familiar with it.
There’s a lot of competition in the restaurant market in the UAE with new places opening all the time. How do you keep the F&B offer here fresh?
Change is the core word that would describe a healthy F&B operation. You have to change and be on top of the game and listen to what the guests’ expectations are. Ten years ago, people just wanted to have good food and good service. Today, you have to come up with a different approach and it’s all about experiences. So, one of our F&B experiences is the dine around programme, which is also available to individual guests – the difference being that they would go from one restaurant to another and have a different course in each restaurant. There has to be some kind of experience in all the restaurants, so if you go into an Italian restaurant, maybe the chef is making the pizza in front of you. In the steakhouse, you have the trolleys – the chateaubriand trolley for example, or any kind of carving trolley and in Umi, we have the teppanyaki and the sushi counters in the guest areas so people can see how we do things.
You also have to keep up with promotions on a regular basis and make sure you are social media savvy. You have got to be on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook – you have to be on top of it and you have to make sure people know you are there because you are posting and visible. When I first started, somebody told me, if you stand still you are going backwards because everybody else is going forwards. So, you have to make sure you never stop and are never standing still. You have to challenge yourself and go look for the new thing.
What’s your favourite type of cuisine?
To be quite honest, when I have a day off, I like to eat a stew. I don’t need to have a beef tenderloin or sushi and sashimi. I want to have a home cooked rustic meal. There is nothing better than eating a great stew and being reminded of the time when your mother cooked it for you. That’s what I really appreciate when I am home.