Friday, 13 September 2013

A Behind-The-Scenes Peek at The First Wedding at The Langham, Chicago

It is a very invigorating experience to open a hotel, and it's one of the best experiences in the business.  I have opened four hotels over the years, and I look back at these as real milestones in my career.  There is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, so to speak, but it is truly exhilarating.

Therefore, I have asked one of the team members at The Langham, Chicago to give us, as a guest blogger, a "behind the scenes" account of one aspect of opening our beautiful new hotel in the Windy City.

Gaylord Lamy, the Director of Food and Beverage at The Langham, Chicago shares with us his experience in organizing the first wedding - three days after the 10 July opening - and transforming this event into a memorable occasion for everyone to cherish.

Opening a hotel is not just about getting it to operate efficiently but also to secure a base of business so that it can be as successful as possible after its opening.  I applaud the Chicago team to have had the courage to take the wedding booking and make it a resounding success, the result of which immediately helped the hotel's public profile and which I am sure has also brought in more business.
- Brett Butcher


Although I’ve been with The Langham, Chicago since the summer of 2012 and have been involved in the challenging process of creating a professional F&B department from scratch, putting together our first social event for this absolutely stunning hotel in this fiercely competitive city just a mere 72 hours after its opening will always be a defining point in my career.
Prelude to the first wedding held at The Langham, Chicago

The first challenge in organizing this inaugural wedding in our Devonshire Ballroom was to figure out how things were going to work without the spaces themselves being finished. I’m not sure who had more pre-wedding jitters then: the bride or me! 
Conceptual planning with cardboard mockups

At the time, I remembered that, to look at the table setups for the outlets, we had to cut cardboard mock-ups of the tabletops, the same size and shapes of what would be the finished version. We used the cardboard in the shape of the tables to see if everything would fit nicely. So everything was really staged in the back as much as possible to reflect what would happen in the front of the house. So that was quite a feat –to be able to conceptualize in abstract, then map everything out in physical form without the actual furnishings.
Unpacking the silverware

Even up to the hotel’s opening, we were staging in the back of the house (as precisely as possible) what we wanted to happen in the front of the house once construction was finished.
Since we had a very obvious deadline looming, everything had to be done in double time, which was an exciting and nerve-racking challenge. We worked with rental companies for all the tables, chairs, and linens, and decorations—and that made it even more complex because now we were working in a brand new environment with equipment that were not our own.

Now originally, we had four different parties interested in a wedding on 13 July —the first three were understandably discouraged by the fact that we would open three days earlier as they were unsure if we would be ready for them. But the last wedding party really held on to that date, and for that we truly appreciate their confidence in us. One of the biggest nail-biting moments was when we invited the bride to the hotel for her wedding tasting. We did it on a Monday, and the wedding was five days later on the following Saturday—it’s really rare to hold a tasting so close to the wedding itself, but the couple fully trusted us with everything, and I'm relieved to say that we pulled it off seamlessly.
Desserts by Executive Pastry Chef Scott Green at the wedding tasting

The menu was also created on the day of the tasting. Our talented chef pulled it together; the wedding couple gave us a little background of what they liked, and the whole menu was completely tailor-made to their wishes. Basically, there was nothing off the menu.

"French 75" - the bride's choice of cocktail, as seen at the wedding tasting

All the way to the day of the tasting, 75 per cent of the ballroom was still a storage space. So we set up just one small part of the ballroom for the tasting, which looked beautiful— but if they had peeked behind the wall, it might have been a little scary!


The day of the wedding was the first time any of us had seen the Devonshire Ballroom fully decked out. And I’m delighted and proud to say that it all worked out beautifully through sheer hard work, dogged persistence, long hours, team camaraderie and an unwavering mission to make our first social event the very best the bridal party has ever seen.

Here’s how the Devonshire Ballroom looked a few minutes before the wedding party arrived:

The Devonshire Ballroom magically transformed into a wedding wonderland

Finally, none of it would have been possible without our fantastic Banquet and Events colleagues and I'm proud to work with each and every one of them as we set The Langham, Chicago up for success.

Gaylord Lamy is the Director of Food & Beverage of The Langham, Chicago.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

5 minutes with… Langham CEO Brett Butcher | Australian Traveller

Last week in Sydney, I sat down with Steve Madgwich, Web Editor of Australian Traveller magazine for a chat. 
This is the article in full below:

August 20, 2013

Australian Brett Butcher has been the global head of one of the most exclusive hotel brands on the planet since 2009.

