Opinion.

Hospitality? Trust me, I’ve seen it all

Robbie Bargh, Founder of the Gorgeous Group – creators of bar and restaurant ideas for hotels – lifts the lid on his biggest learnings from being in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years

by Robbie Bargh, Founder, Gorgeous Group

Topic: Guest experience

Click. Takeaway

  • Robbie Bargh is Founder of Gorgeous Group, an agency that creates bar and restaurant ideas for hotels across the globe
  • He believes food and drink is often seen as just a necessity by hoteliers, but it can actually be a great brand asset and help add value to the guest experience if executed in a creative way
  • Bargh believes luxury hotels need to be more relaxed, locally relevant and develop a more defining personality

I’ve seen all sides of this business

When people ask me what I do, the best way to describe it is, “ringmaster, founder and chief storyteller”. I founded Gorgeous Group, an agency that creates bar and restaurant ideas for hotels around the world that translate into delivering incredible food and drink experiences, nearly 20 years ago.

Recent projects have included reinterpreting food and beverage offerings at the Belmond Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro and at the Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi. Bargh stays in an average of two different hotels a week.

Born in Manchester, I started in the 1980s as a table dancer in nightclubs aged 15. My Mum thought I was stacking shelves at an all-night supermarket. She wasn’t happy when she found out and came in one night to drag me home. I was grounded for three months.

I went on to work for a restaurant company that took me all over Britain and then I helped launch a bar in London called, Beach Blanket Babylon, before moving onto manage restaurants and bars in Paris, Sydney and New York. When I came back I started Gorgeous Group, which was 19 years ago now.

Change is the new normal

People don’t like change, especially if they’ve been associated with a hotel for years. A lot of my time is change management, getting people to understand how it can be beneficial. Often people see change as going on a journey, and they want to do that, but they can get a bit shaky along the way and think, “oh my god, I didn’t know it was going to be like this”.

When I work with hotel clients, they’re often in their own zone. A lot of hoteliers just concentrate on delivering a return for their owners. They can see food and beverage as a necessity, a cost, a bit of a headache. We try to make them see it can be great for their brand, make money, and, hey guess what, guests love it. We show them how an incredible eating and drinking experience adds value to the guest experience and makes their brand stand out from the crowd. Eating and drinking out needs to be amazing, not just functional.

Thankfully hoteliers are waking up and realising this.

These days social media means people don’t have to get on a plane to know what’s happening around the world. I go to work in Africa, India and China and I see a lot of people there really hungry to do things differently and to bring new experiences to life when it comes to eating and drinking.

I want something more than just a good shower, I want a point of difference. Where is your personality? And I want them to be relevant locally

A sense of place is crucial

Sometimes I wake up and I think, “where am I, what hotel am I in?” There’s got to be a sense of place. I hate hotel restaurants that have been designed as a breakfast room and nothing else, that have become bed factories without personality.

I want to be looked after. I want something more than just a good shower, I want a point of difference. Where is your personality? And I want them to be relevant locally. I think there genuienely is a struggle with recruitment and training. Hotels in some cases can be too corporate or get wrapped up in their own bureaucracy. You want fun, interesting and interested people working in hotels and for that to happen you have to have a great culture.

Not all brands get it wrong

I stayed in 25Hours Zurich recently and they were great. It was fun and busy and I thought immediately I’d checked into a place that was very cool. citizenM are good as well. I also like the buzz of André Balazs properties. Edition and Principal Hotels have good cultural elements too. My favourite hotel anywhere is La Colombe d’Or in the South of France. There, it’s about escapism, like going to a show, it’s magical. I feel like I could be anyone when I stay there.

Big shift over the next 20 years

Luxury hotels need to be more relaxed, locally relevant and develop a more defining personality. Mid-market chains need to be more interesting, they need to do the basics well but at the same time they need a point of view, people need to know where they’re staying. Budget hotels, yes, it’s about price, but, when there is so much competition out there, they need to create a bit of theatre and again local relevance. All hotels need to invest in their “emotion per square metre” to get guests to talk about them and come back.

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Hero image: Credit to Jason Briscoe

Robbie Bargh is Founder of the Gorgeous Group, creators of bar and restaurant ideas for hotels

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