Food Arts presents the November 1996 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Philip Kendall, Hyatt Hotels’ vice president of food and beverage, for his imaginative food and drinks programs.
From Hawaii to Hilton Head, two goals are uppermost for Hyatt’s 104 hotels: keeping guests in house for dinner and attracting the lucrative meetings and incentives business. Phil Kendall excels at both.
Quality and consistency are the sine qua non of any successful f&b program but, beyond that, Kendall displays a flair for merchandising that generates substantive profits.
He’s known as a team player who listens to and works well with colleagues, says his longtime friend and associate Janos Kiss, Hyatt’s corporate executive chef and f&b director. “When I met Philip 15 years ago at the Hyatt Regency Chicago,” says Kiss, “he caught my eye because he always wanted to know more.”
Now Kiss, who was Kendall’s mentor in those early days, credits Kendall’s energetic approach for elevating Hyatt’s f&b to a higher level. “He said, ‘let’s upgrade all the three-meal coffee shop menus’; he put in more merchandising programs, he’s created separate profit centers for food.”
Under Kendall’s direction, Hyatt f&b programs epitomize today’s hotels’ use of food programs as marketing strategies. “Lively promotions have made our f&b programs both fun and profitable,” Kendall explains. “We track covers from one year to the next, and this year, for the first time, our restaurant covers are increasing. I’m not sure it brings in someone new but it stops the hemorrhage of people going out.”
Kendall counts Hyatt’s Mediterranean menu, implemented in 80 hotels, as his greatest success. “We sold over 65,000 Mediterranean items during a 90-day period,” he boasts. Another winning entry was “Mushrooms and Merlot,” a 1995 promotion in 50 properties that paired upscale mushroom dishes with the popular wine varietal. A current promotion running through the end of the year is “Zen and Zinfandel.” Kendall explains: “Zen can be everything and nothing, so you can serve almost any kind of food—red meat, fish, tapas.”
Other wildly successful promotions have been a 1995/96 joint venture with Haagen-Dazs, featuring ice cream parlor-style desserts, and an exuberant fresh peach festival in August 1995 that had chefs tossing the fragrant fruit into everything from cobblers to quesadillas to pasta.
Kendall’s drinks programs have been a solid success as well. At the end of second quarter 1996, Hyatt’s beverage outlet sales have increased 8 percent—the first increase since 1991. This year, handcrafted beers starred in a beer and pretzel promotion. In years past, “New Age Martinis,” “Best Bloody Marys,” and “Cordial Concoctions” have played leading roles with tent cards not only displayed on obvious spots like restaurant tables but perched atop the television set in every room.
Because he came up through the Hyatt ranks, Kendall was always in close contact with the customer. For 10 years, he held f&b managerial positions in properties in San Francisco and Chicago. A stint as resident manager at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki and the former Hyatt Regency Waikoloa followed before Kendall was promoted, in 1993, to general manager of the Hyatt regency Grand Cayman. In May 1995, he returned to Chicago with Cathy, his wife of 25 years, to assume his present position. (Their son, Matthew, 24, lives in Santa Monica.)
“Hyatt customers eat out a couple of times a week, probably have two incomes in the family, understand what’s going on,” Kendall says. “They force us to be constantly changing and evolving.” At the same time, repeat customers traveling from a Hyatt in on city to a Hyatt in another are not in the market for surprises, particularly when it comes to staging the business meetings that account for about 55 percent of the chain’s business.
“To build repeat business, you must have consistency,” Kendall says. And positive word of mouth is key: “Groups meet all across the country and they alls peak to one another.”
From fresh pineapple in Hawaii to fajitas in Texas to conch fritters in the Caribbean, crating regional destinations is another important aspect of maintaining a distinctive edge. “I’ve tried to make the traveler gets to taste the local cuisines,” Kendall says. “At the same time, however, they should be able to get a recognizable club sandwich or Caesar salad.”
Under Kendall, Hyatt has actually decreased the number of restaurants in its hotels. “We’re not worrying about having four or five outlets; we’d rather do two or three well and make sure they provide full service,” he explains. Nevertheless, in the last three years, food and profitability has increased by seven percentage points. And by the end of this year, profits are expected to grow by another two points, a significant increase when you’re talking about $900 million in f&b sales a year.