The hospitality landscape is shifting. Today's global travellers are more demanding and more well-informed than ever before, and hotels and restaurants are fighting to distinguish themselves with creative gastronomy, impeccable customer service, local culture and flavour, innovative design and architecture...
Marc Almert – winner of the Gaggenau Sommelier Awards – weighs in on what a guest really wants from the hospitality experience.
MARC ALMERT: ‘My parents were interested in gastronomy and tried to get me to join in, but without immediate success. Even then, I liked to travel, learn languages and engage with people – activities that motivated me to work in the hotel trade. I studied food and beverage management, which led to a traineeship during which I discovered my passion for wine. Fortunately, the head waiters, bartenders and sommeliers I met at the time took me along to tastings and helped me to ask the right questions.’
‘Curiosity is key to being a good sommelier. An open mind and a willingness to learn about other cultures and their cuisines help you to be more daring and to integrate your travels into the restaurant where you work – in my case, the Pavillon in Zurich’s Hotel Baur au Lac. That’s also why I engage in international competitions such as the Gaggenau Sommelier Awards 2016, an event that took place in Vienna. Winning the competition not only made me one of the brand’s international cultural ambassadors, but also gave me the opportunity to travel to Tuscany for two days of training at the vineyard of artisanal wine producer Fattorie Dei Dolfi.’
‘Now that travel has become easier and therefore more common, the variety of hospitality concepts is expanding. Services such as Airbnb and Interrail have democratized travel, which is no longer super exclusive. As the number of travellers increases, so do their diverse origins, lifestyles and corresponding expectations. Hotels and restaurants can adapt by catering to a guest’s specific needs.’
‘To capture the essence of food and drink, we need all five of our senses. In this digital, fast-paced world, we ought to spend more time deliberately smelling, tasting and feeling things.’
‘Dining is already a highly sensorial experience, but the hospitality industry is exploring ways in which to trigger the senses even more. Music in restaurants might correspond to certain dishes, for example, and coloured lights can affect the perception of aromas during wine tastings.’
‘It’s important to personalize services and to appeal to the emotions – an approach taken by industries like banking and aviation.’
‘When guests enter a restaurant, the entire spatial concept should relieve them of stress and make them feel at home, even before you serve the meal. Interior design, including the subtlest of interventions, plays a big role in achieving the right atmosphere. At the Pavillon, waiters’ ties match the colour of the chairs, and the pattern of the carpet returns in the tableware.’
‘Storytelling adds emotion to a course. “Sunday evening by my grandmother” is a dish we serve at the restaurant that was inspired by our chef’s childhood memory. The same goes for wine. I can talk about a wine’s age values and acid levels, but guests are more interested in what the place of origin looks like and in how the winemaker follows local traditions. They want an experience that embodies the culture of the wine.’
‘More venues are offering nonalcoholic beverages. People focused on wellbeing are aware of the effects of alcohol. We sommeliers respond to such trends by crafting beverages ourselves, such as iced teas. Sommeliers are not just wine stewards; we are trained to pair all kinds of beverages with food. A talent for tasting allows us to taste anything. At the Gaggenau Sommelier Awards, for example, we were tasked with tasting coffee too.’
‘Those employed by luxury bars and restaurants make no compromises. We work with quality products that are made with sophistication by our chefs and winemakers.’