HOTELS Interview: Exploring F&B’s cutting edge in China

When the former Shangri-La Kerry Centre Hotel, Beijing rebranded as Kerry Hotel, Beijing last November to become Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts’ second property under the new Kerry brand, food and beverage was a major focus for the hotel. Kerry Hotel, Beijing debuted new concepts in Kerry’s Kitchen, an all-day dining restaurant specializing in authentic Asian cuisine, and gourmet deli Kerry’s Pantry. It also revamped its popular bar, Centro.

HOTELS recently visited Kerry Hotel, Beijing and spoke with Andrew Jansson, director of F&B, about the property’s refreshed F&B approach as well as broader trends in the industry.

HOTELS: How would you describe the hotel’s overall approach to F&B?

Andrew Jansson: When we did the whole renovation project and we were looking at what we wanted to do with F&B here, the whole thing was about creating a destination venue. So basically, not that people would choose to come to one particular outlet, but they would choose to come to the Kerry, Beijing because we had everything available. At that time, we already had Centro, which was well established, so we were looking at what we could do with the F&B products that would be able to open it up to a larger scale. The concept for Kerry’s Kitchen came out together with the deli, Kerry’s Pantry, so we try to cater to every taste. When people go out in town, because of the situation with traffic here in Beijing and distances to travel, we don’t want them to hop from one place to the other. We want them to come here, have a dinner and have some drinks, enjoy. We wanted to give them that option of having everything in one location.

Andrew Jansson, director of F&B at Kerry Hotel, Beijing <br> </br>
Andrew Jansson, director of F&B at Kerry Hotel, Beijing

HOTELS: Tell me about Kerry’s Kitchen. First, what stands out to you in terms of the design of the space?

Jansson: Design-wise, it has this flow, this energy. The design that Super Potato did … They use a lot of these natural elements — Izumi stone from Japan, murals — and it’s all very natural. So when you come into the restaurant, it’s kind of smooth. It’s a nice ambience, and that goes with Kerry and the whole lifestyle way of things. Everything has to be seamless, when you come into the restaurant and what you see in terms of design, but also once you sit down and want to eat something.

HOTELS: How would you describe the food at Kerry’s Kitchen?

Jansson: At breakfast we have to cater to an international and very discerning clientele, so you have to have the whole range. The Kerry’s Kitchen a la carte menu, the initial concept was Asian dining, an Asian grill experience. But because of it being the all-day-dining venue for the hotel, we also have to incorporate an international element, so you have to have a lot of international dishes as well.

I think the key thing we’ve tried to do is focus on getting the right product in — authenticity. We have chefs from Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and a lot of the Southeast Asian food is very authentic. I think that’s what people come to expect with Kerry’s Kitchen. We have a lot of specialists who help to make the dishes really authentic.

HOTELS: Do you think that level of authenticity is unusual for a hotel?

Jansson: I think sometimes some hotels like to do too much. We like to please everybody, and it can be very difficult. If you want to do a pasta here in Beijing, it will be different from a pasta you have in Italy, because the local palette is different. They might prefer it a little bit sweeter or with more tomato than in Italy.

It’s the same with us. Of course we want to try to please everybody, but I think the most important thing, what will bring people in, is if they say, you know what, they have the best Hainan chicken rice at Kerry’s Kitchen — we need to go there. Or they’re doing the best chili crab — that’s why we need to go. When people start to talk about that, especially here in Beijing, I think it catches on.

HOTELS: What makes Kerry’s Pantry unique?

Jansson: To sum it up, it’s your choice. You decide. We noticed that people really want choice, especially when it comes to sandwiches and salads. They want to have that ability to make their own — even create their own cake or something like that. I think nowadays, this is quite normal. You go into a coffee shop, you don’t ask for a coffee anymore. You want a decaf latte with caramel and this and this and this — same thing with lunch.

Most of our clientele — I would say about 70% for lunch — is expat, working in the offices around here. I think they’re kind of used to that, that choice. And it’s working out really well. A lot of our guests, they come quite often. They work around here, so you might come to Kerry’s Pantry for lunch, hopefully three or four times a week. So you have the flexibility to every day create something different.

Japanese design firm Super Potato emphasized natural elements in the design of Kerry's Kitchen.
Japanese design firm Super Potato emphasized natural elements in the design of Kerry’s Kitchen.

HOTELS: How has Centro evolved in light of the hotel’s rebranding and the refresh of this concept in particular? Are there ways it has also stayed the same?

Jansson: Centro is very popular. It was very well known. This hotel was more associated with Centro than any other any F&B outlet that we did have, so we didn’t want to change too much. Of course, when the hotel renovated, definitely it needed a facelift in terms of the furniture and the design of the décor. But that was about it.

