Backed to the Hilton: pushing innovation

Backed to the Hilton: pushing innovation

It was 2014 when Anthony Worrall returned to the Hilton Group to become director of food and beverage.
Responsible for the global hotel company’s food and drink offer across the UK, Ireland and Israel, he has overseen a reorganisation of 62 hotels and their bars and restaurants, implementing refurbishments, redesigns and repositionings as he faces the challenges and opportunities that face the modern hotel industry. Now, three years on and following on from the launch of the Anna de Codorníu Terrace at the DoubleTree Docklands Riverside, Hotel F&B caught up with him at the Hilton Metropole near Paddington.

Staff and customer care
One of the major considerations from Worrall’s perspective is caring for his people, both staff and customers. Recruiting the right team members is a key challenge and by working hard at building and developing relationships with schools and colleges, Worrall hopes to change the perception that a career in hospitality is defined by ‘low pay and long hours’, and instead showcase the significant and varied opportunities that it offers.

He has introduced several internal programmes to train team members right through their careers, from entry level to directorial and supervisory roles. Worrall places considerable focus on development and promotion, whether it’s programmes such as Shine 4D and Shine GM, which prepare people to become directors within the company, or initiatives that aim to see more female general managers and women in senior management positions.

“That brings real diversity to our approach and they themselves bring diversity to the way that the role is approached,” he explains. “We have lots of incentive programmes. One of the benefits of working for a company like Hilton is our ability to have robust supervisory and managerial development programmes. It’s an industry that provides great opportunities to move through a very varied environment.”

Worrall has also worked to improve the overall workforce well-being. Hilton has invested behind the scenes, improving staff areas, adapting the staff menus to providehealthier options and fostering a strong work-life balance, particularly among operational roles with awkwardly timed shifts, where transport home is provided. Worrall sees the effect of this investment in staff reflected in the manner in which customers are treated, setting a standard from which he can then explore further ways to improve a guest’s experience.
“100% the way you treat your staff knocks on to how they treat customers,” he explains. “I always say ‘happy team, happy customers’.”

Maintaining standards
The invention of concepts and the development of staff are both geared towards creating experiences that will attract and enthral customers, whether they are staying at the hotel or not. Customer expectations have never been higher and they are only growing. Meeting and exceeding those expectations is what Worrall sets out to achieve, whether it’s through the food and drink, the décor, the service or indeed the overall experience.
Constant reviews of products keep the back bar and kitchen stocks on-trend and staff are shown how to make a gin and tonic more than just a drink.

“In a destination-led environment, to have averagely-led food and beverage is not acceptable,” he says. “You will
be very quickly challenged by local competition, by new and exciting, constantly changing brands. In London and the West End alone there are 600 restaurants and bars to choose from. Your restaurant in a hotel needs to be very relevant, I would say super sexy, to retain and attract customers and guests.”

Perceptions and expectations have driven and been driven by this explosion in innovation and high standards. Hilton operates at the premium end of the spectrum and everyone knows when they are walking into a Hilton hotel by the branding as much as anything else. While the hotels all enjoy an element of variety and individuality, there is consistency where standards are concerned. The elements that require thought range from produce to atmosphere to service, where authenticity mingles with novelty. But it is value that is the ultimate consideration.

“So many people often think value for money is the actual price of the dish,” explains Worrall. “It’s not, it’s the complete experience at the time the dish is served. If one component of that is missing, then that value becomes the driver for that customer. Most customers choose value for money dependent on their complete experience.”

Developing concepts
After the initial check-in and the dump of bags in the room, a customer’s actual experience in a hotel begins at its bar or restaurant, so delivering something special for them is essential. The diversity within the hospitality industry has stretched what is possible and what customers can expect. With this in mind, Worrall cannot be content to simply maintain high standards at some of his sites – he must go beyond that in imaginative and exciting ways.

“My personal biggest challenge at the moment is around developing concepts that excite and delight the millennial generation and younger in order to be able to ensure that we have exciting brands,” he explains.
“Gone are the days when a hotel dining room with a typical menu was enough. You have so much choice at your fingertips that there is every reason to go out rather than stay in. Our job now is to demonstrate concepts and brands, bars and restaurants that tempt you to stay in rather than go out.”

In his first two years as F&B director, Worrall shaped a strategy to group his hotels into two distinct groups, reasoning that different venues would require different approaches depending on location and clientele. Around 60% of the Hilton estate is centrally run, dealing with the demands of guests that stay in the hotel. However, in what he calls ‘destination-led’ hotels, Worrall has energised the offer to meet the expectations of a more cosmopolitan and well-travelled customer, appealing not just to those staying at the hotel but every possible passer-by. Marketing campaigns focus not just on hotel guests but local businesses and communities. His general managers are challenged to think differently, whether it’s coffee or cocktails, craft beer or champagne.