The CEO, educated at the Queensland Agricultural College (now University of Queensland), is now in charge of 20 properties under the Langham Hospitality Group umbrella, including two in Australia: Sydney and Melbourne. This number could grow to around 50 in the coming years, including plans for two more in Australia (Brisbane and Perth).

We took a few minutes out of the Hong Kong resident’s busy schedule to see what makes him (and Langham) tick.

Q: You live in Hong Kong now. Do you miss anything about living in Australia?
My family. I always come back for my family. But sometimes I might come back and align it with an event like the Australian Open. I miss beating my brothers at tennis.

Q: How is the global downturn affecting Langham?
The whole world’s been affected over the last little while and we’ve all struggled a bit, especially in 2009 and 2010.

Our China properties have been doing quite well from 2010-13, no problems, really good growth. But China is now off the ball a little bit – not because of the growth, because demand is still growing strongly, it’s just because there are too many hotels.

America is really starting to bubble along. Our Boston property is going to run its highest occupancy in a decade this year.

Q: Describe the pressure of being a CEO.
The pressure is there if you let it get to you, but I always think, just imagine how much pressure the President of the United States, or even the Prime Minister of Australia, would be under.

You’ve got to be able to just be in the moment. So with you and I, I’m not thinking about anything else except this conversation. I might know I’ve got 10 other things to do today but I’ll get to them in the fullness of time. You’ve got to be able to box things. Finish it and then move on.

I’ve learned more of that as I’ve matured. I’m sure if I was 25, I couldn’t handle the job I am in today.

Q: How do you relax?
I think the best thing for men is to be competitive in a sport. I play tennis, not competitively, but single or doubles with guys who want to beat me, so that’s fun. I might play for a couple of hours and I come off and I feel quite relaxed. Not just from the exercise but from the competition.

I sail too and that’s why I like Hong Kong, but also why I would like to live back in Sydney. I sail the Flying 15s, a two-man, racing dinghy. No chardonnay on there, just sailing.

Q: What makes a great hotel?
A hotel has to have balance. When I travel on business, I’m also travelling on leisure, because when you go away for 10 days, you’ve also got the weekend for recreation. When I go away for leisure, I also need to work – I can’t take that week off completely. A beautiful leisure stay, but also completely connected.

Q: What is your favourite part of Australia?
I like the country and I really enjoy the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula areas, quite beautiful and everything you want: a little bit of trekking, a little bit of biking, little bit of wineries. That’s really a great part of what Australia has got to offer.

And that will attract the Asian market more and more –Australia can provide that in spades, and in places just outside of Adelaide and Margaret River as well.

Q: What disappoints you in a hotel?
When people assume things. Service with style is when people get to know you. Rather than assuming where he’s coming from or what she will need, and giving him or her what everyone else gets, the idea is to give a bespoke stay. You should know your guests better than the next hotel does.

Q: Where do you holiday?
My wife and I love travelling to Japan – it’s an exciting, fun place. We go karaoking with the Japanese (His song? Ronan Keating’s ‘When you Say Nothing at All': “sung very, very badly but it sounds better late at night.”)

We take a train into the country, check into a ryokan (traditional hotel or inn.) We get the proper tatami mat and futon; meals catered in the room. And there is usually a hot spring so there’s a spa to go to and you can go for walks in the village and the mountains.

Q: Are Australians more accepting of luxury these days?
We are much more broad minded now. I had to leave Australia to get my hotel career going because when I graduated there weren’t that many great hotels around. Therefore, there weren’t that many jobs – that’s why I started running restaurants on the Gold Coast.

Luckily I got accepted on a graduate exchange to North America with the company (Sheraton) I stayed with for 20 years. You can actually do that in Australia now.

Q: Favourite hotel?
The romance, luxury and history of The Langham in London. It’s been there 150 years, before the Civil War in America. Who has sat in that lobby? Napoleon has sat in that lobby; Oscar Wilde has sat in that lobby; Churchill has sat in that lobby, King Edward has sat in that lobby. And the outside looks like it did 150 years ago.

Q: What would your 18-year-old self think of you now? Any advice for him?
I’m an Australian so I act Australian. So I think someone looking at me, as an Australian trainee manager, could potentially be able to understand and communicate with me pretty well. When I was a trainee as an Australian in America, the president of that company at that time may have been approaching life a little differently than how I'd approach it.