What we wanted to keep the same was the four things that we’ve kept on since day one: fine wines, great cocktails, sultry jazz and seductive ambience. I think keeping it simple like that is what helped make Centro so successful.

We just wanted to give it a fresh look and a different feel. It looks a lot more modern. Pure Creative out of Hong Kong, which was the original designer of Centro eight years ago when it first opened, [worked on the refresh recently]. One of the key things we wanted to add on was outside, we have a terrace section.

HOTELS: How does it break down at your F&B outlets in terms of hotel guests versus locals?

Jansson: It’s about 15% or 20% hotel guests, the rest all walk-ins. Out of all our walk-in guests, it’s about 30% expat and then about 70% local. The only thing for which we rely on our in-house hotel guests is, of course, breakfast. Our business is generated from the local guests.

I’ll give you an example: At Centro, during the weekdays and even on the weekends, if you come in between 5 and 9 o’clock in the evening, it’s about 70% expat, 30% local — the after-work crowd, everyone comes in for happy hour. But then, everything changes. Around 10 o’clock in the evening, it switches. So you have around 20% expat, about 80% local. Overall, it’s a good mix, but with the different periods it changes.

HOTELS: It sounds like it would be challenging to cater to such an ever-evolving guest mix. How do you cope with that reality?

Jansson: You need to have a certain amount of the basic amenities, what people expect when they come to a 5-star hotel. What we focus on is getting the right people in so we can try to read our guests and anticipate a little bit more. It’s a lot about being able to anticipate what guests want. We did a lot of training and a lot of practice with our managers to try to read people a bit more, so we don’t have to wait for them to ask us for things. But it’s still ongoing. It’s a bit tough sometimes.

HOTELS: It seems F&B is a huge focus for the Kerry brand overall. Why is it especially critical to the brand?

Jansson: Shangri-La as an overall company always puts a large emphasis on F&B. Some hotel companies look at F&B as an amenity — you’ve got to have your coffee shop, you’ve got to have your lounge. But in our company, we’ve really always focused on F&B, because F&B — especially with Kerry — gives an identity to the hotel. So it’s not just a building with rooms. People come and stay at a hotel not only because the rooms are great. You’ve got to have the whole package, and F&B is a huge part of that. When you have a strong F&B reputation, it helps elevate the hotel and the brand. Hopefully we’re on the right track.

Suspended glass globes by British industrial designer Tom Dixon are among design highlights at the revamped Centro.
Suspended glass globes by British industrial designer Tom Dixon are among design highlights at the revamped Centro.

HOTELS: How does what you’re doing in F&B here reflect broader trends in hotel F&B?

Jansson: I think what we’ve done with Kerry’s Kitchen in keeping things authentic and simple, with a home-cooked feel, I think that’s something that’s more and more important in F&B. People are looking for that comfort zone — not necessarily comfort food, but just a place where you feel comfortable and you know what you’re getting, and that comes down to the authenticity. Same thing with the drinks at Centro — years back, everybody was into molecular mixology, so you had to make a smoking this and a frozen that. That was very nice and very creative. But at the end of the day, when you want a margarita, you should get a proper margarita. So what we focus on here is doing everything the classical way. If you want to have a martini, we’ll make sure this will be the best martini in town. I think we’re going back to basics now.

HOTELS: What about ways you stand apart from broader F&B trends?

Jansson: One of the key things here, especially in Centro, is our staff. Our staff here in the evenings don’t have uniforms. Every quarter we do some shopping and the girls get to choose their own outfits based on, of course, certain guidelines. One, they feel very comfortable, so that lifts up their confidence. And at the same time, it just adds to the overall ambience. It definitely has people talking.

Our grooming standards here and in the rest of the hotel I would say are out there, even in relation to the rest of Shangri-La hotels. We’re trying to be a little bit more fun and vibrant, so earrings are no problem, goatees, different-colored hair, tattoos — nowadays, everybody has these things. Of course, still proper, but a little bit more fun.

HOTELS: What are your predictions for the “next big things” in F&B? What might be some of the hottest trends one, two, five years from now?

Jansson: One is technology and how technology is going to fit into the overall picture of F&B in terms of how we display our product and communicate our product.

I think the most important thing is, people are getting more and more educated. People want more and more information. At one point I don’t think it’s going to be enough for me to just offer a glass of water. I’ll have to offer a glass of water and say this water comes from here and here and here. That relates to CSR and a lot of things like that. I think people are getting more clued into that. That’s a completely different way of writing menus. I think that’s going to be big.