Hotel Online  Special Report

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Trevor Bilney, Executive Chef at the Bali InterContinental
Resort, Fights Hard Since Last October 12; 
Keeps Morale Up and Costs Down

How do you cope if you have five outlets to keep running – and few, if any, guests? 
Trevor Bilney, executive chef of the Bali InterContinental Resort, rose to the
challenge with creativity, passion and determination

By Steve Shellum, Publisher/Editor, HOTEL Asia Pacific
March 2003

TREVOR Bilney, executive chef at the Bali InterContinental Resort, is a fighter through and through. Last October 12, the former judo professional needed every last ounce of inner strength he could muster.

When guests disappeared almost overnight from the award-winning property on Jimbaran Beach - and every other hotel on the shocked island – Bilney had to act with courage and confidence.
 

Business had to go on, no matter how hard it was to concentrate on the job. He was in charge of 142 F&B staff, who looked to him for leadership in their time of desperation.

After helping to deliver supplies to local hospitals, Bilney gathered his staff. “We will do everything we can to safeguard your jobs,” he assured them. “We’re in this together.”

Then he grabbed his surfboard and “disappeared” for a couple of hours.

A couple of months later, Bilney sits under the stars outside the hotel’s Timan Gita restaurant and looks 


Executive Chef Trevor Bilney
back at that time of heart-rending crisis. “It seems like yesterday, but we’ve learned so much,” says the fit and tanned Australian. “And we’ve achieved a great deal.”

What are the main lessons learned?

“The biggest challenges – even now - are keeping morale up and costs down,” he says. “All we can do is work our way through it.”

Immediately after the bombings, Bilney sat down with his whole team and started to work through, and rewrite, the processes. 

“It is crucial to work as a team, to involve everyone at every level,” he says. 

“We’ve always run an efficient operation, but we now faced huge new challenges and had to make plans. We all got together and talked it through for about a week, looking at how we could maintain high standards while containing costs. We were determined not to close down restaurants, and to keep operating 24 hours a day and, so far, our guest-satisfaction statistics have remained the same.”

The hotel had some substantial events coming up, and Bilney had placed his orders well in advance. He immediately contacted all his suppliers, and did some straight talking. “We wrote to all the suppliers asking for their assistance and understanding, and their support was incredible. 

“We used to order, say, 3,000 eggs and 200 pineapples at a time, but we had to cut the orders back to 300 eggs and 10 pineapples. It obviously hurt the suppliers greatly, but none of them blamed us. They all understood.”

Despite the cutbacks in quantities, Bilney had to maintain quality and offer the few remaining guests a full range of F&B choices in all the outlets, ranging from the signature Singaraja seafood restaurant and the award-winning KO Japanese restaurant to the poolside Jimbaran Gardens. Plus 24-hour room service.

“People still want to eat here, and they expect to see substantial offerings,” says Bilney. 

He maintained the normal food inventory of about 450 items, but had to put in place new systems to strictly control their usage. 

“From a chef’s point of view, requisitioning took on a whole new meaning. All of a sudden, we had to take a very close look at mushrooms, because they are very important in all the restaurants. 

“It became a significant issue because, previously, our chefs could have all the mushrooms they wanted and not even think about it.

“We all had to change our attitudes, and fast. We could not let people behave in the normal way and take what they wanted, whenever they wanted it.”

Bilney set up a communal area for food items, from where everyone could take what they needed, with each item being strictly monitored and controlled. “Direct issuing is much more controlled and much more fair, and prevents a general free-for-all,” he says. “It also creates camaraderie.”

Bilney also closed down the cool rooms to allow him to consolidate and better control costs. “There is no point in bulk buying and holding on to stuff for three months to try and make a killing. We have to look at our inventory on a day-by-day basis, and adjust accordingly.

“As we print our own menus inhouse, we have a great deal of flexibility.” 

Perhaps the biggest challenge was trying to keep morale up among staff, who were not only worried about losing their jobs but also had to be kept busy when guests were few on the ground.

“There was a whole stack of leave we had not taken, including myself, so we mapped all that, and that kept us entertained for quite a good time. Imagine trying to graph out the leave entitlement of 142 people, and trying to fit it all together while keeping everyone happy.”

The hotel has substantially stepped up staff training and has, in fact, hired a new training manager since the tragedy happened. 

It is sending as many staff as possible to other Six Continents properties, including six staff, led by Wiji, sous chef at the Jimbaran restaurant, who were sent to the  Tokyo Bay Yokohama Grand for a month to hold a Balinese food promotion. None of them had ever been out of Bali before.

“But we have to be careful we don’t create a brain drain which will strip us of our best people. These guys are amazing with faces, names and details,” says Bilney. 

Key to maintaining smooth operations – and sanity – is how you manage relationships with the owners, staff and guests, says Bilney. 

“The hotel’s excom (executive committee) is very important in times like these. Every department of the hotel is facing its own challenges, and it is crucial that everyone understands the pressures from every perspective.
“The girl in sales is fantastic and keeps loyal regulars coming back. I regularly take her chocolates and cookies.”

Bilney also emphasises to his staff the fact that the hotel is part of a global chain. “We have had an amazing amount of support from both head and regional offices, and this is crucial in instilling confidence about the future.”

Although the group provides manuals on dealing with crisis situations, Bilney has learned first hand that you cannot plan for every occurrence.

“There are no text books or crisis manuals that can tell you how to deal with a situation like this. You have to write your own as you go along.”

He adds: “We prepare our whole careers to ensure we maintain maximum output at the best possible quality, and a situation like this allows professionals to rise to the challenge and prove their worth. 

“This is when expats really earn their keep, with their networks of friends and contacts built up over many years in many places. 

“It is our duty to make sure we demonstrate resilience and keep making money, even when it is hard.”

How does Bilney personally cope with all the pressures” “I go to the gym, surf and run a lot. You have to give yourself a break, get on the surf board, to avoid burnout. You need your day off.”

© Copyright HOTEL Asia Pacific

Contact:

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Hotel Asia Pacific
Steve Shellum
158 Wong Uk Tsuen
Yuen Long
New Territories
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2882-7352
Fax: +852 2882-2461
http://www.hotelasiapacific.com
[email protected]

 
Also See Hotels Stepping Up Security; Learning to Live with the Threat of Terrorism as Part of Conducting Everyday Business / HOTEL Asia Pacific Survey / March 2003
50% of Hoteliers Have Not Increased Investment in Security – More than a Year After the September 11 Attacks / HOTEL Asia Pacific Survey / December 2002
Security: Something No Hotel Can Ignore / Geoff Griswold / Summer 2002
Biometrics Lend a Hand to Hotel Security / Feb 2002
Hotels Near Airports Provide Better Safety and Security Features According to The Center for Hospitality Research - Cornell Hotel School / Dec 2002


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