Thousands of Indians are coming to Budapest each year on corporate incentive tours, encouraged and welcomed by the Budapest Marriott, whose General Manager Rick Enders has even adapted his kitchen for the curry consuming guests. It’s helping to build a social bridge between the cultures.
The young Indian woman in a sari walks through the lobby café of the Budapest Marriott with her husband, winding their way through a scattered group of Indian men and women. They are just a few of the 450 Indian guests staying at the 360 room hotel on the day of our interview with General Manager Rick Enders.
“There are a lot of double occupancies,” explains Enders, “in these groups on incentive travel holidays. Men sharing with male colleagues, women also, and some, those that are major winners, can bring their wives or husbands and children.”
India is a significant and growing source of business for this Duna-side hotel, the only one in Budapest that offers a view of the famous river from every room. Adjacent to the verdant Vigado square, named after the famous theatre and with spectacular views across the Danube to Buda and its crowning monuments, the Marriott does everything it can to make sure the flow continues. “We tailor make menus for the groups,” says Enders, “we have installed special kitchen equipment like pots to cook tandoori and Indian bread, and large pots to make great quantities of curries. The Indians prefer to cook on gas, whereas we have mainly electricity for cooking, so that too …”
To maintain Indian incentive tours as a source of business, “we must understand their culture and their behaviours and perhaps most importantly their expectations,” says Enders, who has been to India at least once a year for the past five years. “Food is an extremely important factor for Indians, and you could say their mantra is ‘to eat is a necessity, to dine an experience’ … and it’s always family style.” Enders himself loves Indian food, and has his share when in Mumbai, New Delhi or Bangalore.
And it’s not just as an amateur foodie: Enders began his hospitality career as a chef, back on October 14, 1988, at the Marriott Bethesda in Maryland, and after 18 months moved to the celebrated Grosvenor Square property in London. He stayed in the kitchens of Marriott hotels in Frankfurt and Bremen, where he had his first executive position as Sous Chef and then catering manager.
Three days after arriving in Dubai as Food and Beverage Manager in January 1997, he was asked to team up with the chef of the hotel’s renowned JW Steakhouse (“the best in the UAE, full every night”) for that year’s Salon Culinaire competition – held the following month. The challenge was to create and serve a three course meal from a surprise basket of meat (it was lamb) and whatever ‘surprises’ they found in the fridge. They won the Silver Medal.
While at the Dubai Marriott, Enders managed to open eight new F&B outlets, bringing the hotel’s total to 14. “It was big,” he says wryly.
A year into his Budapest post after 8 years in Prague, Enders regards Hungarians as very friendly and already speaks Hungarian “kicsit” after 17 lessons and regards the language as “incredibly difficult”. But otherwise, running the Budapest Marriott is no different to any other Marriott hotel. “We have our own Standard Operating Procedures which we follow everywhere.
“All my front of house people speak English and perhaps another language, so the major challenge is communicating with back of house staff, like chefs, housekeeping and engineering.”
The hotel employees are now referred to as ‘hosts’, taking after the first General Manager, Bill Marriott (son of founder ) who ‘hosted his guests’. “The hosts make a difference,” says Enders, “that’s where we can really excel. We emphasise our culture as a company and we like to educate our hosts in Marriott culture. We like to say we take great care of the hosts so they may take great care of the guests.”
Many more guests are to be catered for as the group doubles its European bed capacity over the next five years, predominantly with expansion in Eastern Europe. Even in Budapest, evolution is the mantra, with the group’s Ritz Carlton brand replacing the Le Meridien brand.
“We will support the Ritz Carlton and help them but it will not be part of the Marriott cluster of hotels, at least initially,” says Enders. “They will have their own sales, PR, HR, Reservations and so on, and we will have ours.” (The cluster includes the Budapest Marriott Hotel & Millenium Court, Marriott Executive Apartments and Courtyard by Marriott Budapest City.)
With 2015 “exceeding our expectations, thanks to the general boom in tourism to Budapest,” Enders is looking forward to the August 14 launch of #MarionettCraft Beer House that is the first example of the hotel’s Canvas initiative. As we reported in June (p 31), Canvas is a competition for entrepreneur restauratuers who can enter with a new concept for the Marriott’s Danube promenade and the winner receives US$30,000 worth of fit out, plus US$10,000 cash to get it started. The winner becomes a Marriott host, as the manager of the new venue.
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