The holy month of Ramadan has always been a time of convivial gatherings and warm celebrations. However, the outbreak of Covid-19 has paralyzed those bonds, especially when it comes to enjoying iftars together. Hotels have been severely impacted by the virus, with iftars and buffets on hold in most places. HN spoke with Aurelio Giraudo, cluster general manager of the Banyan Tree Doha & La Cigale Hotel Managed by Accor, to highlight how they have been adapting to these challenges.
How has Covid-19 affected general hotel operations and your F&B ones specifically?
The pandemic has affected the entire hospitality industry at large, and we are facing the same challenges. Our luxury hotel business caters to discerning travelers who wish to indulge in bespoke, personalized and curated experiences. The pandemic has brought about a change from luxury to utility- based experiences. Even though at La Cigale we are still offering the best products, changes can be summarized in one example: replacing fine bone china and hand-crafted cutlery with prepackaged, sanitized cutlery as per regulations — to prevent the spread. Food and beverage teams had to reinvent and embrace the fast-evolving needs of our guests. We are now offering an extensive selection of our menus from Yen Sushi Bar, Le Cigalon, Di Capri and La Cigale Traiteur for guests to take home via various online ordering platforms. La Cigale has been a market leader in providing a gourmet experience since its opening in 2006. As a result, we have weathered the pandemic well, given the current market conditions.
The pandemic has expedited changes within the food and beverage industry. The Internet of Things (IoT) has affected all walks of life, and the pandemic has brought this to the forefront of F&B. We now offer digital menus, contactless payments and personalized experiences through curated menus for residential dining. The explosion of social media marketing and, dare I say, “Insta-Marketing,” is leading the ad dollar spend.
When it comes to your iftars and buffets, how have you adapted your offering?
The Holy month of Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, devotion and worship. Guests traditionally invited extended family and friends to join iftars, particularly at La Cigale’s celebratory tent. This year, La Cigale is offering an extensive selection of food as a buffet-in-a-box family iftar. Guests can order them directly or through one of our online portals. Buffets have been replaced with private family gatherings catering to close-knit families.
Was this year better than last year?
Thanks to the leadership of the government of the state of Qatar, both residents and citizens of Qatar are experiencing a safe environment compared to the rest of the world. This year has been a challenging compared to 2019, while it is far better than 2020. With the vaccination drive underway, we expect 2021 to be fairly better than 2020 and the market to recover by Q4 2021.
We are now focusing a lot on food delivery sales and takeaways. We are listed with all major food delivery apps to create awareness, visibility and generate sales. Through menu re-engineering, we have been able to drive our takeaway sales. We have launched a packaged catering concept, which is also doing well. Hence, a new business model has come out during this period which will continue post pandemic as well.
How do you think F&B in hotels will evolve?
The pandemic has forced us to rethink all of our priorities, including sustainability, diversity, innovation, engagement and personalization. In food and beverage, we can expect a sea of change that will focus on the individual experiences of guests. To elaborate, guests would like to have new and unique travel experiences, instead of the cookie-cutter experiences like franchised restaurants. We will witness the creation of “super brands,” with more celebratory chefs and mixologists who will be creating new brands under their label. In terms of F&B trends, I personally think that within the current climate, the takeout and delivery side of businesses will continue in an upward trajectory; with more and more ghost kitchens opening up to support restaurants or kitchens that cannot execute takeout from their own premises.
Al fresco dining and outdoor seating areas are likely to remain popular. Dining rooms will reopen, respecting social distancing protocols and offering scannable QR codes instead of physical menus.
What are your upcoming projects?
The next big thing for Accor in Doha is Banyan Tree Hotel and Residences, which will be opening this year. Accor has big plans for Doha, wherein Raffles, Fairmont, Sofitel, Rixos, Novotel, Pullman, Ibis and Adagio hotels are expected to open in the next two years.
La Cigale Hotel Managed by Accor, which is one of the most popular food destinations in the city, will witness a soft refurbishment of all its food and beverage outlets and come up with exciting new concepts in the next eight to 12 months.