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  • Stéphane Bellon

8 critical skills for the F&B director of the future

"Are executive chefs going the way of the dinosaur?", on the evolution of the executive chef position. It was certainly does not mean a systematic eradication of the position itself but to challenge the existing organizational model of a hotel’s F&B department and to look for potential alternatives in a changing climate.

Perhaps it is time to consider a model where the position naturally loses relevance by putting much more investment on each outlet chef, from the signature restaurant chef to the banquet chef or the seasonal restaurant chef.

I received multiple testimonies from general managers who tried this new system in their hotels. Some are ranked in the top 10 in their region, some have the highest banquet level in their country and others with Michelin star-awarded restaurants. They did share that more focus on these chefs who actually cook, who are at the “pass” every night and who sign off each single dish with passion, is worth it.

With better salary there is less turnover, higher skills, more gratification and communication, clients have a face behind the culinary experience, there is more interaction with the local community, and chefs feel more committed to the success of “their” outlets. It went so far that the executive chef position – the way it is today – was organically phased out.

What’s next?

But now comes the second part: the F&B director of tomorrow. I believe that both issues are strongly related to each other.

Back in the 19th century, kitchens made tremendous technical improvements, to the point where discovery visits for clients were organized to admire them! This practice, by the way, still continues in some countries today. And the person organizing these visits was always the restaurant manager. At that time, Escoffier’s influence had only just begun, and the restaurant manager was earning at least four times the salary of the chef. He was the star.

It took almost another century for chefs to finally be recognized for their true value. Only recently have they become the stars, and in some cases, even celebrities. One obvious visible consequence for a hotel has been to make the participation of the chef in the executive committee mandatory and to considerably revise their packages.

But what about the F&B director?

While many GMs come through F&B in their careers, the F&B position of today is certainly worth being challenged or rethought as well, especially considering the competition, the owners’ expectations of ROI, the importance of differentiation or the complexity of the game.

More and more skills are required, including but not limited to:

  • More legal know-how (intellectual property issues, contracts with signature chefs, co-branding, complex HR issues)

  • Deeper understanding of marketing and digital issues (community management, social media, merchandising, revenue management as applicable to F&B, strategic marketing along with an always more detailed sub-segmentation)

  • Less administrative work for accounting or cost control but more finance skills (ROI, value creation, performance indicators)

  • Technology (from the management systems to guest interactions)

  • Culinary skills (being able to interact with each outlet chef, supporting and challenging them, having their respect and giving them the possibility to concentrate on what they want and do best: taking care of their clients, cooking and being relieved of administrative tasks)

  • Beverages and entertainment capacities (the new frontier with banqueting)

  • Empathy with today’s guests demands (vegan, healthier options, allergies, sustainability, transparency)

  • Last but not least: Strong management and leadership skills, starting by identifying talents and allowing them to grow

I truly believe that in this highly competitive environment, top F&B directors have never been so important, with a new set of skills, and much more openness to what’s happening outside of their hotels. And who knows, maybe in future the existing executive chef positions should be more aligned with the F&B position to create fantastic new career options.

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