An Interview with Schloss Elmau
The hotel Schloss Elmau is an iconic resort in the Bavarian countryside in southern Germany. Built over 100 years ago, you might have heard of the resort as the site of the G7 summit and their level of hospitality is appropriately sophisticated. Today, Schloss Elmau is split into two resorts – a luxury spa retreat and a cultural hideaway. While they have six to nine F&B outlets (depending on how you count, more on that later), all but one, their two-Michelin starred restaurants, Luce D’Oro, are open only to their guests. This makes their F&B marketing and operations markedly different from other resorts of their size and also a fascinating case study in F&B operations technology. We connected with Gabriel Apitzsch, Schloss Elmau’s Director of Food & Beverage to learn more.
Give us an overview of your F&B operations at Schloss Elmau.
There are many restaurants throughout our property and depending on how you count them, we have between six and nine outlets.
We have one very large main restaurant in the hideaway, which is called Le Salle. Since COVID-19, we have had to take a very non-German approach – we work with two seating times at either 6 pm or 8 pm. Prior to the global pandemic, our restaurant was always “mix and mingle’, basically come as you are, whenever you want. We had to reduce our cover space due to the COVID restrictions of 1.5 meters between all seats and I think we will keep it like that. We used to have around 150 seats, but now we’ve decreased our size down to about 110 seats.
Also in the hideaway part of our resort, we have a traditional fondue restaurant with approximately 30 seats. We also have a spa restaurant called Ananda, where we serve breakfast and a light lunch. Then we have Fidelio, a sushi and pan-Asian restaurant with about 60 seats. We invite guest chefs from all around the world to bring their style to our kitchen there.
Luce D’oro, which has been awarded two Michelin stars, among many other awards, is the main F&B attraction of our resort. Although the demand is already there from the restaurant itself, there is added demand all over Germany as there are only about 23 two Michelin star restaurants in the country.
We have Elmauer Alm, which is a mountain hut we have on top of the hill that acts as a satellite restaurant. It’s the oldest restaurant we have and existed before the castle was built. During the summertime, hikers and tourists will visit to have lunch and drinks, while enjoying the scenery.
We separate the kind of clientele we have throughout the property. Summit only allows for guests over the age of 16. Just a few steps away, we have the restaurant Tutto Mondo, which is our family restaurant that can get quite loud and lively. Ganesha is another restaurant we have that is reserved for groups and larger families. On top of that, we have two bars and lounges – with our bars, lounges, banqueting service, room service, and restaurants throughout both hotels, we have a lot to do!
That is a lot! Let’s talk F&B marketing. How do you get guests to visit one place over another?
We try to manage our guests, otherwise, they will manage us. The spa retreat is our first-class premium product. It only consists of 44 suites with a handful of double rooms. We often compare our rooms with airplane classifications – what’s the difference between business class and first class? It’s very restricted to the guests who check in to the retreat, so that is our first class area. If you are a retreat guest, we will always have space for you for breakfast and for dinner at the retreat restaurants.
The majority of our guests stay at our property for around three to four days, but during peak holidays, they tend to stay for about a week or longer, which is why we need to offer a diverse range of outlets so they are not dining at the same restaurant daily. Say we have around 100 guests during peak season at the hotel retreat, approximately 20 to 30 of them will want to dine at different venues from day to day.
How do you market to guests that are on-property?
Every front-of-house employee is involved in the F&B marketing process, so we try to keep everyone informed throughout the day. For instance, our Michelin-starred restaurant has approximately 30 seats and on a good day, we have filled 26 of them. Since we count in tables, if one table is still available, every front-of-house worker will know that they should try to sell it. From the front-of-house hospitality desk to the shift leaders to the F&B floor staff, everyone will know. We have many talking points with our guests since they are with us 24/7, and while they do leave to go hiking or skiing, they’re mostly on property, allowing us to engage in a lot of small talk – which is our main marketing tool.
Previously, we provided a very rudimental and analog service – a daily newspaper that was delivered to each room every night with all the information for the coming day, including the weather forecast, which ski slopes were open, restaurants hours, and more. This is a marketing tool we used, but we then wanted to be environmentally cautious and minimize the use of paper on our property, so we moved to a text messaging system where we now send out PDFs instead. Today, you can use your smartphone to browse the PDF through a link you receive every night. The PDF is interactive and provides all the information you need in a nicely prepared digital format. We also have screens placed throughout the property that provide information for our guests with events schedules, daily menus, and more.
We collect all of the guest preferences, questions, et cetera in our PMS, to create more personalized experiences like informing table reservation agents about allergies or particular requests, for example.Gabriel Apitzsch, F&B Director, Schloss Elmau
How do you track or define the different guests’ profiles and their needs or desires?
We are actually still in the process of implementing Shiji’s Infrasys POS to make the most out of the enterprise-level solution and its integration with our Property Management System (PMS), which at the moment is Oracle’s Suite8. Our owner, Dietmar Mueller-Elmau, founder of Fidelio and Opera Software Systems, is quite digitally versatile and is one of the peak performers in hotel software. He’s very aware of how to change things for the better and how to make the most out of the software we have. While we’re not yet where we want to be technologically, we will surely manage to make the most out of our connections in the course of the next year.
We collect all of the guest preferences, questions, et cetera in our PMS, to create more personalized experiences like informing table reservation agents about allergies or particular requests, for example. We have many regular guests so it is very important that we don’t ask them the same questions each stay. For every new arrival, the first thing we ask them is if they have had a nice day and if they have any dietary restrictions or allergies we need to know about, which we will then note down in the PMS. We then take these details and use them to inform our staff about special requirements in the meetings we hold daily before every dinner shift.
Are there ways that technology can help optimize workloads for staff?
Absolutely. The optimization we’re looking for right now is that every waiter and every service staff member has the newest Apple products in their pocket with Shiji software to book into the POS. At the moment, we receive information through the interface from our PMS that shows which room number is related to which name. We can then ask our guests for their room number and from that point on, we already know all we need to know on the spot even without access to a computer.
Speaking of optimizing for efficiency, how do you look for efficiency between all the different F&B outlets?
At the end of the day, excluding the Michelin-starred restaurant, they’re all kind of one huge outlet from staffing to the resources we use. If you’re working at the bar, you would need access to an ice machine, but the restaurant next door needs it too. So, all of the back-of-house is connected. Shifts are also kind of connected. We have employees who only work for the Asian restaurant, for example, but we will ask them to support the bar team when necessary. The wine cellars are connected digitally, which is quite important as it shows all of the information about the available wine across the restaurants.
We also view our multiple outlets as one overarching outlet financially. We don’t really differ between, “How much over budget was the bar versus our Fidelio restaurant?” and, “How did the main restaurant perform last month?”
We view all performances as a combined performance and budget our total F&B spendings accordingly. It’s all about sharing resources across our entire property. Gabriel Apitzsch, F&B Director, Schloss Elmau