Some people think that working in a hotel is a glamorous job. Many kids aspire to become chefs when they grow up, as they watch celebrity chefs on television, Netflix and social media, and think that it’s an easy role to play. Others aspire to be in the hotel industry as part of its communications team, perceiving it to be a job of utter luxury, as their workplace would be the hotel and every dish you have would be Instagram-worthy.
I spoke with Margaux Hontiveros, who has just been promoted to the world of international communication directors as incoming Director of Marketing Communications of Raffles Cambodia, to find out what it’s really like to be a hotel / F&B publicist. Here are her revelations:
1. Working in a hotel is not all glamour and glitz
As glamorous as it appears, Margaux confesses with a smile, “It is not all glamour. It has perks but there’s a lot of hard work involved. Over the years I’ve been no stranger to getting my hands dirty and finding myself in various situations where I’ve literally had to get down in the grime and grit.” Although, she is quick to add, “How quickly we can vacillate from glamour to grit is one of the things I love about this job.”
2. You may work 26 hours a day (yes, more than 24!)
There are 8:30 am briefings, a ton of errands including writing or approving press releases, photo shoots, “a never-ending cascade of meetings to attend” during the day, media to entertain at 8:30 in the evening with frivolities that can last til the wee hours of the morning. Then repeat the next day.
3. You don’t need to be stiff
“Definitely there’s a certain sense of decorum that we have to follow. But what was proper 20 years ago may seem extremely outdated and cold these days,” Margaux explains. Instead, she emphasizes the importance of manners but says that the level of formality will depend on what is being promoted and who the audience is.
4. You don’t need to undercut the competition
One would think that hotel publicists would hate each other, viewing each other as competition, but the Makati hotel PRs have gone the exact opposite direction and straight up support each other, hang out, and appear to have a genuine love for each other. It seems like in the PR world, they are all one happy family.
Margaux confirms this: “It is competitive, but extremely friendly and supportive. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but at least in our circle (Raffles, Shangri-la, Peninsula, Primea, Holiday Inn and Dusit), we keep up with what each other is doing and are extremely supportive of each other. It’s a great camaraderie. It completely dispels the theory that to get ahead, you must be ruthless. I am deeply grateful for these friends, and most of them I consider to be my mentors.”
5. You don’t need a hospitality degree
Margaux did not go to a hospitality school. She is an artist. She recalls distinctly, “During one of my (first) interviews, it was brought up that I didn’t have any hospitality experience, to which I cheekily answered, ‘No one goes to art school to work in a hotel.’” She still got the job anyway but started out as a Graphic Designer under Joy Wassmer, then Communications Director of Shangri-la Makati. Then Erica Sotto, also with Shang, saw Margaux’s potential not only for visuals but also for writing. After testing her with captions, she promoted Margaux to copywriter until she became Communications Coordinator and eventually Communcations Executive.
From Shang, Margaux joined the opening team of Lind Boracay and a few years later joined Monique Toda for Raffles & Fairmont Makati. “My time at Raffles and Fairmont Makati was where I truly grew up. Monique (Communications Director of Raffles Makati) really took me under her wing, and supported me in figuring out what kind of MarComm person I wanted to be,” Margaux reminisces.
After graduating from the Monique Toda school of PR, she felt confident enough to take on the role of Communications Director at Discovery Primea under General Manager David Pardo de Ayala, whom she considers another mentor. And for the next few years, she will be Communications Director of Raffles in Cambodia.
Not bad for someone who never went to hospitality school!
I also asked Margaux for some tips for F&B or hotel PR. Here are her suggestions:
1. You need a good product.
While branding is king, you also need a good product to begin with. When the competition is fierce, you up your game not only through promotions but by having better products, i.e., better services, better menus, better music, better chocolate. “Any hotel or company that’s worth its salt must have a strong brand to back up everything they do and say,” Margaux stresses. “If you can deliver an experience that is genuine and true to your brand promise, there is no doubt you’ll stand out.”
