HB EXCLUSIVE: Benchmark does hotel catering by the book

DALLAS—With the competition for catering and banquet dollars getting tighter and tighter, Benchmark is launching a catering and banquet playbook to help its operators have an edge—and the company has teamed up with some of its vendor partners to do it.

“The idea is, first and foremost, how do we remain relevant in how we present in the banquet and catering space?” said Patrick Berwald, VP of food and beverage, Benchmark. “Every year, we find ourselves around budget season looking to increase menu prices or drive continued capture of groups or book groups again, yet we stay the same in how we look and feel.”

Essentially, the playbook offers operators a variety of presentations for catering and banquet situations, from snack breaks to plated meals. Each layout has specific product codes from the company’s vendor partners, which the operators can order through the company’s GPO partner Avendra. “The benefit of this playbook is, if somebody at the property level wanted to basically replicate verbatim that look and feel of that image, we are going to give you the tool and the direction on who to contact, what the item number is, so you can create your own purchase order and replicate that look—or if you want to have certain segments of that, you can do that, too,” said Berwald.

He continued, “This is delivered in such a format where we have almost taken the thought out of how you present things to an operator, and we have given a lot of ideas on creativity, how you would present certain items, how they would be treated, how they would be used. The meetings segment in particular is very crucial from an ops standpoint because it gives detail on perspective of table sets—this is the alignment of the pad, of the pens, the water glass. It creates a level of consistency so that when it is adapted at the property level, that meeting attendee or that group customer has a level of expectation of consistency and quality through a hotel or operator following what the playbook outlines.”

The company partnered with vendors American Metalcraft, Cal-Mil, D.W. Haber, Fortessa Tableware Solutions and Southern Aluminum. “We specifically partnered with five vendors that cover the gamut of products that we use in the catering and event space, whether they be tables, glassware, china or silver, props or risers,” he said.

The vendors also offered their industry knowledge in the design of the presentations. “These vendors are not only fantastic partners, but play in a space of expertise,” said Berwald. “For example, we partnered with D.W. Haber, a family business that has been producing high-quality stainless silver product for many generations. They specifically deal in coffee presentations… We partner with companies that are experts in their fields, but also would be partners to our operators.”

The message for the operators, according to Berwald, is that they stay relevant in their catering operations and invest in them. “This is an area that often gets forgotten,” he said. “We need to continue to invest if we expect to get that group back again or get a few more dollars out of them next year. We have to continue to up the ante and the experience for those people in our hotels.”

To design the layouts for the playbook, Benchmark assembled a team of its own employees. “We collected a couple of directors of food and beverage, a couple of executive chefs who represented the diversity that Benchmark’s portfolio has—somebody from a resort, somebody from an urban/city center location, somebody from a private center we manage that is unique,” he said. “We knew all of the elements that we wanted to showcase, and then we started to dive deeper in terms of menus and what equipment we wanted to use for what shot, but the point is that we used our field operators, the direct recipients of the final product, to create every single image and develop the content, so that when we launch it, there is immediate buy-in.”

Berwald is proud of the project because it represents the power of partnership. “Food and beverage is a business where we make our money on catering and beverage,” he said. “Food is pretty hard to turn a profit when you look at it, so at the end of the day, the power of partnerships here is to work with some of these people like we did with the playbook, and not to leverage their resources, but their expertise. They are dealing with so many different perspectives, and tapping into that network and knowledge base on how we guide our business is a very key thing here.”

He continued, “I think the playbook is one example of how we have done that. We need those relationships to drive margins for us. We are not like the rooms divisions, which are pushing a 60-70% profit margin. We are happy if we are getting 25%; we would love to get more, but it is how you activate those partnerships and tap into those networks to grow your business.” HB

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