Jennifer Santner, 2016 Scholar’s Blog: Mandarin Oriental Placement

Day 1
I left London at 8pm (after celebrating with a glass of Champagne) hoping to catch some sleep on the 12 hour flight. This proved rather difficult as I was too excited!

Anyway, we arrived and I was warmly welcomed by a gentleman in a red jacket who greeted me with cold water and a fresh towel, it already felt very special.

On arriving at the Hotel, I was stunned that everyone I met along the way greeted me kindly with my name. I met a lady at the front door who explained all the tailored formalities and took me to my room. The room, as you’d expect, was stunning and, funnily enough, it was bigger than my London flat ????

I had an hour to spare before a welcome dinner at Mosaic Restaurant in the hotel, so I decided to have a bath and think about what the following 10 days would actually mean to me. I soon realised the magnitude of this amazing experience. It dawned on me how lucky I was to be here.

Day 2
When I left my room in the morning to go and meet Marcel Li, the assistant F&B Director of Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur (MOKL), I was warmly greeted by the floor’s cleaning attendant who said: “Good Morning Jennifer” – again, I wondered how he knew my name. Given that the hotel has about 700 rooms, I was so surprised and felt very special.

Today Marcel and I had a long chat in the lounge about his working life and what the key issues are. Finding experienced hospitality professionals that want to build a career in our industry seems to be a challenge here as much as in London. Marcel explains that Malaysians don’t see “being a waiter” as a smart career move. They prefer working in offices or in agencies. We talked about the similarities in London and how programmes like the Gold Service Scholarship can help change and shift perceptions.

We talked a lot about training – a new member of staff at the MOKL and any other Mandarin Oriental will undergo a four full-day company induction/orientation and a one week on the job training before they start to work.

The hotel follows all the LQA and LQE standards as well as internal SOP’s. Some members of the MOKL Team have worked here for over 17 years, Marcel explained. The hotel has a separate Training and Development Department that conducts inductions and ongoing training for all the hotels staff throughout the year within the hotels large training rooms and facilities. Could this be the key to staff retention I wonder?

I also joined the daily F&B meeting held at 10.45am. All head of departments of all F&B get together to discuss current activities. In this meeting, we covered things such as hotel occupancy, cover, VIPs and regulars, guests’ likes and dislikes, hazards, beverage of the day, financials, dept updates and mystery shopper results and targets.

Day 3
Today I got to experience some of the F&B Outlets within the Mandarin Oriental and learning more about how they operate.

Later in the afternoon, I went to the Spa Area of the Mandarin Oriental. Warmly welcomed by every member of staff I took a seat at one of the beautifully prepared lying beds, with towels ready for use and lemon flavoured water upon arrival. Very nice gesture! Again a cold fresh hand towel was handed to refresh hands and face if needed.

All these little details make the stay at MO very special and definite five star establishment!

Day 4
I started the day full of energy and motivation and finally free of jetlag. I spent time with Nicholas, the restaurant manager at the Mandarin Grill.

He is very honest, direct and straight forward. He talks to me very openly about what he has observed at the MO Grill. No details left out. I openly compare his experiences with the ones I have approached in my career to date.
He really gave me some good insight into so many areas.

He explained to me that training is sometimes a challenge in Asia. Given the warmth of the people, people are always welcoming and hospitable; however, the more technical skills are often lacking which is why they place great emphasis on this at the Mandarin Oriental.

We also talked about some of our processes and procedures. What seems to be my personal challenge at work is his paradise: H&S, Training, Fire induction, security training and audits. Nicholas told me that it is of great help to be able to call on the training department to conduct all the training. He is able to focus on other service improvements whilst they look after the compulsory areas.

I also learn that every hotel guest would get a complimentary welcome drink upon arrival to the restaurant and a sorbet to cleanse the pallet. All such nice touches made to make the guests feel very welcome.

During the briefing, the whole team kindly introduce themselves to me. Fascinating to see how everyone has been at MO for at least five years. It’s a dream come true for every restaurant manager I think to myself. Everyone seemed to have heard about the Gold Service Scholarship and asked many questions which I was glad to answer.

Day 5
Today I spent more time talking to Nicholas, again being greeted by one of the cleaning team who knew my name.

Nicolas showed me the comprehensive four-day induction folder every member of staff is given upon employment which covered areas such as complaint handling, telephone standards, uniforms and grooming, guest recognition and name usage, hotel history and fact sheet, and many others

During service, Nicolas engaged with all guests regularly and communicated consistently with the kitchen team. At no stage did I see him having to give guidance or instructions to team members. They all are extremely self-motivated and organised and always in the right position.

The restaurant has many regular guests. All waiters know them by name and are equally happy to welcome them back.

One thing I did notice were the exquisite petite fours which were outstanding and on a different level. They had small chocolate truffles in different shapes and colours served in a traditional Asian style box. The box at first sight looks like a jewellery box. The top is opened and four truffles appear. Two drawers can be pulled out and another four truffles appear. They are explained by the waiter to the guest who are stunned.

Day 6
After this morning’s daily F&B Meeting I spent time with the hostess team. The hostess team at MO Grill and Bar currently consists of one lady for lunch and one for dinner. The ladies offer assistance and guidance in all sorts of areas escort guests part of the way to wherever they need to go to. If guests ask for prices for a meal in Grill they ladies would offer to see a menu, talk them through the offered dishes and also point out the great value lunch menu and the several set menus for groups. Reading glasses, magazines, shawls and reading lights are kept at the desk to enhance guest’s experience where needed.

At 5.30pm, a new selection of Caipirinha cocktails is presented – just in time for the Olympics in Brazil to start. There are six options on offer. My favourite definitely is the Blue Pea and Chamomile Caipirinha. Feedback is given regarding taste and presentation and prices are discussed and agreed on between Nicolas and some of the team.

I was fascinated by Nicolas’ ability to delegate responsibilities to his great team of supervisors and junior managers. I note on my ‘to do’ list “Learn to delegate, let go and train your juniors to be able to take on more responsibility”.

This is my last day and I’m very sad to be leaving but incredibly excited to take what I’ve learned back to my place of work. This experience has been fascinating and helped me experience a completely different way of working.

It just goes to show, we can all learn so much from each other if we have the opportunity to do so; I’m just pleased that I’ve been given the opportunity.

I am also sad to leave a team full of warm and motivated people behind; I wish I could take them with me. I am sure Fenchurch Restaurant will have a job or two for them ????

Pictured: Jennifer at the Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur

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