Article

Preserve for today, build for a future

Srijan Vadhera (GM, Conrad Bengaluru) talks about how this Diwali may mark the ‘new beginning” for the F&B industry in the country.

As told to Madhulika Dash

“WHAT COULD I HAVE DONE MORE?”

This is perhaps the single most important thought that drives most of us in hospitality. We live the idea, literally - both in our professional lives and beyond it. In fact, between hospitality college and hotel life, this zeal to excel somewhere becomes an inherent quality of ours, much like the sword (and horse) for a knight. And truth be told, we all do it exceptionally well. Trust me, as the General Manager of one of the finest business hotels in Bengaluru, I see each and every member of my team excel in this ideas of our life - on an daily basis.

Would we want it to be any other way? Not at all.

But a few months ago, as the industry struggled to reopen after weeks of lockdown, during which the hotel remained working but for a good cause, I had started rethinking. Yes, the time was bad – not just for us, but for everyone. At a professional level, the odds were stacked mile high. But there was a silver lining, at a personal level as I connected with the member of my team in a way that may not have been possible with our earlier work schedules. We shopped, cooked and ate together – even as professional team we doubled up to look after the guests staying at our hotel during the time. The sense of new comradeship brought in an exchange of ideas, of which many saw the day of light like when we decided to upgrade each of the team’s skills that otherwise would have needed another term in the hospitality college. Or when our new methods of working affected the first-of-the-kind course on Hygiene and Sanitisation called Food safety & sanitization in conjunction with Skill India. The expansive course today is offered by in many hospitality colleges across the country and is even open to industry peers. Fresh ideas even made their way into our offerings – be it with our food, our staycation or even our experientials at the gym and spa. One such regular affair is the run organised by our Executive Chef Praveen Shetty every Sunday morning with his culinary brigade and the hotel guests, followed by a healthy breakfast based on traditional culinary science and has dishes like the Benne dosa, Thatte idli, Mangalorean buns served with freshly brewed filter coffee sourced from local producers in Coorg.

As business picked and we returned to the our beloved ‘rut’, I realised that none of the little milestones we had achieved as a team came from the “what could I have done more” notion, but another thought that replaced it - “have we done right?” It was this thought that drove us to look within, acknowledge issues that have always plagued the industry but never spoken about, and rethink our “new normal” personalisation. We had to build conviction in our action before it could percolate to our guests.

The new thought of “looking within to effect outside” helped us not only to keep our morale high, become more vocal about our thoughts (nothing seemed wrong anymore) but also find solution that were never in the box. One such initiative Conrad took was supporting our local spaces completely, at an individual level. Each of us picked up three brands we could support wholeheartedly. And we put our resources behind to help them through, be it with collaborations, assistance or simply talking about it. Incidentally, supporting the local was an initiative that we were already doing for our food space with Chef Shetty finding local sources for all our food offerings. It was no more about a standalone growth but a concentrated collective effort. Even before the voices grew aloud – Vocal for Local - we had begun curating gifts locally sourced from Channapatna, a town close by to Bengaluru city known for its wooden toys and encouraging the local artisans. Our restaurants, which are generally known for global cuisines, have shifted gears to showcase the forgotten local foods from multiple regions of Karnataka, Kerala & Tamil Nadu among otehrs. Not only the cuisine, we also laid emphasis on use of locally sourced ingredients, whether it was a strawberry sourced from the valleys of Ooty, or cheese from the picturesque valley to Kodaikanal.

Now, when I look back to those months, I realised the biggest transition that happened was a shift in our minds. Instead of spending our energies trying to revive the business from all direction, we made it about people – and the three things that matter to them the most, be it my team or our guests.

And then work on it.

Would all of it help us recover faster? It’s too early to say. But it has made us happier and hopeful – a feeling that transcends through the mask as we welcome you to Conrad, Bengaluru.

And this time, I really think, “WE HAVE DONE RIGHT.”