Climbing the ladder of catering success
by Wendy Shair
This is a lesson that Maricel Vizcarra learnt through many years of hands-on experience, first kicking off her career as a server, and gradually working her way up. Now director, food & beverage operations, Universal Entertainment Hong Kong Limited, US-born Ms Vizcarra started her career at a restaurant in her native country. She moved across to the hospitality sector at the age of 22, working for Ritz-Carlton for the next eight years.
"I started working part-time as a cocktail server with Ritz-Carlton while still at school," says Ms Vizcarra, adding that she advanced her career, becoming an assistant manager, then a manager, director of restaurants, followed by banquet and catering operations and eventually the assistant director of food & beverage operations in Tokyo for two years.
Recalling her early days in catering, she notes, "As stressful and tiring as it was, I loved it. Not that many women work in upper-management positions in food and beverage, and I always tried to work hard to end up in one of those positions.
"I've always loved this profession and enjoyed working in different places. I gained some of my best experience working in a restaurant. Serving food is not just about taking an order. It starts with a smile and making the customers comfortable. Building good relationships is also very important—being genuine and sincere and getting to know individual guests' likes and dislikes," she stresses.
Making it work
Success in the food and catering industry depends on surprising one's guests and differentiating one's service from those of competitors, Ms Vizcarra points out. "The most accurate way of describing it is to be passionate about one's job."
Educational background is not important, she says, adding that the industry drew her from the start. "I think our profession offers a career path that is overlooked by some people." While catering is often seen as simply a service-oriented job, it actually provides a promising future for candidates that are enthusiastic, passionate and sincere.
"The best servers have the most natural smiles and their enthusiasm is infectious. My tip is just to be genuine. It doesn't matter if you don't have experience in the field, as long as you love your job."
Universal Entertainment is currently preparing for the launch of three new restaurants scheduled to open in Hong Kong in mid-February: Chinese restaurant Yu Lei, modern-Japanese eatery Kazuo Okada and Messina, an Italian establishment. The opening of these outlets will mark the next step for the company's rapidly developing catering business. Located in the Harbourfront Landmark in Hung Hom, they will cover an area of 3,000 square metres on one floor.
New dining culture
In her new role, her team will be responsible for the entire dining process, Ms Vizcarra explains. "Right now, we're in the planning stage for the three restaurants, including physical planning to ensure smooth openings. Items on my working list include little things like the number of dishwashers we need. It's a whole process to realise our plans and to find the right interior pieces to fit our concept and the company's style."
While this is the organisation's first project of this kind in Hong Kong, there may be several more over the next five years, she says. "Working for a fast-growing company like this is a different experience. Half of the team that I closely work with joined us from the hotel industry and the fact that we're all from a similar background works well. I've always worked with great people at Universal Entertainment."
The company's aim is to build a unique culture that will attract high-end customers from different backgrounds. "We want to establish a brand name associated with high-quality service and products," she stresses.
"Hong Kong life seems to be very fast-paced, but when people go out and eat they really want to enjoy themselves. The city encompasses so many cultures, combining influences from both Asia and the West. There are so many food options here and although the competition is strong, we also enjoy plenty of business opportunities arising from mainland China," she concludes.
Taken from Career Times 2 December 2011, B16
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