Advice? I don’t want to see someone go into a hotel for 18 months and then leave. I want to see them stay in a hotel for three, four years and go through a good period and maybe a down period, show some tenacity. I’ve only worked for two hotel companies. I have had only two jobs.
Steve Madgwick

Thursday, 11 July 2013

My "Live" CNBC Interview on Langham's Expansion Plans

I was invited to be on CNBC this morning to speak about our Group's growth and development plans, as well as to announce the much-anticipated opening of The Langham, Chicago.

Click here to view the full segment on Langham's Expansion Plans.


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

148 Is The New 100

We have witnessed great excitement and activities this week in relation to our double celebrations of our birthday and innovation festival.

Our heritage of 148 years really does set us apart from any other global hospitality brand

Langham was the first to bring luxury on a grand hotel scale to the world. We should never tire of communicating this to the world. The courage of the investors and colleagues 150 years ago must have shone brightly and that is why we bring our innovation festival and birthday week together into the same celebration.
I have detailed ten thoughts we all agreed on innovation last year. These thoughts and the actions they create are fundamental to get innovation moving in your organization.

1.     Innovation is new stuff made useful.

2.     Leaders get the Innovation they deserve! Moreover, Innovation has to be lead, planned and budgeted for.

3.     A beautiful idea is never perfect. The initial idea may need some work, be patient and work with a concept, even if it is not yours.

4.     Cut Innovation some slack. How can we develop more time to get creative? How do we cut out admin and not so useful reporting?

5.     Great Innovation deserves a great name! Each and every one! That will help us market the new stuff made useful.

6.     Automate the predictable so we can humanize the exceptional.

7.     Fiascoes are OK. Sometimes a new idea just may not work. That's OK - it's how we positively communicate this message and embrace mistakes that are important.

8.     How do we free our front line colleagues to be innovative for our guests?

9.     Innovation is about being courageous and doing what our competition won’t.

10.   How do we attach ourselves quickly to trend waves to spur our own innovation?

I would also like to thank some teams around the world for recent innovations; the following is not an exhaustive list.... they are what come to mind presently.

1.     New Chuan Bathroom Amenities with exclusive scent created by Laura Tonatto. We are raising the level of our own branded items to a high end cosmetic range.

2.     The Chuan Academy set up by Barry White and the Langham Place team in Hong Kong. This is great out-of-the-box thinking for our spa brand.
  3.     The new Langham Legends CD – attaching themed music to our brand to underline our elegance and luxury.
    4.     The Langham, Hong Kong’s emergency pack for guests who lost their luggage. Wouldn’t you be delighted if you received this during such a stressful time?
    5.     At The Langham, Melbourne, front line colleagues are  each issued an iPod Touch to replace the pagers and radios. They can now check emails, receive job requests from GEMS, make internet calls, pre-order taxis and so much more.

6.     The Langham, Boston has put together a directory listing of all the bi-lingual employees in the PBX department. This makes it easy for the hotel to quickly and efficiently help guests who do not speak English.

7.     Eaton, Hong Kong has launched an Event App for iPhone users.  It's ideal for personalizing events and making them a great experience for our guests.  Be it a kid's party, a wedding reception, a graduation dinner, birthday celebration, full moon banquet or a corporate get-together, hosts can invite their guests to scan the customized QR code and input all the relevant information into this app.

8.     The Langham Xintiandi has a hotel mobile phone in their limousines. The Guest Services manager is then able to call the guests in the car to ask if any assistance is needed upon arrival. A very proactive service indeed.

Finally, I would like to thank the soon to be newest Langham Hospitality Group member, Eaton Chelsea, Toronto for the very nice birthday card and the creative video we received in Corporate Office this week. A very pleasant surprise and I'm sure we will be hearing of many innovative ideas from our colleagues in Canada soon!


Tuesday, 7 May 2013

What's Our Next Big Thing in Food and Beverage?

Food and Beverage is a large business segment for our company. Many of our hotels enjoy almost 50 per cent of total revenue streaming from this division.

So when I ask myself what is the secret of successful restaurants and bars, I find that it usually boils down to a simple formula:

Be very good at one or two things. 
In other words, have focus.

Don’t try to be all things to all people.
A business will never get a great name unless it specializes in something. That specialization will create talk and chatter, and that will in turn rebound in business.

An excellent example in our company of this focus is Melba at The Langham, Melbourne.
This restaurant turns over AUD1 million per month and is the best performing restaurant in our group. What is their speciality, you might ask?

