Kurt H. Fischer
Food Arts presents the November 1997 Silver Spoon Award to Kurt H. Fischer for the innovations and excitement he has brought to Westin Hotels & Resorts’ f&b program. As vice president, the 55-year-old Fischer has synthesized 37 years of experience on four continents into a progressive strategy that creatively—and profitably—engages chefs and food professionals in nearly 250 f&b outlets in 107 properties scattered among 23 countries.
Two years ago, under Fischer’s direction, Westin closed all its low-end coffee shops and high-end fine-dining restaurants in order to “make our restaurant business similar to the position of our lodging segment as the number one upscale hotel chain,” he says. “On the low-end, we felt we had to develop concepts to suit our customers, who have a general income level of $100,000 to $120,000. But this doesn’t mean fine-dining, because those restaurants weren’t making any money.”
As an example of Westin’s successful approach to matching “high quality and affordable prices,” Fischer points to Alfieré Mediterranean Bistro in the Cyprus Creek Westin Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. “We closed off a coffee shop and fine-dining restaurant there, and today, we do more revenue in one restaurant than in the other two combined,” he says, “with more efficiency, better quality control, and greater customer satisfaction.”
When Fischer arrived at Westin nine years ago, after serving as gm of the Hilton International in Bahrain, Westin chefs acted independently of each other. This was especially true as it applied to purchasing. Fischer helped streamline food costs by negotiating national contracts for nearly 50 percent of the foodstuffs needed by the chain’s restaurants. While chefs must utilize what Westin purchases, how they use those foods is left up to them.
Fischer’s most interesting program is a month-long, theme-based promotion held four times a year. Each theme is based on a regional or national cuisine or food product. Once a topic for a promotion is selected—say, “Mediterranean Tastes & Flavors,” featuring hot and cold tapas, which ran earlier this year—Fischer will convene a group of up to 10 Westin chefs for a week of recipe development. Nearly 100 recipes and attending color photos are packed into a book that also features information about participating sponsors and their products, including wineries To secure book-cover art and posters for the promotions, Seattle-based Westin conducts a competition among graphic arts students at the University of Washington, with the winner receiving a scholarship grant.
“These promotions help us influence what we serve because each chef has to choose some of the items out of the book for the menu,” Fischer says. “And some of the more popular items eventually make in on to the general menu, so therefore, too, we have influence without telling someone this is what you have to do. These promotions are very popular with our chefs because most of them get involved in working on one at some point.”
The globe-trotting Fischer is a native of Stuttgart, Germany, whose soccer team, VFB Stuttgart, still draws his rooting interest. He trained in Germany and Switzerland, and then held a variety of kitchen and f&b management positions with Hilton in such exotic locales as Tunis, Teheran, Cairo, and Bahrain. He joined Westin in 1988 as corporate f&b director and won a promotion to his present position in 1991. He has also served Westin as the interim operations officer for Malaysia and Thailand. A member of the Conseil Magistral of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, Fischer founded all of the group’s bailliages in the Middle East and in 1994 was appointed Conseilller International des Professionels, overseeing all of the organization’s hotel and restaurant professionals worldwide. He is also founder and president of the International Food & Beverage Forum for hotel f&b executives.
Fischer profited from the observations he made and the obstacles he faced while working in so many countries. In Africa, he learned how to procure and use foodstuffs that were readily available and not pine for what was difficult or impossible to get. As a European, he appreciates the continent’s tradition of demanding and encouraging the production and use of high-quality foods. In Asia, he gained a respect for creativity, cuisines born from a large variety of ethnic influences, and the skills needed to make hand-crafted products. And in North America, Fischer has witnessed how issues of “quality, availability, and creativity are combined and made into a business.” He’s crafted that ethos into a winning formula for Westin.