ASK THE EXPERT: Charles Riley, Omni Hotels 3/13/2015
Charles Riley is Regional Director of Food and Beverage for Omni Hotels, where he oversees Omni Mandalay Hotel’s crowd pleasing restaurant, bar and catering operations. He has more than 20 years of experience in convention, life style and resort hotels with expertise in food and beverage, and serves a strong supporting role to the company’s senior leadership as well as Omni F&B leaders across the brand.
As Regional Director of Food and Beverage I am based at Omni Mandalay Hotel where I am the Director of F&B. Beyond that I assist the Vice President of Food and Beverage with numerous projects, initiatives and events. One major assignment is serving as chairman of the Omni Beverage Committee, in which I direct a team of Omni leaders and third party partners in selecting products, creating world class cocktail programs and added initiatives to advance the overall Omni F&B program. I further assist SVPs and GMs with training, product needs, task force support and brand standard compliance. I typically take a lead role in major events hosted by various Omni properties and ensure all of the needs are planned for every VIP. I also spend a week or more with each new F&B director providing company orientation, ensure they learn Omni brand standards and I continue to be a mentor and resource to them going forward.
Give us a brief overview of Omni’s foodservice operations, as well as any particular philosophy you may have regarding foodservice operations
Omni operates convention center hotels, resorts and business travel properties in 18 states plus two in Canada and two in Mexico, all owned by Omni. Our approach is to keep food simple yet extremely well-executed by embracing themes and ingredients from the local areas we serve and keeping our menus regionally focused. We strive to ensure we stay true the personality of the property or restaurant or region through our food, presentations and associate presence.
What challenges do you face in sourcing food and foodservice supplies, and how have you addressed these challenges?
The challenges that face all operators in today’s market are fluctuations in pricing of proteins and produce. These can be aggravated by customer demand for organic and natural products. Our solution is to create menu where we can control the content and negotiate with partner suppliers to ensure consistency and stable favorable pricing. In turn we see that our hotels are complying by giving that business as pledged.
What value do you see from participating in ECRM’s events?
I can meet with many suppliers and view or sample many products in a very short time frame. In real operational setting, it takes several months to plan and coordinate even a fraction of the meetings that ECRM participants are exposed to in two short days. I also value the ECRM Connect platform and I use it as a valuable tool throughout the year because I can easily pull up products I’ve seen and contact information for the supplier.
What advice would you give to other buyers who attend ECRM events?
Stay open minded and curious. I like to meet as many people as possible even if I cannot use their product right now. Consider this a way of filling your tool box, creating a base of potential solutions that you can pull up at that moment in the future when you need to resolve a problem.
How can suppliers attending our events make the most of their meetings with buyers?
Get to know a little bit about the buyer in advance. A four diamond hotel does not have frozen ready-to-eat fish sticks. You don’t want to waste time talking to me when there are institutional food service buyers walking past you. Also, be patient with your buyer after the meetings; we have a lot of suppliers to follow up with and I might want to buy from you but you stopped reaching out to me or stopped responding after the first couple of email dialogue efforts went unfruitful.
What are the key items you are looking to explore at our upcoming Foodservice event?
Organic snacks, chocolates, new approaches to coffee drinks, poolside coolers, etc.