IT'S a tough award to win. Being named “catering manager of the year” at Hyatt Hotels means hitting sales targets, winning the support of management and constantly delivering quality. This year's winner — Cheryl Martin, catering manager at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa in Huntington Beach, Calif. — is part of a team responsible for $14 million in food and beverage revenue at a property renowned for high-end weddings. Here, she shares insights into her winning ways.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What are some of the innovations in menus and service that you and your team have put in place?
CHERYL MARTIN: I propose menus based on clients' needs, theme and budget. Recently, for a fashion show, the pastry chef and I came up with a dessert in a red shoe — it was fun, and the clients loved it. Hyatt would like us to get away from a standard 6-foot skirted table. We now use vertical buffets, doors as tabletops and bookshelves for buffets. Buffet props are now table lamps and bookends — anything to be different. China is no longer round, it is oval or square. Wineglasses look like martini glasses. Once a year we get together with other Hyatt catering and convention services departments and talk, learn and brainstorm about ideas. It seems the PowerPoint presentations of innovative ideas always have a lot of photographs from the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach.
Q: How do you keep your team inspired?
A: Inspiration comes from within, although I must give credit where credit is due. My boss, Peter Ho, our director of catering and convention service, is very inspiring. He is creative and always has a fresh and new idea. When you are around creativity, it seems to come naturally. Our executive chef, Chris Savage, is also creative. Sometimes when I just cannot think of a menu to match the client's needs, I call Chef Chris, and, wow, he knows exactly what I am looking for. So I believe the people around me inspire me, and, of course, the satisfaction of the guest at the end of the event is motivation to me. Hopefully, I inspire the team around me also.
I have been in catering since 1992. I guess you could say I have found my passion. I have worked in all areas of a hotel from operations to accounting. Selling works for me. I enjoy the relationship-building and the satisfaction of a successful event.
Q: Can you give details of a recent event that you're proud of?
A: I recently booked an event I was a bit intimidated by. It was a very high-end fund-raiser, and they wanted to do several things we had not done before. I think what helped me and the resort pull it off was my willingness to think outside of the box. I know that term is a bit outdated, but I do not like to tell a client “no.” By the same token, I do not want to tell the staff “you have to.” So by making the challenges exciting and communicating with everyone, the event was spectacular. The banquet manager commented it was the best event the resort has done.
Q: Your property puts a special emphasis on weddings. Can you share some of the signature elements of weddings at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach?
A: Weddings, weddings and more weddings — they are my passion. There is no other feeling like when the bride walks down the aisle, and you see the tear in her mother's eye. At the resort we have spectacular courtyard ocean views; we are built 26 feet above Pacific Coast Highway. We have had several “California beach” weddings where the groom and groomsmen wear flip-flops, Tommy Bahama shirts and linen pants. The bridesmaids are comfortable in sundresses and color-coordinated flip-flops.
Q: What do you see as some of the big challenges coming up for catering managers in the next year or two?
A: A big challenge is e-mail. It is so impersonal. Clients buy on feelings, things they cannot touch. E-mail has become the way to communicate with everyone, but it does not give me a chance to build a relationship with a bride. I will type in the bottom of the e-mail “Call me any time,” but they never do — it is always an e-mail reply. Since communication is one of the most important aspects of my job, it is sad we do not get a chance to develop a relationship or a level of trust, not only with our clients, but also the staff.