Saurabh Bhatnagar F&B Director Le meridian Goa, Calangute

Mr. Saurabh Bhatnagar, F&B Director, Le meridian has been in the industry for 18 years now. At a time when the popular options were law, engineering or medicine, his curiosity about 5 starred hotels and the luxuries within, which was inspired by some of his friends who had joined the industry, led him to opt for Hotel management. Being interested in food and people, the hospitality industry was a natural progression of his basic interests and strengths. He completed his training with the Trident and Lake Palace. At the end of training in 2001, he opted for Trident because it had a young and vibrant environment. He worked with the Trident in Jaipur and Udaipur and in 2007 he joined the Lake Palace, Udaipur as Assistant F&B Manager. He was with them for a couple of years after which he got an offer from the Metropolitan Hotel in Dubai. The Metropolitan gave him great international exposure , but his ‘ love for palaces ‘was calling him and he returned to Lake Palace Udaipur to join as the Restaurant Manager of Jharokha their coffee shop followed by Neelkamal one of the finest Indian food restaurant in the country. His love for palaces then took him from the Lake Palace to Devigarh Hotel where he worked as Assistant F&B Manager. In 2013, he got an offer from Alila Diva, Goa. The move was easy because he is not a big city boy. From Alila Diwa he moved to Plant Hollywood. In the past he had worked with the Taj, Oberois, Alila but he had never been part of a pre-opening which involves hiring and training, getting the right product in, identifying vendors, market surveys and this was something that excited and challenged him. After Planet Hollywood, he joined the preopening team for Le Meridien and today he is Director F&B there.

What does a guest look for? According to Mr. Bhatnagar, it’s the ‘the basics’. Clean rooms and hygienic food are of prime importance, Luxury comes next. Pricing strategy therefore is targeted at giving value for money.

Now days, most guests are well travelled and they can decipher the difference between genuine care and lip service. He encourages his staff to interact directly with guests so as to learn their preferences in order to personalise service. Gone are the days when chefs remained exclusively in the kitchen. They are out in the forefront taking feedback from guests and cooking up specialities that cater to specific taste buds. Anticipating a guest’s need and therefore delivering a service without it being asked for makes guests feel special because it exceeds their expectations.

“A Hotel is a live entity. It breathes every moment”, he says. Commitment is important and one has to be ‘switched on’ all the time to make a go of it. The most challenging and interesting aspect of hospitality is managing people. In a ‘people led’ industry, leaders have to be role models. They have to show the path and show growth. Setting expectations, constant up- gradation of skills through training and a robust feedback system can control attrition which is high in this industry.

Should one stay with the same company or should one change jobs for better growth prospects? “The learning and exposure one gains from working with different organisations is tremendous however it doesn’t necessarily mean growth. By remaining in the same organisation, it may be easier to leverage the experience gained”, he says.