2. Highlight personalities.
Let’s face it, there are occasions where all hotels have the same products and promotions: Easter, Christmas, Chinese New Year. What to do then? Margaux suggests to highlight the personality of your chefs. “Every chef has his or her own personality, and it’s important that the Executive Chef has the freedom to create as he or she wishes. I’ve been fortunate to work collaboratively with some of the best F&B people and chefs, and perhaps it’s also due to my own love of food and awe of what they do, but I’ve always been inspired by their creativity,” she says.
3. Tell a story
At the core of marketing and communications is the task of telling stories. Margaux explains: “Whether it’s a brand story, or why we do a certain promotion, or the profile of an individual, we have to tell a story through copy, through design, through experiences.”
In fact, this is what she loves most about the job. “From the unique features of each property, to the philosophies of the brands, and the people who work tirelessly to ensure that the guests are comfortable, secure and delighted at every turn, the opportunities to flex your creative muscles are endless.”
4. Create an experience
Margaux fell in love with gin at Raffles Makati, after having a sip of their signature Sipsmith gin. But it was at Primea that she was given the freedom to launch a real gin experience. She created the concept of a “gin buffet”. “I wanted to create an environment where people could come and feed their curiosity about gin and the many different brands,” she recalls. Thankfully, Primea F&B Director Rhea Sycip and head bartender Lennon Aguilar were just as excited about the concept and immediately got on board so today, Primea has over a hundred different bottles available at the Gilarmi Lounge’s Gin Library and the gin buffet is now one of the hotel’s most celebrated F&B attractions.
5. Genuinely care
This is something she learned from Lui Parungao, whom Margaux describes as “the heart and soul of the Shangrila Makati Marcomm team for over 25 years” and whom she considers to have been her “constant mentor” from the beginning of her career: You can remember everyone’s names, birthdays, what they like and don’t like, who they are connected with, if you have a genuine care and interest in people. Lui also taught her, “Above all, take the time to be kind. Be humble. And always grow.”
Finally, she shares a lesson from her father: “Whatever you do, find the joy in it.”
No doubt this Filipina will shine as she flexes her communication muscles once again, this time in Cambodia.
It all began out of a desire to make World’s 50 Best No. 1 Chef Joan Roca and the other speaker-chefs at Madrid Fusion Manila experience a real Filipino dinner because there was no Filipino chef lined up in the parallel dinners to the Madrid Fusion Manila congress.
Roca flew out on the last day of the Congress and missed this but I think something bigger came of it —
Mission: Manila, long-term project to promote Philippine cuisine and Filipino chefs.
April 9, 2016. Mission: Manila was launched in cooperation with Raffles & Fairmont Makati with Claude Tayag as the first featured chef.
Claude Tayag, genius that he is, and with the generosity of Raffles & Fairmont Makati Hotel, Alex Ong and Rey Lee of Artisan Cellar Wines, and Olive and Aaron Limpe-Aw of Destileria Limtuaco, put together this TEN-course dinner in just 5 days! He asked me to confirm if we would push through with the dinner Sunday; I messaged back “Game!” on Monday. And the dinner was held five days later on Saturday!!
I have known Claude for over ten years now and I trusted whatever menu he would have come up with but this one really blew me away. Here’s what he served:
Pakwan Two Three.
Red and yellow watermelon, kesong puti, glazed pili nuts, honey-mansi vinaigrette. Paired with Ruggeri Prosecco Argeo
This dish had us at hello. Claude skipped the amuse bouche-ing. He went straight to this delightful salad with no greens whatsoever. He also emphasised that for this dinner, ALL his ingredients were local. As can be seen with the carabao cheese, Pili nuts and calamansi with honey vinaigrette.
Sisig Terrine. Paired with Ruggeri Prosecco Argeo
He called it “sisig” yet this was not at all like sisig as we know it. Instead, Claude took the idea of using a pig’s head, specifically the jowl, and instead made it into a refreshing appetizer paired with cucumber strings. I freaked out a little bit when I saw the slither of fat but Claude winked, emphasising that it’s not THAT kind of fat so you CAN eat it whole. This totally reminded me of the cuisine of Lyon, which also likes to utilize every part of the pig!
