When Patrick Brennan took on the role of food and beverage director for the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, he knew he had his work cut out for him. Not only was the property in the midst of a $120 million renovation, but there was the issue of the city itself. “Detroit doesn't have the best reputation,” Brennan admits. “Downtown was allowed to run into the ground.”
What a difference two years makes. Much has changed since Brennan made the move from Marriott's downtown Chicago property to the 1,300-room riverfront hotel. Some of the changes — including the arrival of Detroit's new pro football stadium just two blocks away — can be credited to the city's ongoing investment in revitalization. Others can be credited to Brennan's push to put his property at the center of Detroit's rebirth.
At the heart of his efforts is a focus on service. “We had to raise service standards and get people to bring up the level of consistency, really embrace a spirit to serve in the hospitality sense,” he says. Staff-related projects have included deployment of four new sales managers who work in conjunction with the city's convention and visitors bureau to raise Detroit's destination profile and to court event groups.
Along with hiring and training staff, Brennan concentrates on the client experience. New offerings include an à la carte menu option that allows event guests to order from a limited menu at table. It's a feature “a lot of hotels won't touch,” he says, but which “gives us a huge competitive advantage.”
Perhaps most important, he suggests, is his department's partnership with local event company Whiteside Communication Management. “They've become tremendous partners in creating world-class events with limited budgets,” he says, noting the company's expertise with props, decor and audiovisual elements.
With these initiatives in place, plus 105,000 square feet of in-property event space and an additional 50,000 square feet within the Renaissance Center, Brennan hopes to build upon the hotel's $15.5 million food and beverage sales volume. In the next three years, he projects double-digit sales growth, including an increase of 25 percent to 35 percent in wedding business alone.
Evidence of a business upswing is already apparent, he says, noting recent events such as last year's Arab Economic Summit, which included a gourmet dinner for 1,000. This year, the hotel will welcome 40,000 attendees to the annual meeting of Lions Club International, while 2005 will bring Rotary International. But Brennan is eager for 2006: “Super Bowl is going to be here, and we're the host hotel,” he says. “All eyes are on Detroit. We want to show everybody what we can do.”
Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, Detroit, MI 48243; 313/568-8000; www.marriott.com
“At a party, the kitchen is the place everyone gravitates to. It's fun. So we do all our tastings there. If the [client] doesn't like something, we're right there, and we can recook it and replate it. Often we have aprons for the [clients] — we involve them in it, have fun, play with it. And it's a selling tool — half the time we end up upselling.”
“We are doing a lot more high-end receptions where we create four or five stations where chefs are cooking right there for you. Guests get a lot more variety, and we control the food cost because we're preparing to order. The labor we spend doing it is made up for by serving less food.”
KNOW AND GROW
“We critique every large event from captains' reports to sitting down with the [client] and doing a post-convention report. We have guest satisfaction surveys. And the e-mail format has been phenomenal — our return rate is about 25 percent. We get good data and we share everything. There are no secrets. There is no fear. We do not manage by intimidation.”