Missing hotel quality food? Gourmet to-go boxes will be your salvation.
Video and images by Noel Pabalate
“This is what your future looks like,” says Cleofe Albiso, group general manager of Megaworld Hotels, dramatically sweeping her arm over the panoramic vista of Twin Lakes Hotel in Laurel, Batangas, a few minutes away from holiday favorite Tagaytay. It’s 2 p.m. and the weekday lunch crowd has thinned somewhat, but as she pans her camera into the restaurant, a vision you thought you’d never see unfolds—people seemingly without a care in the world leisurely eating in an actual restaurant, like a vivid flashback from the past. She continues, “We’re already in MGCQ here. The patronage of the community residents really fuels up the business. It gives work to the associates and to the employees.”
Scenes like this still seem mindbogglingly unreal for many of us who have not set foot inside restaurants in the past four months, and have been scared to venture out into the real world, especially if you live in Covid-19 epicenter like Metro Manila, where people have been scared to do anything more than a very necessary trip to the grocery.
And yet, Cleo shows this is possible—people who live elsewhere are slowly resuming their abruptly interrupted lives. We will get there—sooner rather than later, we hope—but in the meantime, the food industry, including the beloved restaurant outlets of the Megaworld Hotels group, has decided that the best alternative right now is to bring the special dishes to the public.
Megaworld Hotels has partnered with reputable online delivery service providers to offer curated meal sets out of the bestselling items from the hotels’ all-day dining restaurants. This includes the following food box concepts: Black Box for Richmonde Hotels; Out of the Box for Savoy Hotels; and B-on-the-Go for Belmont Hotels.
“The novelty of dining within a hotel setup is still a totally different experience,” says Cleo. “That’s why we branded this service innovatively to adapt to the grab-and-go market and showcase the lighter, more casual side of fine dining by offering a variety of menu items perfect for home—from healthy options to basic comfort food.”
Manila Bulletin Lifestyle spoke with Cleo about the groups’ go-to boxes, and the future of dining.
How has the reception been for the gourmet to-go boxes?
People felt so deprived that they couldn’t go to restaurants and hotels, and so we had the realization that there are people who miss our food—especially those who have been very loyal to our outlets and restaurants. We welcomed the thought of delivering their favorite gourmet dishes right to the comfort of their homes and their offices. If the pandemic did not happen, this would not have been a priority. A hotel really caters to the interaction and service excellence, which is really provided within the facility, within the property. That’s why we’re improving month on month. We’re doing very well. There are hotels that are doing 50 to 60 boxes a day, and it’s really good.
How are you able to translate Megaworld hotels’ brand of hospitality into gourmet takeout?
We know that what people miss when they go to hotels is really the level of service compared to regular restaurants. And when you’re a regular customer, our service crew and our associates know what you prefer and what you really want. That’s the key differentiator when you get the service in the hotel.
As to being able to extend that, we thought of creating unique delivery presentations. That’s why we thought of the kind of boxes that we provide. We have different boxes for different brands of hotels. In Richmond, the idea of putting meals in a box came from the usual concept of putting our cakes and pastries in black boxes. And of course, we send them all with a card so you know how heartfelt it is when you know that it’s sent with a greeting.
What technological innovations in F&B are you employing?
We’re very excited because the crisis also gave us time to really look into the other things we could improve on, and part of it is the digitalization or automation for many things. We consider E-Concierge as a banner program for all Megaworld hotels. We have that as a facility that allows us to do mobile check in and check out. That really is a big thing for local brands because we are going to be the first local brand that will be able to put that out as a facility specific to our F&B service. The E-Concierge will allow our guests in their rooms to download an app and click to order their favorite dishes. It will be served to them in their rooms as a room service. And if you are a diner and you plan to dine by a certain time, you can do your pre-order. This works even for home delivery, and is available to everyone even for those who are not guests of the hotel.
How difficult was it to install all these changes in response to the pandemic?
We all had to go through the journey of thinking, “How else can we sustain that business? How else can we keep the jobs of our employees?” So what we did during all these meetings was that we asked everybody to pitch in ideas on how else we could survive, and we called it “creative juice bar.” I’m very proud of everyone who pitched in. The trainings came very fluidly. We had webinars that entailed the attendance of all our associates in all 10 properties, and that’s about more than 1,000 people. We had those efforts and it’s paying off. Now we’re ahead and I’m very happy that all these sacrifices that the team really put in are bearing fruits.
What’s your assurance to your clients about safety and security?
Before our associates are allowed to go back, we have rapid tests—all our associates were subject to that. The company had to do it because we want to protect ourselves as well. Because we are here, we eat here, we work here. It’s much like the premise of “would you allow your family to do the same things your client will do?” That’s the level of care that we give to everybody. We also have put into a mandate that even with a simple cold and cough, you are not allowed to work. These protocols we have to set are not just for our clients, it’s basically for each other, We all have protective gear. The chefs have their face masks, and they also have their face shields. And of course, we have gloves on. The sanitation protocols and all these efforts are put in to slowly educate everybody that, hey, the virus is going to be there, but we will learn to live with it.
How are menus going to change moving forward?
I would have to say that, right now, we do not have a very wide range of choices on our menus but what we did on the Megaworld Hotels side, we tried to pick the bestsellers and favorites, because we know the customers will look for them. We are transitioning while the supply chain is also easing up. The limitation of the food selection is also because we don’t want to go through the challenge of having to look for supplies that will not be consistent. We want to provide consistency. We want to provide the best quality.
Megaworld hotels are all homegrown, distinctly Filipino brands. How can Pinoys help fellow Pinoys?
Megaworld is homegrown and we’re very proud of that. I keep on saying this to my team because every single time we’re able to create programs and projects that are unique, and a first for a Filipino hotel, too, we should take pride in it. We have inspiration from international brands, and how they do things is our motivation to do more. Every single time we patronize local brands, we’re helping our own: Filipinos maintain their jobs, we’re helping all our local companies grow and provide for more jobs to our fellow countrymen, and the pride of being able to promote our own is there.