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 But what was proper 20 years ago may seem extremely outdated and cold these days,” Margaux explains.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.
Ah it’s that time of the year again when the all-encompassing excuse to love (and spend for it) reigns supreme: It’s Valentine’s Day!
I’ve been told by friends in the industry that the following are happening so here are a few options on how to be a sucker and succumb to the dictates of commercialism and kinkiness on that day … if you don’t allow yourself to be saved by the fact that it’s Ash Wednesday and you have a legitimate excuse to abstain from love itself (hah!) …
THE PENINSULA MANILA
At the Peninsula Manila, you can already take advantage of the free-flowing Champagne for a Sunday Valentine’s brunch starting February 11 at Escolta for P4,300 per head.
Then on Valentine’s Day itself, you can have a lovely four-course dinner at Old Manila with the reliable fine dining classics: foie gras, lobster bisque, Wagyu and dessert. If your date has an appetite, try the Valentine’s Day Seafood Buffet – I’m assuming it’s seafood in consideration of Ash Wednesday – with free-flowing sparkling wines and beer (because if you’re a sneaky Catholic, you would argue that your fasting is limited to not eating meat). This buffet is priced at P3,600 per person.
But I think the most romantic set up would be at Spices. Usually, this is indoors but Pen is taking advantage of the gorgeous weather we have been having lately and opening the al fresco area for a poolside dinner called Spices Under the Stars. Imagine having your favorite Thai food and other curries under the stars! This is the option I would choose!
There’s also an incentive to get a room: it comes with a bottle of wine, breakfast buffet, and P3,000 dining credit that you can use at their restaurants.
CITY OF DREAMS
If you want a really sulit date, the buffet at Hyatt at the City of Dreams is another option. They offer a six-station buffet with unlimited sparking wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages for P2,799 nett on Valentine’s Day. For inquiries and reservations, call (02) 691 1234 ext. 1163.
Also at City of Dreams are Valentine’s hampers by Cafe Society. These are available until the 15th. You can choose to gift your beloved with a Chocolate Love Bear; a Chocolate Pot of Lollies; Chocolate Truffles with either strawberry or raspberry flavors; or a Latte Chocolate Cake. Prices start at P250 nett while the hampers start at P1,500.
Sofitel, of course, has the advantage of being right beside Manila Bay. I mean, how can anyone beat the Manila Bay sunset?! (By creating the most awful Manila traffic, that’s how!) They are also presenting the most elaborate dining experience called Love By Design: For P30,000 (yup, THIRTY thousand), you and your date can enjoy Valentine’s with a canopy set up and have your own butler, a violinist, a four-course dinner, a bottle of Champagne … and (don’t laugh) the chance to win an iPhone 8 (talk about incentive!).
If 30 grand is a bit too much, consider the Romance by the Bay package instead:For less than P3,000, you get to eat and drink all you want via their poolside buffet (more to eat!), enjoy unlimited local beer and catch the Valentine’s fireworks.
For reservations and inquiries at Sofitel, call (02) 832 6988.
TAAL VISTA HOTEL
If you are masipag to drive, head over to Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay. They also have a canopy set up. It will set you back P8,000 BUT you get to enjoy an 8-course dinner paired with a couple of glasses of Moet with priceless Tagaytay weather and a view of Taal Volcano. How romantic is that?! This is available only on February 14. For reservations and inquiries, call (02) 917 8225.
If your Valentine is a foodie and would just like to just eat out at a restaurant on Valentine’s try one of my fave restos of late, Ikomai in Salcedo Village. It’s a hip Japanese resto beside Smith and Butcher on dela Costa St. For Valentine’s they are offering a six-course dinner. But the best part about it is that the meal culminates with an edible rose (see the pic? that’s the edible rose) created by pastry chef extraordinaire James Antolin. How perfect is that for the girl who is not into roses but into food (like me)? For reservations, call the number in the picture.
Another restaurant to consider is Enderun’s Restaurant 101. It’s French cuisine by an Alain Ducasse-trained chef and at a very reasonable, student-friendly price, too! Details in the pic above.
JAMES AND DAUGHTERS
For those who want just a casual hang on the 13th, head over to the latest hip happening place especially for titos and titas of Manila, James and Daughters. Chef Jonas Ng is testing out his new cocktail menu so for only P750, in what he calls Kulitan Night, you get a cocktail plus some bar chow. The space is lit (uuuy trying to use millennial terms si Margaux LOL) and it’ll feel like you’re just having a really fun party with friends. Call 0917 817 6584 to reserve.
Over at Refinery, they are celebrating the Hashtag Bigo. Their Facebook post humorously gives the definition for “Sawi”: Pagdurusa. Pagluluksa. Walang hanggang kalungkutan. (Suffering, mourning, eternal sorrow.) LOL. Kaloka! Time to drown those sorrows in wine! Details in the pic above.
As for gifts, if your sweetheart has a sweet tooth, try the celebration cakes of Karen’s Kitchen. She makes cakes for love birds of all ages. For puppy lovers, you might like to try the strawberry cake with rose petals. For senior seducers and seductresses, she offers an apple crisp with oats on top, a base of apples and sweetened with Stevia; and a Splenda mango cake with a white chocolate heart plaque. Visit her website karenskitchen.com.ph or call 0917 539 4968 or landline (02) 555 0555 or (02) 555 0111 to order.
MAKATI MEDICAL CENTER BLOOD DRIVE
Food writer CJ Juntereal told me about this: “Makati Med is doing a Valentine’s Day Blood Donation drive. Donate blood with your sweetie then go out for dinner after. You might even save a life!” For inquiries, call (632) 8888 999.
When I wrote my shout out to friends in the industry to tell me what events they had planned for Valentine’s Day, our friendly priest Father Benny Tuazon gently commented that since Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year, we must be KJ. KJ is ’70s slang for Kill Joy … but for Father Benny it translates to “Kay Jesus (lang)” (baduy! haha!) So go celebrate on the 13th or on the 15th but remember, we must fast, abstain and go to mass on the 14th. Anyway, it would be rather odd to be on a date with a cross of ash on your forehead!
Bawi na lang sa Chinese New Year because Cardinal Tagle, who is apparently partly Chinese, said that as the Chinese New Year celebrations also have a spiritual and cultural significance, it is ok to celebrate, i.e., not fast and abstain, as long as you also do acts of penance, mercy and charity on the said date.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!!
The best option, of course, is to make the effort to cook for your loved one on that day. There’s nothing sexier! Click HERE for some great ideas for a Valentine’s dinner from Whole Foods.