Chilled Pampango guava soup served with ulang (freshwater prawn). Paired with Luis Canas Blanco Joven
This was my favourite dish of the night. I’m a huge fan of guava – totally love sinigang sa bayabas. And a whiff of the guava “cold soup” here turned heads as the waiters entered carrying our bowls. Claude made the soup much thicker than usual. As for the ulang, I really think we need to promote this more – it is such a delightful, meaty viand!
Tuyom Rice Balls.
Guso seaweeds, cherry tomatoes, KBL dressing spiked with rum cooked Tausug-style in a sea urchin shell. Paired with Luis Canas Blanco Joven
This was another favorite. First of all, who doesn’t love uni? Secondly, I loved how Claude presented it as a “ball” – actually, he made little cups out of indigenous rice – that you get the full benefit of a mouthful. He was inspired by how the Tausugs of Mindanao cook their uni – in the sea urchin shell itself. I think of all this dishes, this is the one that has representation from all three island groups – Luzon for the KBL sauce, a very popular Ilokano sauce with tomatoes, shrimp paste or shrimp sauce and sliced onions; Visayas through the guso seaweeds; and Mindanao with the sea urchin and the way it was prepared.
Crispy tilapia skin with Pampango burong hipon and fresh mustard leaves. Paired with Langmell Spring Fever Chardonnay
This was Claude’s tribute to his home province of Pampanga. He explained that because Pampanga has no surrounding waters, they would usually use freshwater fish in their dishes. Hence, the ulang and the tilapia. And in Pampanga, they like to use mustasa or mustard leaves and wrap the fermented rice in it with the fish. Here he made the tilapia skin extra crunchy, like another specialty of the region: chicharon.
Fresh anchovy fillets three-ways: kinilaw, fried adobado, salted sun-dried with alto seaweed. Paired with Selbach Oster Kabinett Bernkasteler Kurtfurstlay Riesling
Claude’s humor really cracks me up – it actually carbon dates him because the play-on-words humor is so seventies LOL. First “Pakwan two three” and now “Dilis-cias” -bwahaha! Anyway, this dish I think we could have had while enjoying generous pours of cocktails with Manille liqueur generously sponsored by Destileria Lituaco. These yummy bite-sized slivers of fish would have been perfect for that!
Pampango fiesta rice medallions, taba ng talangka, crisp fried crablets. Paired with Langmell Spring Fever Chardonnay
This was another winner. When I bit into it (without reading the menu), at first I was surprised by the kick of umami. Lo and behold, upon checking, there was a spread of crab fat on top of the bring he!
Pork Choplet Adobo Confit. Paired with Langmell Steadfast Shiraz
Sure there were pork chops and these were yummy but the highlight of this dish for me was the dinardaraan/dinuguan that it was paired with. We are the only country that makes a thick stew out of pig’s blood. In Europe they have blood sausage which is a delicacy that people love even in gourmet capitals such as Lyon. But here we make a stew out of the blood. Claude specifically used the version of the Ilokanos where the meat that is used is made crispy. It was a great way to appreciate dinuguan without shocking foreign guests.
Traditional Pampango tomato-based pig trotters stew with Guagua smoked lingginita at ginseng patani. Paired with Langmell Steadfast Shiraz
Another hearty dish and tribute to Pampanga. Aside from the pig trotters, Claude used longganisa from Guagua, which are small in size so he calls them “longganitas”. He explained that some appreciate it like a sandwich so he also served pandesal with it.
Sorpresa de Yema. Paired with Selbach Oster Kabinett Bernkasteler Kurfurstlay Riesling
The menu sub-heading was: “Almusal na Tocilog na pang matamis?”
