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Mon 25 Apr 2011 10:55 AM

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Feeding finance at Ritz-Carlton DIFC

The man in charge of Ritz-Carlton DIFC’s food and beverage offering, Antony McNeil, explains how he plans to tempt the financial district’s 18,000-strong workforce

Feeding finance at Ritz-Carlton DIFC
Ritz-Carlton DIFC executive assistant manager - food and beverage, Antony McNeil

Guests expect nothing less
than perfection from their dining experience at a Ritz-Carlton hotel. They seek
variety of offering, quality of product and the highest service possible. At the
chain’s newest hotel, Ritz-Carlton Dubai International Financial Centre in the UAE,
the responsibility to deliver on these expectations falls to executive assistant
manager - food and beverage, Antony McNeil, a former hotel chef who has been in
the Ritz-Carlton family since 2007.

McNeil joined Ritz-Carlton
DIFC in September 2010, just four months ahead of the hotel’s opening in January.
He inherited three main outlets: Thai restaurant Blue Rain; the Center Cut steakhouse;
and Can Can, a French bistro that serves as the all day dining restaurant. Considering
the concepts were devised around five years ago when the hotel was planned, McNeil
says they are still a good fit for the target market - the “main audience” being the “15,000 to 18,000
people working at DIFC”.

“Being in finance, they are
well travelled, they know their markets, they know price points and they know what
they like. So it’s very simple for us to define the marketing programme and how
we attract those guests,” says McNeil.

DIFC, for example, does not
have a Thai restaurant and as a result, Blue Rain has become something of a dining
destination for Dubai’s
bankers and visiting financiers.

“We had a lot of demand to
open Blue Rain for lunch from DIFC clients. It’s very much a destination for lunch
diners. The lunch is an express option that comes as a bento lunch or you can go
à la carte.

“Lunch had 25 covers on the
first day and costs AED 85 (US $23) for three courses on your plate, you can eat
at your own speed.”

McNeil has also introduced
express lunches at Center Cut - where two courses costs AED 105 ($28.5) - and Can
Can, where guests choose an à la carte main to go with a salad and dessert buffet.

The express lunch options are
“very important” in attracting the DIFC clientele and also in proving that Ritz-Carlton
is focused on providing value for money. Although McNeil deems Jumeirah’s Rib Room
at Emirates Towers, The Exchange Grill at Fairmont Dubai
and Thai Kitchen at Park Hyatt as Center Cut and Blue Rain’s competitive set, he
says the hotel aims to offer a better price point.

“We position ourselves about
20% below the market at the moment,” says McNeil. “The reason we do that is Dubai is a very expensive city,
we’ve seen opportunities that we can drive great service, great value, great quality,
but at a better price point that is more acceptable for more dining clients.

“Our wine list is also part
of the process of the dining experience of the steakhouse; we have 20-plus wines
by the glass and price points again are very reasonable - from AED 35 ($9.5) upwards.

“It is Dubai, but there are still opportunities to differentiate,
people want value for money and they want to be able to return time and time again,”
he says.

The same applies to in-house
guests, which McNeil says will become more of a focus as the hotel establishes itself.

“The capture rate for what
we have at the moment is about 60%, which is quite good for a city-based hotel.
As we grow and develop the business, people will start to stay longer and experience
more,” he asserts.

Whether for the lunchtime diner
or the in-house guest, the crucial factor to success will be achieving “consistency
of service”.

“Every hotel says they prioritise
service, but we put a huge amount of input into this,” he says, from line ups to
“guest mood of the moment” schemes.

With Ritz-Carlton renowned
for its service worldwide this hotel certainly stands a strong chance of meeting
the needs of Dubai’s
most “well travelled”.

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