After averaging six to eight wine dinners a year, Prasanjit Singh, Hyatt Regency Delhi's Executive Assistant Manager (F&B), is convinced the time is ripe for these dinners to be sold. Speaking to www.indianwineacademy.com on the eve of the Rs 3,500/- per head dinner with Antinori wines, which Hyatt is organising with the support of the Delhi Wine Club, Singh even if these dinner are complimentary, they serve important sales and marketing goals. At his hotel, he has converted the awning by the side of the swimming pool into a new banqueting space entirely on the strength of wine dinners. “Hyatt's health club members invariably pass by this area, so when they see us creating the set-up for a wine dinner, they get curious. Many of them have subsequently called back and asked us to organise private dinners for them in this area,” says Singh. Hyatt, incidentally, sells 3,500 bottles of wine a day, mainly at La Piazza and TK's, the two most successful Hyatt F&B properties in India.
At least 70% of guests at wine dinners take back the menu cards and many of them want them to be replicated for their private dinners. “Each time we organise a wine dinner, we create a canned product for the future,” explains Singh. “We have organised 12-15 such dinners in the recent past. For each dinner, we come up with a new concept. We don't follow a template.”
When Hyatt hosted an Indian dinner with Torres wines on November 14 last year, the response was so positive that Singh decided to price the menu and offer it to groups. Already, in the past two months, two groups had bought the dinner at Hyatt's Indian restaurant, Aangan ( the menu is given below ). But how does Singh make sure his wine dinners become memorable? Here's how they go about it at the Hyatt:
Targeting the right audience is the biggest factor in the success of a wine dinner. “We know exactly who the wine connoisseurs are,” says Singh. “It's important not to have only people who spend on wine. It helps us to have people who talk about wines and enjoy them. To get the mix right is very important.”
Before planning a wine dinner, it is important for the F&B head to sit with his counterparts in Marketing and PR. They have their lists of important people – Marketing has the details of the hotel's high-spending clients and PR knows exactly whom to call to get the maximum hype for a dinner.
It is also important to make sure that corporate rivalries or personal animosities don't simmer on the table, so the hotel has to be very careful about invitations. The people on the table must be able to get along with each other.
It is important to get into the finer details of a guest list. “You should know, for instance, if any of the guests has gluten allergy,” Singh points out.
It doesn't make sense to have more than 40 guests at a wine dinner. “When you want 40 guests, you have to invite at least 60 people,” says Singh. “A number of people confirm and then don't show up. Corporate top honchos club two or three events every evening, so they may not like to stay beyond the cocktail hour.”
The cocktail hour before the wine dinner is very important because all the guests don't come on time. It provides the guests an opportunity to network with each other. And it gives busy guests a chance to slip out for another appointment.
Wine dinners should be organised in areas that are otherwise not used (that way, the hotel can develop new banqueting areas), that too on days when the hotel is not too busy, because implementing a wine dinner takes a lot of time and effort.
Many heads go into the planning of the menu and menu design. After the chef prepares a concept, it goes to the GM (Hyatt hotels internationally have GMs who've been executive chefs, so it helps) and the F&B head. The moment the menu is okayed by the two, the chef prepares and photographs each dish. The work on the presentation starts a week before the dinner. At this stage, the stewarding manager enters the picture to source the right crockery.
Timing is the key to a successful wine dinner. To get it right, Singh finalises the work allocation three days before the event. There's a waiter allocated for three guests; there are point persons to supervise the assembly line and serving staff; and there's an assistant director overseeing the entire operation, especially the point where the cooking and waiting staff interact. “It is this area where short tempers can ruin timing,” warns Singh. “You need a person here who can stay calm and communicate professionally.”
Waiters who serve the guests must be different from those who set up the table. “They must look fresh when they serve the guests. It is important to train them about the wines that will be served. And for their education, it is also important that they get to taste the wines after the dinner is over,” Singh says. “We rotate waiters assigned for wine dinners just to ensure as many people as possible get exposed to the best wines and our most valued guests.”
The work doesn't end with the dinner. It's a good idea to send a thank you note the day after the dinner. If the note is accompanied by a photograph, it makes greater sense.
At the end of my conversation with Singh, I repeat the question with which I started the discussion. Can hotels take the next big step and sell wine dinners to their most worthy customers? “I'll get the answer this year,” he promises. Needless to say, the entire wine community is waiting for an answer to this million-dollar question.
Hyatt Regency's Indian Wine Dinner Plan
Prawn and banana fritters with spicy peanut sauce
Cashew-potato cakes, cherry tomatoes and bean sprouts with palm sugar relish
Wine: Torres Santa Digna Sauvignon Blanc 2004
Tandoori chicken served on lettuce with Parmesan dressing
Vegetable and sesame kofta (spicy balls) with French beans and lettuce
Wine: Torres Marimar Chardonnay 2000
Masala duck with orange and radish
Chana dal (lentil preparation with Bengal grams), kurkuri bhindi (crunchy fried okra) and palak (spinach)
Wine: Torres Gran Coronas Mas La Plana 1989
Paan (Betel Leaf) Sorbet
Khichri (the original kedgiri), tandoori lobster, water spinach and tomato masala
Eggplant and lentil served with steamed rice cakes, coconut and coriander chutney
Wine: Torres Vina Esmeralda 2002
Mango caramel plus banana and coconut phirnee brulee
Wine: Torres Moscatel Oro
Kahwa (Kashmiri cinnamon-flavoured green tea)
Designed by Master Chef Ashfaq Qureshi.
Served at Aangan, Hyatt Regency Delhi.