So we thought he was serving Tocino del Cielo or heavenly custard. But no! Presenting the quintessential Filipino breakfast, Claude literally served a slither of tocino, dried it, then coated it in a Nana Meng Tsokolate dip. And placed it atop a hardened yolk that was resting on top of a meringue. How creative!
Seating for this dinner was limited to just 16 because Claude wanted it to be really intimate, allowing him to give a talk on the anthropological background of each dish that he served. It almost felt like a Madrid Fusion talk as each of the ten courses was bussed out. It was truly an evening where the education on Filipino food matched the deliciousness of each dish.
Watch out for the next Mission: Manila … Follow @margauxsalcedo on Instagram and Facebook for updates.
So what joy when Fairmont Raffles Hotels International opened the adjoining Fairmont and Raffles Hotels in Makati! And happily, their version of the hotel in this neck of the woods world does not disappoint.
I haven’t seen the rooms of the Fairmont, which is supposedly more for the business traveler than for the leisurely tourist. But check out this room at Raffles:
Nice and cozy. Perfect for the independent traveler.
But if you need bigger space – to entertain business guests, for the kids, or whatever other reason, there’s this suite:
Bigger than your apartment?
But it wasn’t the space that captured me. It was this:
Only losers drink from itsy bitsy hotel room bottles, Raffles declares.
But seriously, the attention to detail at this hotel is impeccable. From the beddings to the mother of pearl detailing on the cabinets to the art on every floor. The chair below, for example, greets you as you land on your floor. This is no ordinary chair. And I wish I knew who the artist was. Same with the birdcage-like structures that are just resting by the elevator. Meanwhile the room’s mini-bar has these mother-of-pearl accents. And while SM’s Kultura may have imitations, you know this is the kind that is defined by quality.
The lobby is also blessed with amazing art. Whoever the curator of Raffles is, hats off to you.
At the Writer’s Bar, they have biographical art showing musician Levi Celerio.
But the commitment to fine Filipino finds is not confined to the walls. The tribute extends to their menu!
Didier Derouet, Raffles’ Executive Pastry Chef, is French. He was born and raised just off Paris although he worked for 20 years in the United States, serving no less than former President Bill Clinton at the St. Regis in Washington DC. But he married a Filipina, a Waray at that, and moved to the Philippines, where he has fallen in love as well with our produce! He fondly recalls, “I went to my wife’s province and looking around I saw mango, bananas, passion fruit, guava. ‘You live in a fruit basket!’ I told her.” He especially loves panocha, even more than muscovado. “I brought it once to the US and made banana bread with it and it was incredible!” Thankfully, Raffles allows him to play around with these flavors. So at Cafe Macaron, the hotel’s patisserie, they serve ube macaron, calamansi guanaja, and buco pandan pralines. And the all day buffet Spectrum takes the hotel’s commitment to local produce a step further: in its center is a live beehive, with bees from Baguio a-buzzing as you pick up your glass of honey mascarpone!
Beyond dessert, instead of California maki, Spectrum also offers lechon kawali sushi and bangus belly sushi. The lechon kawali sushi will make you smile at its cleverness: as you bite into it, while in your head you are expecting something Japanese, when you start to chew, there’s no mistaking that lechon taste – it’s all Pinoy!
Meanwhile, at the other end of the hotel, there is Long Bar, a cult bar in Singapore most known for the Singapore Sling but also for the tradition of throwing peanut shelves on the floor in rebellion (rebellion na yun sa kanila) against the strict government policy prohibiting littering. In utter respect for the city they now also live in, Raffles Makati has created the Makati Luxury Sling, a sweeter, richer take on the Singapore Sling that boasts of 24K gold atop its foam (warning to purists: this is a very sweet drink!). There is also the Makati Manhattan, which uses the proudly Pinoy Don Papa Rum.
Of course luxury comes with a price. The Makati Sling is over P500 – it must be the 24K gold! But the fact that it’s available and that the hotel is even encouraging “staycations” probably means that either the rich are getting richer or maybe the economy is looking up after all!
Can’t wait for their French restaurant to open this 2013!