If you saw a job advertisement calling for someone quick thinking, resourceful and able to handle a crisis, you might easily assume it was for a position in the disciplined services. However, check carefully because those are also exactly the same qualities that help Simon Che, banquet service manager at Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, excel in his role.
He must be ready to deal with any emergency, while still providing five-star service at all times. And if, as happened two years ago, that means catering for 3,000 guests at a party for which 1,000 had been booked, he will step forward and do whatever it takes. On that occasion, he called his network of contacts to round up an army of casual workers, and in-house employees all lent a hand as well. What could have been just another dinner party turned into a truly unforgettable event.
"At times like those, we strive to satisfy the needs of our customers and their guests, but also have to maintain service quality and take care of less experienced employees," Mr Che explains.
When he left school in 1983, he would never have imagined himself in such a position. In fact, back then, he had no clear direction and, only after an unsatisfying year working in a local teahouse, did he enrol in a one-year F&B course at Kwun Tong Vocational Training Centre. That led to a four-month attachment at the Regent Hotel, first as a bartender and then in banquet service.
His performance obviously impressed because he was offered a full-time job and spent the next nine years there, working his way up from trainee to assistant head waiter. A friend then suggested a move to the Grand Hyatt and, when an opening came up as assistant manager of the banquet service department, he jumped at the chance. The hotel's reputation was a definite attraction, as were the better incentives and career prospects.
"Being adjacent to the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, I knew it would give me opportunities to serve a much wider group of customers and to test my potential," Mr Che says.
It is different from any other job and is an excellent career choice
The job is tough and presents numerous challenges. For example, it might involve working for an international conference in the morning, arranging a business luncheon, and then preparing the entire venue for a 1,000-guest dinner party in the evening. Some customers also request special outside catering services at "exotic" venues.
"That can be very exciting because we need to start everything from zero," Mr Che notes. "The venue will need a kitchen and a service area. We take care of everything from the initial planning to managing the workforce." He adds that it is sometimes necessary to work overnight to monitor the process of decorating the venue as requested. Generally, though, the department works with three daily shifts.
Usually, Mr Che's day begins at 10am with meetings with outlet managers and the F&B director. There is also a briefing session with banquet employees to update them on upcoming functions, special events and the hotel's VIP list. After that, one of the key tasks is keeping in touch with a large group of casual workers.
"We have a unique system for hiring casual workers here in Hong Kong, where there are never enough people in this business," he explains. "Dealing with the 'gang leaders' is an essential part of my job." To ensure there will be enough trained employees available when needed, casual workers are treated fairly and included in activities such as the hotel's annual dinner. "I've always emphasised that we are all part of the same team," Mr Che says. Nevertheless, he keeps a close eye on individual performance to make sure guests receive the expected quality of service and in order to spot potential recruits for full-time roles.
Modestly, Mr Che says his strengths lie in his accumulated expertise and ability to make decisions with confidence. Vida Chow, the hotel's human resources director, goes a bit further, describing him as a great leader, who is hard working, enthusiastic, detail-minded and humble. "His positive attitude can influence others and his friendly personality means casual workers are always keen to come back," she says.
As a token of recognition, Mr Che has had the chance to make familiarisation visits to group properties in Singapore and Beijing. These allowed him to learn about different working cultures and broaden his horizons.
"When Grand Hyatt Beijing opened two years ago, I became part of the support team that made sure things started on the right track," he explains. "Apart from sharing my skills and knowledge, I also learned a lot from my mainland counterparts."
After more than two decades in banquet service, Mr Che still finds it fun and is looking forward to future challenges. "I've met people from all walks of life, even presidents and royalty," he says. "It is different from any other job and is an excellent career choice. It may leave me too little time at home, but my wife and children understand. However, further promotion might entail relocation outside Hong Kong so, if the opportunity came up, I'd have to check with my wife first."