This past year has been tough on all sectors, but perhaps two of the hardest hit are the tourism and the food and beverage industries. They’ve faced battles on a host of fronts, including the end of both international and domestic tourists, alcohol sale bans, curfews, and more. But despite the enormity of these challenges, many establishments have responded with creativity and innovation to keep their doors open and still attract guests.
We chatted to AJ Snetler, barman at Tobago’s Bar at Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront, for a no-holds-barred view of what it’s really been like for staff in the industry, and to find out about some of the crucial lessons that have been learnt as a result.
“This past year has truly reinforced my passion for this industry,” remarks Snetler. “Those of us who work in hospitality love to interact with our guests, and barmen even more so. So we’ve really missed that.
“But I’ve also been constantly reminded how much I love my job, and how, when pushed, we as a team can really step up to address any challenge that comes our way. I’ve learnt so many lessons this year.”
Lesson one: Apply a new lens to the status quo
“The ban on the sale of alcohol has probably been the biggest curveball for us, but it certainly forced us to look at non-alcoholic drinks in a whole new way,” says Snetler.
He notes that the team has rediscovered how layered a mocktail can be, and how exciting it can be to breathe new life into virgin distilled “spirits”. They have added a number of new virgin drinks to the menu as a result, and now offer some of these alongside regular cocktails during the bar’s “Why limit happy to an hour?” R65 daily happy hour special.
Lesson two: Innovation is key
“With so many hotels, restaurants and bars all vying for attention, our food and beverage team have really had to look at what innovative products we are able to offer that no one else can,” Snetler says.
“For example, the hotel’s bottomless Dubai-style brunch is unlike any other brunch in the city. And even though we haven’t been able to host all the sessions this year due to various restrictions, the ones we did hold were highly successful. And we still have one more session to go, on 27 February.”
Anyone who books for this exclusive brunch session will, for R770 per person, be treated to a selection of bottomless drinks, including cocktails, local beers and wines, tequila and Prosecco. That’s to accompany their all-you-can-eat starters, a platter choice for mains, rounded off with all-you-can-eat dessert. Or, for R550 per person, brunchees (we’re making that a thing) get the same food option, accompanied by unlimited soft drinks. Live music by DJ Tanner and DJ Cosher will ensure that the vibe is always just right.
Lesson three: Team work makes the dream work
“I know that this saying is such a cliche, but there is no way we would have made it through these past few months without supporting one another,” says Snetler.
“It’s been such a tough time, and within the hotel we have had to support each other through it all. We’ve had employees wear two, sometimes even three different hats in order to help out and ensure that the hotel continues to run smoothly.”
“So, yes, these times have been difficult and we’ve had to go back to the drawing board a number of times. But it has also been rewarding and certainly made us think more creatively about what we offer. Above all, it brought us much closer together as a team,” Snetler concludes.