“We guarantee consistency in our centralised properties and it’s about how we encourage our destination-led ones to be constantly reaching, trialling and doing new things in order to make sure that the menu and beverage offer is far-reaching and is a combination of local and international brought together, which is very important to a millennial in today’s day and age,” he says.
“We just opened a pop-up in Hilton Syon Park with Patron Tequila for this summer. We will watch how that grows and learn from it, but at the moment people are intrigued by the whole tequila aspect.”

Destination-led outlets trial and implement new initiatives, with stand-alone microsites, individual identities, celebrity chefs and innovative bars. In Worrall’s mind, bars and restaurants have an 18-month lifespan, while a concept itself needs repositioning every three years.

To keep things fresh in the destination-led venues, which are competing with the high street, managers host as many exciting pop-ups as possible to generate that variation. Worrall provides them with guidance and allows them significant autonomy to innovate. In return, he expects them to maintain the exceptional standards essential for quality hotels.

“I will guide the business in the strategy that I think we should have and then we work individually and closely with key properties,” he explains. “You should develop an environment where both of you know what good and bad looks like. It shouldn’t just be my pair of eyes. I try to develop general managers and deputies and chefs and food and beverage staff that are able to recognise that for themselves.”

As well as the expectations of quality and interest, the other major trend that Worrall identifies comes from the casual dining industry. The changing face of eating out has seen the traditional format of breakfast, lunch and dinner, all offered at certain times and in a more formal setting, replaced by a more fluid offer.

The street food concepts thriving at music festivals like Glastonbury are also popping up at bars and restaurants, and for Worrall he is relishing the opportunities that the future might hold while aiming to be one of those major players shaping the industry.

“I think we’ll see everything from a review of how casual dining meets former and vice versa,” he comments. “I think we’ll see street food taken even further – at Glastonbury they were able to deliver international cuisine at a high standard in the middle of a field. That kind of tells you where we’re going. We’re a global company so I would love to think that I will be influencing, and strategising food and beverage, but with a much more global reach.”

In such a competitive market, there are so many new trends for his managers to be aware of and on top of. Worrall, with his large estate of destination-led hotels, feels that Hilton is in a position not just to be keeping up with the times but to be driving new innovations and customer experiences.

“Following trends is great because you keep yourself relevant, but wouldn’t it also be nice to think that you’re a brand and a company that can experiment and sometimes lead the trend?” asks Worrall.
If Hilton continues to push boundaries of innovation alongside quality, then it seems eminently possible.

The most important meal of the day

“There’s a complete openness on meal times, there’s no such thing as a structured meal time,” says Worrall. “We’ve done all-day dining for a couple of years now. It’s very much about what the customer needs and wants at the time of day that they want it. We have guests stepping off planes that are still in breakfast mode at 4pm. They should be able to have an omelette if they want one. The structure of breakfast, lunch and dinner is there loosely now, but we don’t always refer to it as breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“We absolutely aim to deliver the best breakfast experience, first and foremost. It’s the most taken meal by our guests; it’s the one that they remember the most because it’s their parting memory; and it’s the one where they’ll often choose whether they’re going to dine there that evening or not. Breakfast is critically important.”

Repositioning sites
Anthony Worrall takes us through some recent refurbishments

Hilton Glasgow Grosvenor
“We had a well-established steak house there called Bo’Vine, but running alongside was a bar that had fallen off the destination map. Glasgow’s bar scene had exploded and you’ve got to stay ahead of the time. Our product was no longer relevant, it became very inconsistent.
“So we partnered with a gin brand and we repositioned the bar. We closed it for a week, relabelled and rebranded it as beGIN. It was probably one of our fastest projects and now it’s hugely successful, returning 100% above its original numbers. It was shortlisted for a design award recently.”

Hilton Bournemouth
“We opened it just over 18 months ago now in a coastal town in winter, with celebrity chef Matt Tebbutt.
“We now have a very famous and successful restaurant, Schpoons and Forx, on the ground floor of the Hilton Bournemouth, with Matt Tebbutt as the celebrity chef, and we equally have a very successful Sky Bar on the top of the hotel – Level 8ight. It’s sought after by Londoners that frequent the south coast and the New Forest, but also virtually every local corporate and local resident has probably experienced the outlets.
“I said it was bringing London to Bournemouth and we weren’t certain how that was going to be guaranteed. We’re delighted to say that it’s working very well.”

And something to look forward to…
“We’ve got a very exciting new Sky Bar coming at the DoubleTree Tower of London. It’s currently the Sky Lounge. We have a very exciting project coming, which we hope to launch next February. So we’re in the process with that hotel team right now, guiding them through what we believe and aspire to be London’s best sky bar.”