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Tue 1 May 2007 12:31 PM

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New start

Moving to Dubai Festival City, the InterContinental Hotel Group faces the challenge of opening 12 different outlets across three properties.

Chalking up seven restaurants, three bars, two lounges and room service and mini bars for 1029 rooms, the InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) will soon be making a big statement when it opens its doors at Dubai Festival City (DFC) at the end of the summer.

No stranger to hotel openings Stuart Nielsen, director of food and beverage for InterContinental DFC, is part of the pre-opening team that has created the concepts, sourced designers and hired staff, making the InterContinental and Crowne Plaza the first hotels to be opened at Dubai Festival City, as well as its Residential Suites.

Being part of a pre-opening is no easy task though, and with a whole host of hotels and restaurants set to open in Dubai over the next 12 months, concepts need to stand out in order to draw in the crowds.

"Food and beverage is one of the main differentiators for a hotel in this region, so you need to have the right outlets, and all with distinct and unique characters and features," comments Nielsen.

And with three properties all vying for custom, not only from each other but also from the proposed 90 outlets that are expected to open in Festival City, Nielsen says it is important to get the right mix for a wide client base.

The InterContinental Residential Suites for example, will have an all day dining Italian restaurant with deli counter for 200 pax. Serving paninis and antipasti, it will have a live pasta station and wood-fired pizza oven.

On the 17th floor, the residential suites will also have a family-orientated bar that will also be open during the day.

"As these outlets are located in the residential tower the prices need to reflect this, so they will be cheaper than if they were in a hotel. For example, a pizza will cost around AED35-45 (US $6-$12), and will be delivered to the rooms in boxes rather than on a room service trolley," Nielsen says.

Looking at the hotels, the InterContinental Festival City Hotel will host six restaurants and one bar, a conscious effort on behalf of InterContinental to minimise the number of outlets in order to make sure they are all successful.

"We want to keep each restaurant concept for at least 10 years in order to get a good core business. Too often hotels have a big list of restaurants and the mistake is that some are stars, and some are lemons," warns Nielsen.

"When we were given the blueprint we looked at the space we had to work with and what would work in that space. We also looked at what restaurants are opening up across the rest of the UAE, to see what trends are emerging," he adds.

One of the key restaurants though is Reflets by Pierre Gagnaire. An advocate of chef endorsements, IHG has already opened Spoon by Alain Ducasse at the InterContinental Hong Kong and more recently, Theo Randall at InterContinental Park Lane, so securing Pierre Gagnaire was a key step for InterContinental DFC.

Wanting to raise the bar for other high profile chef endorsed restaurants in the UAE, the 80-seater restaurant will focus on modern French cuisine, with team members coming from his restaurant in the UK, as well as the sommelier and restaurant manager also being hand-picked by Gagnaire.

"We felt we needed a puller as diners' palates in Dubai are very refined. They expect to be excited and surprised, so Reflets will surely deliver on this. We are very lucky and blessed to have him [Gagnaire]," comments Nielsen.

The hotel will also have an authentic Japanese restaurant with antique wooden beams, a Parisian-style bistro that will have a static menu serving affordable dishes to compete with other waterfront cafes, and Lebanese seafood restaurant, Al Sultan Brahim Beirut, after it bought the rights to manage and run the restaurant in the hotel.

The InterContinental DFC also has an all-day dining outlet called Anise, which is a 220-seater restaurant designed by Super Potato for the front-of-house and Creative Kitchen Planners for the kitchens. With 9m high ceilings and 950m² of space, the restaurant will have eight different concept zones.

"The front-of-house cooking concept is not something new but we will have Asian and western cuisine, as well as a bakery section, so the guest will visually see the food being prepared, which is great for the senses," says Nielsen.

Over at the Crowne Plaza DFC, the hotel will play host to a traditional European pub under the name Belgian Beer Café. Serving a range of traditional and hearty dishes the pub will also serve niche Belgium beers, including Leffe, Hoegaarden and Abbey. The pub will also have a Belgian jazz band and each beer will be served using the traditional beer pouring ritual of rinsing the glass, pouring the beer, cutting the head and wiping down the glass.

"A key point about the outlets, whether a restaurant or a bar, is that they are truly authentic. That is a big selling point for us, as well as the great variety that we have to offer," says Nielsen.

With 14 kitchens across the three properties - 12 of which are front-of-house operations - the main kitchen is used for prepping ingredients like saucery and butchery work, as well as glazing and preparing core ingredients like fruits and vegetables.

Working on the back-of-house area from a blueprint, the team at InterContinental Hotel Group worked alongside a team of designers to create a streamlined kitchen, from raw product to the plate.

"Whether it is flour, meat or beer, we have to know where it will be delivered, its storage and preparation and finally how it is served before the wastage is brought back and sent for rubbish. It is a complete process that we need to do as detailed and precise as possible," warns Nielsen.

Involving Dubai Municipality from the beginning has been crucial to the layout of the kitchens, and as Nielsen was involved in the Dubai Municipality Setting Process in 2005, the InterContinental team, designers and builders, used the Municipality's set of regulations when designing the numerous kitchens.

Designing the front-of-house areas was also a long process, and working alongside six designers for the front-of-house and four different kitchen designers, the three properties are an eclectic mix of styles, from linear show kitchens and slick Champagne bars, to Ottoman style lounges and street side cafes.

And with restaurant concepts already in place, the next step is recruitment. Currently undertaking 29 recruitment drives and employing more than 1200 staff, the food and beverage division will employ 650 team members, with senior members including restaurant managers and executive sous chefs, employed within the coming months.

Expecting to employ around 45% current or previous InterContinental staff - and people with experience in the Middle East a preference - Nielsen says he will be undertaking 28 days of recruitment drives across five different countries this month alone, and will be interviewing around 1000 people.

"Personally, I like to be surrounded by creative people, and people who want to work through the ranks. For the line staff though, it is about energy and passion. You can teach people to fill a bread basket and how to pour wine correctly, but I cannot teach a genuine smile, and that is by far the most important attribute," says Nielsen.

Predicting more than one million covers in 2008, and with 2500 seats across the three properties, Nielsen says that recruitment is pivotal to a hotel's success, and he says that for a new opening it is about: "the right people, the right job, and the right attitude".

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