What it Takes to Become a DFB in a Top Hotel

What it Takes to Become a DFB in a Top Hotel

It’s nonstop from 6 AM to late at night. We manage 6 outlets and over 300 staffs.
— Hoon Namgoong, Director of Food & Beverage

If you are a planner and an organizer, then buckle in for this installment. Hoon Namgoong-- Director of Food and Beverage for DoubleTree by Hilton in Shanghai-- has stopped by to impart his wisdom, share his background and experiences, and talk to us about the importance of training your own staff.

Hoon Namgoong is a hospitality major from Ryerson University who has worked in some of the top hotels around the world-- including the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto, Canada. He originally came to China because he was becoming bored with the scene in Toronto and in the United States, and he simply wanted a new adventure.

And a new adventure is what he got.

When Hoon first got here, he realized that there was a massive cultural difference to what he was used to. Many of his servers and waiters did not understand simple tasks, such as opening their own bottle of wine, carrying a tray properly, or distinguishing between the different forks and knives. Then, when he sought out to change this within his own staff, there was a ladder he had to work up. He couldn’t just step in and train them himself, he had to inform a supervisor that talked to a manager that would then talk to the person in charge.

It would take him days-- and sometimes weeks-- to get one simple task communicated, and sometimes it would never get communicated at all.

Thinking back on his experience in Canada at Royal York Hotel in Toronto, he thought back on what learnings could be shared here in China. What did they do that was so different? What did they offer that couldn’t be found anywhere else?

This was what started his passion, but schooling is where he got to blossom. For Hoon, education is not a must. Education is simply what you take away from the university experience, but for him it was vital. Especially when the job he was gunning for turned out to be very different from what he originally thought it was going to be like.

So what is it like to be a Director of Food and Beverage in China?

Hoon days start around 6 AM for breakfast preparation. He goes in and helps his staff prepare for a breakfast that feeds and entertains anywhere between two-hundred and one-thousand individuals, but the preparation behind that is substantial. Namgoong sits down the night before and looks at the calendar of events. He writes down every meeting, every special function, and every shuttle time that will bring more and more people into his arena. He estimates the amount of people they need to prepare for, then he sits down and creates a flow chart so he knows what time to open certain areas of the restaurant in order to accommodate the rush of people.

Once breakfast is done, there is the preparation for lunch, followed by the lunch rush, then there is the preparation for dinner while they are winding down from lunch. Between all of this preparation and calculation, there are meeting with suppliers and phone calls with managers of special events. This doesn’t take into account the gala balls and festivals his hotels throw that he directs himself. During special functions like these, he will have a hand in picking the wine selections, decorating the tables, menu planning, and even organizing the VIP lists.

And the man hasn’t even gone to bed yet!

After all of this happens, he sits down to plan the next day’s activities, writing out all the meetings, events, and shuttle times that could affect the number of people they need to prep for during the day, and then he finally goes to bed.

Usually in the hotel because, at that point, it’s well past midnight and he has to be up at 6 AM to do it all over again.

Throughout all of this, it is imperative to have a team he can rely on. He has trained his team well, so their tastes and expectations line up well with each other. The reliability of his team directly affects the hours he puts in during his day, which means he heavily leans on them to fill holes he cannot possibly fill.

This is why Hoon was blown away by his inability to train his own staff when he first arrived. It was the first thing he set out to change as he was working his way up to becoming the Director of Food and Beverage, and now he has the ability to train his team to his specifications in order to reduce variance and provide a unique environment for each event, gala ball, and meal without sacrificing the quality of his performance.

Because when you think about it, that is what is he doing. Namgoong is performing for us, putting his heart on the table, and showing us why his is the best.

Just like any performer does.

Rebecca Travis

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