Career Path

On the serving line

by Charles Mak

Patrick Yu, restaurant manager, Marriott Cafe and Fish Bar JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong
Photo: Edde Ngan

One year digesting the daily monotony of an unsatisfying desk job led young graduate Patrick Yu to seriously consider his professional aspirations. After much thought, he opted for enrolment in a Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education programme specialising in hotel management. Upon graduation he joined Hilton Hotel's banquet team as a junior waiter in 1986.

"Working in banqueting is physically and mentally demanding. It takes more than just skills in food and beverage (F&B) and customer service; you must also be equipped with leadership skills and good team spirit," says Mr Yu, who is now restaurant manager of the Marriott Cafe and Fish Bar at JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong. "We had to work split shifts from 6am to 11:30am, and 7pm to 11:30pm." Business volume and event progress were all key factors to success and his position was often demand-dependent. However, he stresses that those initial days positively impacted on his future career development.

Healthy balance

Some three years later, Mr Yu's career skyrocketed when he joined JW Marriott Hotel and became captain in his own right. "I was attracted by the staff benefits the hotel had to offer, particularly the extensive range of training, growth opportunities and the five-day work scheme," he notes. "The extra day off means a great deal. No matter how hard I work, I can relax during the two free days, obtaining a true work-life balance."

The following nine years saw Mr Yu climb to supervisor and assistant manager. Then, when the time was ripe for a change of pace, Mr Yu seized the opportunity. "I longed for a chance to prove myself so I took the initiative, informing the then F&B manager of my desire to leave banqueting and join one of the hotel's restaurants where I could learn more about regional cuisines and wine," he says.

You're not always wrong but your guests and your boss are always right

His wish was granted and he became assistant manager of the coffee shop for the next three years, during which time he followed a more regular work schedule and profited from the opportunity to enhance his English language proficiency.

"Working in banqueting, you can build a wide network with event organisers and suppliers and learn a great deal about event management. Conversely, in a restaurant you can enjoy the luxury of building guest relations. The rewards are different but equally satisfying," he emphasises.

Mr Yu spent another 18 months at the hotel's grillroom before being offered a well-deserved break when the hotel decided to give the lobby lounge a major makeover and Mr Yu the job of manager. His duties ranged from overseeing the reopening process, which included devising the reopening schedule, as well as staff arrangements and training based on an innovative "wine concept".

Right seasoning

Mr Yu believes a competent manager must be firm at times, especially when implementing new policies. "To smoothen the process and achieve common goals, you must have a firm hand," he advises, adding however, that a full picture must be projected to staff to gain their support and steer clear of any ambiguity or misunderstanding.

"When I was assistant restaurant manager, I had the chance to shadow the manager and learn from his successes. Now as manager myself, I often utilise his experience," Mr Yu says. Continuous training also helps fine-tune management skills, he adds. At present, the hotel requires management staff to undergo at least 40 hours of professional training every year.

An advocate of multiple skill development, Mr Yu encourages his staff to better themselves both horizontally and vertically. "I make it absolutely clear that their future is not restricted to the coffee shop because the hotel offers ample opportunities for career progress," he explains.

Although Mr Yu is only one step away from the position of AFB (assistant F&B manager), he concedes that he is not rushing anything. "You must learn to put things into perspective and consider many factors before making a career move," he says. "At the end of the day, a rewarding profession is more about job satisfaction than the position you hold."

A job in F&B is tough, Mr Yu concludes. "You must be genuinely people-oriented and task-oriented. Also, don't take things personally. Just remember you're not always wrong but your guests and your boss are always right."


Taken from Career Times 28 December 2007, p. B14
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