The year was 2008. The place, New Delhi, India. The world was a very different place back then. Not to mention, the hospitality landscape was worlds from where it is now.
That is why our founder Gary Szillich looks back at his reconceptualization of the food and beverage program at the Le Meridien New Delhi that year with unparalleled significance. It has since become for him, a model of ROI and longevity for a given concept.
Our company was tasked to overhaul and modernize four hotel outlets. The result: the Monsoon Indian restaurant, The One all day diner, Nero bar and Cafe é Chocolat.
Like so many other businesses, being well connected was key in securing the project. While Gary was based in Australia, the IHG head office recommended him to “The F&B Guru of Starwood at the time, Martin Jones.” The two have since fostered a decades-long working
relationship and friendship.
The rest of the team was comprised of interior design by BMA from Mumbai led by Bobby Mukherji, culinary creations by Sydney’s famous Chef Opal Khan of Sydney, and others. “It was definitely a team effort,” credited Gary. In addition, the enormous support from the ownership and management made for an efficient and positive working relationship across the board.
At the time, market research showed that most hotels in the area were heavily bound by tradition. No one had yet dared to reach in the direction of contemporary design or designed for the future. The challenge was to effectively bring the hotel aesthetic into a modern era without sacrificing revenue. The Le Meridien New Delhi was 25 years old at that point and the goal was to introduce contemporary attitudes. The challenge was creating a product that guests could embrace despite the departure from the traditional to the edgy and avant-garde.
“We put a real effort to be ahead of the posse.”
First the team had to create an Indian restaurant for the property. This was a particular hurdle because the previous outlet stood on its laurels for 25 years with a loyal following of families. The drive to make it a destination and possibly alienating the previous clientele was made known to the owner prior to renovation, but the commitment was there to continue in this direction anyway. The rooms and public areas renovation, which were already underway, drove the F&B redesign. “We couldn’t very well deliver the expected, traditional and ornate Indian restaurant based on the hotel’s new design,” explained Gary. “We were aware that people may not like the avant-garde aspect but we were confident that there would be talk around town and trusted the trend we were setting.” After deciding on the design directive, the progressive Indian food and beverage program just followed organically.
Redesigning the all-day diner was slightly less daunting being that the venue and concept itself worked automatically for the locals who dine around the clock. What was revolutionary was its 20-seater communal table—there was no other all-day diner in India at the time with something like it. “It was amazing and people ended up gravitating toward it,” said Gary. Eventually, the outlet didn’t lose any of its customer base but added a younger guest profile to the mix, a total win-win.
The Cafe é Chocolat was borne from market research showing an abundance of regular bakeries with coffee shops and vice versa. The new concept strove to depart from this norm. It was a feature in the atrium that invited people to make their own melted chocolate drink. The end-product was very detail-oriented. “We enlisted an industrial designer to custom make tools, cups and containers for this outlet. There was nothing there [in that space] before,” recalled Gary. The café became the focal point after the peripheral retail outlets in the lobby were also eliminated.
And finally, Gary’s team created Nero because the hotel needed a bar. At the time, the Oberoi Hotel was a destination for socialites in Delhi. With the arrival of Nero, the social scene migrated over to the Le Meridien as well. The interior design was quite sensual for the local culture, as hotel bars in the area were rather conservative in this respect. This became another brow-raising yet successful attempt at pushing the envelope and challenging status quo. The bar served a tapas style menu, and this introduced that style of dining to the market, with Indian touches.
“In the end, I think our team delivered a very harmonious end product that allowed the owners and management to celebrate a surprise ROI.”
The hotel experienced almost instant success in terms of rooms and F&B revenue as word of mouth traveled quickly, propelling the local dining experience into a new era. “The commercial result was very satisfying,” said Gary.
This experience had since created what Gary calls “a red thread” through all of his firm’s concept planning: “We are not necessarily looking for the unusual but understanding the need to balance that with commercial appeal,” he explained. “One cannot always be avant-garde—the challenge is whether we can recognize when we can and cannot do so.”