Simple – Its vision is to be the very best interactive, high-end buffet restaurant in Australia. This is clear and the customers understand that perfectly.
The team in Melbourne continually challenge each other about what can be the next "big thing" on their interactive displays.  Recently, they added a “seafood altar” that’s a roaring success. Now they are changing part of the hot section to provide Asian noodles cooking a la minute.  They prepare fantastic fresh naan bread and Tandoor in front of you, and the desserts and cheeses are as high-end as any a la carte restaurant.

Their secret?

Not wavering from the single idea that this is their core mission, that their buffet has to be better than any Sunday brunch, anywhere – and to consistently deliver at that high level seven days a week.

Another restaurant I can remember that is both unique and a great success story is Henne in Berlin. 

This restaurant, located right beside the former Berlin wall, and tucked away in the city suburbs serves just one thing – chicken.

Actually, there are only two items on the menu: chicken with potato salad and chicken with coleslaw.

That’s it.

It is packed every night and has been for 100 years! This is extreme, I know, but it underlines my point - you don’t have to be all things to all people to be successful in this sector. 

I truly believe that Food and Beverage has to be run with our hearts and only then will our customers feel this passion; best of all, it will give them something worthy to talk about.
So what I ask all of us to do is question ourselves:
What are we famous for?

What do we do better than anybody else in our communities?

Are we consistent with this?

Does the entire team know and focus on this?

Is our messaging unwavering?

Now, I am sure you can also think of other restaurants that serve the best something.

You rave about them to your friends, you recommend them to strangers, you think of special dishes with great affection, and these are the businesses that will continue to not only survive but prosper, and for some, achieve legendary status.

I'd like to hear from you on this blog about these restaurants that are close to your heart and why you think they are so special.  Hopefully, that way, we can share our experiences and work collectively to find our next "big thing" in our company.

Monday, 22 April 2013

O Canada: LHG Introduces Eaton Hotel Brand to Toronto

Rendering of the Eaton Chelsea, Toronto

Now that we have announced our first Eaton Hotel outside of Asia - the transition will take place on the auspicious date of 1 July which is also Canada Day - I want to take some time to share my thoughts on the Eaton Chelsea, Toronto's re-branding. Overall, it adds a very significant room increase to our North American operation, as well as to our Eaton brand; therefore, this event has a doubled-pronged synergistic affect for our company. At almost 1,600 rooms, Eaton Chelsea is Canada’s largest hotel and this will be a great opportunity for us to show that we have the capability to run a large operation such as this.

A beautiful VIP media dinner was held on 15 April, 2013 to announce the re-branding of this landmark downtown Toronto hotel

It is, however, going to take a lot of hard work both in Operations and in Sales and Marketing to successfully transition this hotel from its existing brand.  Moving forward, we will be spending in excess of CAD$10 million beautifying the external fa├žade and balconies, and refurbishing the lobby, restaurants and event space.  We will be bringing Eaton’s stylish and lighter-palette design aesthetics to the hotel which we believe will lift the overall guests' impressions and underpin our on-going business trend. We also intend to invest in the rooms' soft refurbishments on a rolling schedule in the upcoming years.

Rendering of the refreshed lobby at Eaton Chelsea, Toronto
Josef Ebner has been our Managing Director at this landmark Toronto hotel ever since Great Eagle Holdings purchased the property back in 1996.  We are appreciative of Josef’s and his team's loyalty and decision for choosing to stay on with us during Langham Hospitality Group's continuous journey of growth and excellence.  I have visited this hotel every year for most of the last decade and I must say that the team is always enthusiastic, willing and hard working. This is an extraordinarily busy and large hotel and it takes a great and dedicated group of passionate hoteliers to make it the success it has been.  Please reach out to Josef and his team, welcome them into the family and give all your support to make this milestone for our group a resounding success.

Managing Director Josef Ebner and his leadership team serving the "Tastes of Langham" to the hotel colleagues at the Community Gathering on 15 April, 2013 - the day the new hotel logo was introduced to warm and enthusiastic fanfare by the colleagues.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Hotel Tour: The Langham, Shenzhen

This week, I visited our luxurious The Langham, Shenzhen which had opened last November. It is really coming together well as the final touches have been made to the hotel. On every turn, there are unique selling features....from the double height Palm Court, to the very elegant meeting facilities, to the high-ceilinged Duke's bar and restaurant.
From left to right: Palm Court Lounge, Duke's, T'ang Court
The two-storey Langham Club on levels 22 and 23 
Making the most of the natural light, there's a double-height Club Lounge and on the hotel's top floor, the Star Room with the adjoining VIP duplex suites connected by well-lit staircases definitely generate the desired wow effect.   

