Dr. Gabor Forgacs
I was the General Manager of the three-star Hotel Rege in Budapest, Hungary when we happened to host a conference in April of 1985. The event was attended by the chief executives of cooperative corporations of the travel and tourism industries of European countries. It was a multi-day event during which the attendees were entertained by visits to tourist attractions and enlightening day trips to the countryside, giving them a taste of the traditional Hungarian hospitality offered by successful coops. The event was a great success to Cooptourist, the official organizer (and owner of our hotel), and the staff of our hotel had certainly done our utmost to put our best foot forward.
The closing gala dinner of the conference was held in our ballroom. Things were progressing well. We were already past the first course when Mr. Gannaby, our guest from Sweden and high-ranked executive of Reso Hotels, waved me over. He asked me if he could make a special request from one hotelier to another, peer to peer. He asked me if he could get a different main course than the one on the carefully composed dinner menu. He told me he loved that special Hungarian halászlé (fish soup) that they had tasted at a specialty coop fish restaurant in Paks, a reputable small town, the day before. He wondered if he could have a portion of that famous halászlé instead of our main course.
My response was a positive, yes, although we never had fish in our kitchen. When we opened the Hotel Rege in April of 1982 we had encountered space constraints during the design and construction phase of our kitchen. We had one way to deal with the design flaw: we made room for storage, ware washing, and food production by eliminating fish and seafood from our planned menu. These items must have separate cold storage, cleaning, and preparation areas allocated to them according to public health regulations to avoid cross-contamination, so we decided to operate our restaurant without any fish or seafood offerings on the menu. We never had any difficulties with that decision, until Mr. Gannaby’s request.
I smiled at Mr. Gannaby and told him with a straight face that I would be delighted to treat him to that special meal. Then I added that since halászlé was not one of our regular menu items, a little extra time was needed to prepare it for him. He said he didn’t mind the extra wait and understood that extraordinary items take extra time. He appreciated the personal accommodation.
I walked back into our kitchen then used the back stairs to run down to the lobby and grab our bellman. I told him to take a taxi and go down the street as fast as possible to the fish restaurant located about five minutes away to get take-out. We needed a generous portion of halászlé that he should bring straight into our kitchen. Our chef there would make the most professional presentation in our hotel’s branded soup bowl to serve to Mr. Gannaby. It all went as planned and our guest was delighted. That night was unforgettable for a special personal reason as well: I got the call after the dinner was over that our daughter had arrived. She was born that night.
When I presented the extra charge added to the invoice for the gala dinner and explained it to the CEO of Cooptourist, he got a good chuckle out of it.
I tell this story because it represents the best of our profession. Service is the name of a game that is intuitive, detail-oriented, and as personal as necessary. Mr. Gannaby was happy to be offered personal attention and the fulfillment of his extra request. I always believed that service is at the very heart of our business, whatever it takes. The fact that we never served fish at our hotel could not get in the way of great service.
The above is an excerpt from “A Hotelier” by Gabor Forgacs. Available at https://books.friesenpress.com/store/title/119734000235611461