Eirini is the Food and Beverage Director at the Strand Palace Hotel in London Strand Palace Hotel. She is a true hospitality professional that travelled all around the world working on big projects and many new openings. She is a remarkable, strong woman, passionate and incredibly talented and capable to deal with the most stressful circumstances. We have had the pleasure to interview her this week and travel down memory lane as well as looking forward to the future of hospitality.
Here what she said:
What do you love the most about hospitality?
The pure essence of it. The word hospitality comes from the Latin hospes, which came from the word hostis, which originally meant "to have power”. Hospitality is all about the art of entertaining or receiving guests. We talk constantly about "offering hospitality". There are many different ideas about how to offer hospitality according to the various cultures in the world. In Greece, we understand Philoxenia, the ancient roots of Greek Hospitality. It is literally translated as a “friend to a stranger” and is widely perceived to be synonymous to hospitality. At the end of the day, it is the generous offering of making everybody feel welcome, taken care of and being special.
For me, this holds itself amazing power to it and I feel it to my core. People come to the places we create expecting to live experiences the way they have imagined them, and we are aiming to exceed their expectations every time! If you think of this, we need to create a different imaginary experience for each and every one of our guests regardless of how we feel on that day. It’s pure magic? No, it’s hard work and for me, this is the essence of what we do. It requires strong detail, amazing planning skills, putting together a team with passion and sheer determination.
All of my free time goes back to my passion for hospitality, I adore travelling and I know to describe the travel destinations I go mostly through their hotels, their restaurants and their experiences of hospitality.
You have been travelling around the world, Australia, Greece and the UK throughout your career working for wonderful projects. How would you describe the concept of hospitality in these locations?
Even though I come from a hospitality family – my parents owned pubs in Germany and bakeries in Greece – I decided to really pursue a career in Hospitality after working in UK with Ping Pong. I was lucky enough to join their first venue and become part of the team that opened the first 8 venues. This experience and the people I met made the difference.
For me UK is the concept maker of hospitality, it’s the wonderland of ideas, of system and operation, its where you learn how you can offer experience and be commercially savvy, operational to the core using science, understanding of the industry and innovation. Its where we learn that hospitality can be a successful business and still be an experience like no other.
Greece is all about the emotion – the world Philoxenia is bigger than life there. It’s all about the guest experience and how far we can stretch to please the guest. It teaches you the love, the respect and the pride it requires to be able to offer experience.
Australia is about the offering and the fun of it, it’s about friendliness and how we can offer hospitality unpretentious and raw. How we can use food and beverage in the best way we can, how we can offer simplicity in all the glory that simplicity has to offer. Australia believes in quality and as Ruskin said quality is never an accident, it is always the result of intelligent effort.
Which one left a mark in your heart?
I am extremely grateful to have experienced all three of them so far, heading roles so different to each other from Retail focused FMCG driven businesses, to find casual high-volume restaurants to uber-luxury hotels in different markets very unique and insular, I am in love with all of them. I adore Greece and I believe we have the best hospitality experience service wise anybody can get but the knowhow of operations, quality, consistency and kaizen I got this mostly abroad and especially in London and Sydney. Sydney for me offers a lifestyle like no other. But London, I believe, is the epicentre of Hospitality and it will come back stronger.
This time, due to Covid-19 has undoubtedly been one of the most difficult time for our industry. How do you see it recovering/restarting from here?
We need to rebuild hospitality remembering what Maya Angelou said about that warm, fuzzy feeling. People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.
We need to make people feel safe now, we need to make them feel protected and taken care of more than ever by showing them what we do to ensure this. We need to show generosity and courtesy to our guests' needs and show them we understand them by creating this environment of protection and safety for them. We need to offer them experiences having in mind the privacy that they need right now, the feeling they are safe and the understanding to fulfil their need of socializing within a social distancing environment.
Information technology and our understanding of what is out there and can help us with ensuring that we provide safe though unique experiences are key right now. We still need to continue doing what we love and make it worth which is taking care of our visitors and guests.
If you could send a message to your fellow colleagues out there, waiting to get back to work or currently job seeking because of the virus. What would you say?
Keep calm and march on! Never quit. This is a hard time for all of us but we will have to keep doing what we love. Be flexible, understand times have changed, be hands-on and close to your teams. This is the time for all leaders to lead from the front line. To open the way for better times to come. We need to stick together and help others succeed this is the only way hospitality will move on.
Be open and united, be coachable and multifaceted. The time for motionless and timeworn hospitality environments and ideas is officially over.
Erika Visentin Bonomo - Permanent Division Manager