The two-storey Honeymoon Suite (left picture) and the Grand Ballroom (right)
The stunning Star Room in a twilight setting
Over 40 per cent of the room inventory is 62 square metres and above so we are at the top of the market in that important aspect. This is our first purpose-built The Langham property and I must say we have the best hotel in Shenzhen; one that exudes true European elegance.
Epitome of luxury: The two-bedroom Royal Suite
For those of you that don’t know Shenzhen well, it is a sizable city economy with annual GDP of US$208 billion, which is already 80 per cent the size of Hong Kong or Singapore and no doubt one day will be even bigger.  We are truly fortunate to be a part of this growing dynamic city with such an excellent hotel. 

Afternoon tea at the Palm Court (left) and all day dining at Silk (right)
So if you are coming to Hong Kong, I would highly recommend you spend some time to travel to Shenzhen which is just an hour away. Have a look at this beautiful hotel and maybe stay for a relaxing weekend getaway.  Sven and his team have done a great job opening the hotel and it is already on top of some of our Guest Service Ratings as the colleagues in this hotel, on every turn, are there to make your stay a memorable one.

A liquid oasis in the middle of Shenzhen

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Our Sixth Earth Hour

It is Langham Hospitality Group’s sixth year participating in Earth Hour and we are proud to have all our hotels joining this meaningful event tonight.

Aside from switching off non-essential lights for an hour starting at 8.30 p.m., it is great to see some of our hotels think out-of-the-box in their promotion of this annual event, such as the creation of Earth Hour cocktails and pralines to hosting candle-lit dinners; from inviting an acapella group to perform when the house music is turned off to organising an art exhibition with a Green Nature theme.

Sweet Earth Hour reminders - pralines from The Langham, Shenzhen
Our dedicated engineers around the world have estimated that we will save 2,000 Kwh of electricity during that hour which is the equivalent of switching off approximately 36,000 lamps.

Saving energy for one hour may not make a significant impact overall, but Earth Hour plays a more crucial part in stimulating awareness and dialogue about using and more importantly, wasting, our limited resources. It is not just for that one hour but beyond that we must consider what we are doing as responsible citizens of the planet. Have we left our computer screens on during our lunch break? Do we regularly recycle paper, plastic bottles and aluminum cans? How efficient are we in the things that we use and consume in our daily life? There are many little things that we could do in our routines to be more self-aware and diligent in our conservation efforts.

I remember when I was a child, my father installed a solar water system on the roof of our house in North Queensland, Australia. It was quite unique in those days and the benefit we got was not just from the monetary savings but as a family thinking we were doing something good for the planet.  It is this idea of saving and helping if combined in a positive way and frame of mind that can be very powerful, not just at work but at home as well.
Our incandescent housekeeping team at The Langham, Hong Kong

Monday, 18 March 2013

Litmus Test for Our Company Vision

Welcome to my blog which we have developed to ensure we communicate well and on many different levels within Langham Hospitality Group.  I initially want to highlight our vision as a company, why this is so important and why we chose Know our Guests and Build Great Memories.
I have somewhat of a ‘litmus’ test when it comes to visions or missions for companies, and it goes like the following in my mind:

#1 - Our vision has to be a singular thought that everyone in our company can understand and contribute towards. It cannot be about profit, or market share, or nebulous things like being the "preferred choice for all stakeholders" etc. In other words, it has to be a relatively simple thought that can also be very powerful.

#2 – It's a vision that everyone can understand and potentially be able to support in their day to day activities.

#3 - If we were successful with implementing this vision (or one thought), and if everyone contributed and excelled in this area, would most other objectives in our company ‘take care of themselves?’

#4 - A great vision has to be focused on our customers or what we are doing for our customers.

So this is why, as a team, some years ago, we came up with Know our Guests – Build Great Memories.

I honestly believe that if we did the best job in the industry in relation to understanding what our guests need, their desires and wants and were able to deliver this in a subtle and elegant way, this would make us stand out from the pack.

It is about anticipation but it is also about being proactive in our approach and inspiring our teams who will, in turn, inspire our guests with our attention to detail. Moreover, we really need all departments to be considering how they can deliver our vision. Not only front of house teams but also those at back of house.

Please consider who your customers are and ask yourself "how can I know my guest/customer better and build great memories with them?"

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments on this matter, and many more to follow.