The Food and Beverage Manager: Turn passion into your career
Meet Roger Vieira, food & beverage manager for Liberty Entertainment Group, creators of restaurants and entertainment venues in a large North American city. Vieria has worked in virtually every aspect of the restaurant industry, rising through the ranks over the past 30 years from dishwasher to busboy and waiter and from sommelier to restaurant general manager and restaurant owner to his current position. His training and education have been mainly on the job, though he has supplemented his hands-on background with required college courses in such areas as sommelier, food safety and human resources management.
Now meet Guy Bittner, director of food & beverage at The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, part of North America's largest luxury hotel management chain. Israeli-born Bittner earned a Masters degree in hospitality management in 1998 at England's University of Birmingham. Following his formal education, he joined the first of a number of major hotel chains, rising from restaurant manager at the Boston Marriott to assistant food & beverage manager at the Hilton Jerusalem (now the David Citadel Hotel) before emigrating to Canada to become banquet manager and later food & beverage manager for the Fairmont chain.
Vieira and Bittner come from entirely different backgrounds, but share a passion for restaurants and, specifically, the food and beverage side of the restaurant industry. "I always loved restaurants as a consumer," says Bittner. "I love my job," Vieira says, "especially the interaction with people."
Responsibility and Respect
This is a career combining the creativity of the kitchen with the nuts and bolts business of running food and beverage operations.
As manager of this profit centre, your skills go beyond managing day to day food and beverage operations. A first-rate food & beverage manager is:
- A good leader and manager of diverse staff. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise numbers some 400-600 staff working just in the food and beverage area. Vieira oversees a site manager and kitchen manager and to a lesser extent all of the employees reporting to them.
- An excellent communicator.
- Passionate about foods, wines and customer service, on top of having the latest food and beverage knowledge.
- A trend-watcher.
- Someone with excellent organizational skills.
- A numbers person. Without math skills, you can't manage your food, beverage and labour costs.
- A human resources "expert" who must know how to hire and train staff and set up training manuals and routines for the operation.
- Detail-oriented, knowing exactly which products are right for your operation.
Day in the Life - No Such Thing As 9 To 5
Just as in other areas of the hospitality industry, the food & beverage manager has probably never seen a 9 to 5 day. Says Guy Bittner, "The beauty of the hotel food & beverage business is there is no typical day; there's no routine. Things always change, and it's very labour-intensive. You never have the same day, never the same guests, it's never repetitive. 9 to 5 is in the imaginary world. It's not a store or a bank that you close."
Roger Vieira adds, "If you put in eight hours, you haven't put in your full day. A 12-hour day is typical. It's busy all the time."
Here's how Vieira's schedule might look:
- 9 a.m., set up to have every location open by 11 a.m.
- Line up staff, making sure you have enough people and product.
- Ensure you're managing throughout the day to give people enough breaks.
- These responsibilities don't end until around 2 a.m.
- Every week, hold key staff meetings. Schedule meetings to review the week just past and the week ahead.
- Hold regular meetings three to four times during the week to address new things coming up.
- Meet with general management. Explain to them week to week what's going on, how you're doing, how you can improve, what's coming up, what to expect, what types of people to expect and what they eat and drink.
Bittner separates his role into four components, with responsibilities attached to each:
- Guests and guest satisfaction.
- Colleagues, their satisfaction and their contribution.
- The business side.
- The brand.
In addition, he continues to attend wine tastings, high profile events and seminars, helps build menus and works with chefs. "The passion part of it has to stay there all the time," he says. "With food & beverage, there's an artistic part to it, so much creativity."
Be Prepared for the Out Of Ordinary Events
If these are typical responsibilities, some are less ordinary. Vieira has seen his share of close calls in his line of work. He's faced a fire in a room filled to overcapacity. He's cleaned up after a major flood. One of his freezers went down over a holiday weekend, and much of the food melted.
In all cases, the food & beverage manager has to marshal all his skills and ingenuity to keep the operation running smoothly. "This can definitely be a burnout job, if you don't keep an eye on it," Vieira says. His advice? Stay in good shape mentally and physically.