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T NAVINRAJ

THE NCO CLUB MANAGER

JW MARRIOTT SINGAPORE SOUTH BEACH

How long have you been in the industry? Eleven years! My very first hospitality job was a part-time role behind the bar at a restaurant. Later, I moved to working in restaurants within hotels such as W Hotel, Klapsons, and now, JW Marriott.

What made you decide to join the hotel industry and how has your career been so far? The first hotel I joined was W Singapore – Sentosa Cove. Six years ago, many people anticipated its opening because of the hotel’s fashionable concept and interiors. So it caught my eye and I wanted to be a part of it.

The journey has been quite challenging. But it’s the challenges that keep me going. I have worked at a couple of restaurants and bars and recently, I have been privileged to open Cool Cats at The NCO Club. I particularly like the adrenaline rush of pre-openings because every operational decision is crucial – from the quantity of glasses to furniture, and even down to the personality of staff hired for the respective concepts. It’s like putting a big puzzle together.

What skills do you think is important for a Club Manager in a hotel to have? As a Club Manager, my primary role is to make sure I have a great team to start service with. One of Marriott’s core values – putting people first – encourages a culture where we take care of our associates and they will take care of our customers. Making sure my team is well taken care of is key to delivering flawless service.

I have to make sure to strictly follow SOPs, procedures and hygiene standards. I also try to lead by example when I’m stationed at the front-of-house by interacting well with guests. Essentially, my goal is for my team and I to craft a memorable journey for our guests from the moment they step into the establishment, so they’ll enjoy the experience and return for more.

Can you tell us more about your role and what you do on a daily basis? I start the day by checking my emails before heading to our daily F&B briefing which I ensure that I have the staff and resources for operations to go on smoothly. Next, we will run through events of the week and if we’re expecting any VIP visits and lastly, any guest with dietary restrictions we should take note of.

We will then go through our daily JW Service Notes. There are 14 JW Service Notes that we share with the team on a daily basis as reminders to ensure everyone is aligned with the brand’s core values and service behaviours to prepare them for their daily duties. One of my favourite service notes is: “I personalise the experience through silent anticipation and thoughtful preparation.” When going through this particular service note, I will share with the team real-life examples on how we can deliver such thoughtful service and create lasting impressions.

What do you enjoy most about what you do? Hotels have more systems and procedures in place and also more career development opportunities. Take the Marriott brand, for example. After its acquisition of Starwood, there are now more opportunities for staff to work in different parts of the world.

Working in a hotel is definitely different from working in a F&B establishment, especially when it is with a brand like Marriott. It’s not only the service that guests are looking out for, it is also the holistic experience that guests are familiar with, at every Marriott property they visit.

Aside from managing the club, we hear that you are also an expert mixologist yourself. How did you learn the skills to become a mixologist? At the beginning, I read up online and experimented. Further on in my career, the former hotel I was employed with sent me on a course to upgrade my skills, I went for courses provided by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET). I’ve learned about all the different factors involved in making wine, such as the soil, weight and even the direction of the sun at the vineyard. Every year, I make time to attend at least one course, because there are always new trends, liquor and wine being launched. I also get updates from customers or when I visit other bars.

How would you describe yourself as a bartender? I like to talk to my customers and ask them what kind of cocktails or flavour profiles they prefer and propose drinks accordingly. A lot of youngsters these days like to work in bars because they think it’s glamorous. But for me, it’s more about how to give my customers a crafted experience.

Is there a special drink you make that your guests always ask for? My favourite cocktail is the Negroni. I always recommend it to guests when they want a drink before dinner. It’s a classic Italian aperitif that stimulates the appetite. It’s a full bodied drink with a lot of character.

What skills do you need to become a good bartender? You need to understand your guests—whether a person wants to talk to you or just wants to drink alone—and sometimes purely from body language. It comes with experience, but you’ll get the chance to observe many different kinds of people behind the bar. You also need to be able to loosen them up but not probe too much.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in joining the hotel industry? Having passion and drive would definitely be a good start! And being a good team player, because working with a great team to serve people from all over the world will enrich you. You’ll learn about teamwork, while absorbing different cultures and global knowledge. Do your best no matter what your role is; and when you see guests come back, it means you did something right the first time.