The importance of pre-opening experience

Article published at: Oct 16, 2021 Article tag: opinion
The importance of pre-opening experience
All Hoteliers Circle Editorial

We see many candidates highlighting in bold or underlining the places where they have worked and were part of a pre-opening team of the project. In order to highlight this importance, I am sharing how is a pre-opening experience different.

I can share the below details based on my personal experience, where I have worked as part of the pre-opening and opening team of 6 international hotels and I have been involved in the pre-opening and opening of more than 20 restaurants which allows me to understand well the importance of this experience in the world of hospitality.
First, let's talk about the hotel pre-opening experience.
When a team joins a hotel's pre-opening stage normally the hotel is in the final stages of construction and handover period, so senior managers join the pre-opening period around 3 months before the opening but some might be hired even earlier or later depending on their roles and responsibilities and operator's plan for the hiring process.
When it comes to the junior staff to join on board, it is around a month before opening and sometimes a bit more, the team go through a big stage of team building, training & development during this period until opening.
Management does follow what is called "Critical Path " or "Retro-plan" or can have different names, where the Manager has every week tasks to complete similar to a puzzle where you complete parts of the puzzle on a monthly/weekly/daily basis until the final puzzle is there, and management meets once a week in order to evaluate the progress.
So, a lot of training, lot of projects, lot of team building, setting up of operational units by the team such as setting up hotel rooms or the restaurants or spas etc.... during this course all team builds up a big experience that is much more than anyone who can possibly join after the opening period, and this is where the real value lies in working in this particular stage.
What counts, even more, is when the pre-opening stage comes closer to the day of "opening ", where first guests are welcomed and business starts building up on a daily and weekly basis and occupancy goes from zero to as high as 80% and even more.
Usually, staff working during this stage of hotel pre-opening / opening do get a "Pre-opening certificate that is considered as a plus and is a motivational tool for these staff who have worked hard during this period.
In a hotel, the system is more complex than in a restaurant opening, as in a hotel there are many departments / Divisions and the staff have to understand not only their own department's duties and SOPs but also how their department is linked and interacts with the other departments.
When it comes to a restaurant pre-opening, the scenario is similar to the above, where a "Retro-plan / critical path " is followed until opening, where also projects and tasks such as (branding, supplying, planning market lists, building and studying menus/descriptions, costing ) and many other tasks are performed and executed by the team in the setup stage of a restaurant.
During this stage, the staff are divided into the kitchen (back of house ) and restaurant main dining area (front of house ), where these two divisions plans and develops their standards individually and later on collectively in order to train both divisions on menu preparations and service delivery to clients.
A pre-opening stage involves long working hours, at least a week or two during the opening stage will be days off for the staff and involves a lot of stress, which results in turnover during this stage especially with the staff that are not well experienced with pre-opening pressures. Therefore, it is important to educate staff on what will be facing them during this stage.
In fact, it is important to highlight that the biggest task during pre-opening is the recruitment and on-boarding, wherein some countries such as GCC the staff are provided with accommodation and the task of on-boarding and allocating staff in different rooms in the accommodation and the fact of making sure that they feel welcomed, is considered the biggest challenge, especially if the majority of the staff do travel for the first time outside their countries.
Staff joining after an opening, or joining an operation that is already running for some time, will get: orientation/training and product knowledge, but will not necessarily be part of developing a menu, sourcing products and other tasks that were mentioned that staff do experience during the pre-opening period ..., here comes the real value of pre-opening experience.
The head of a department is a key in making or breaking his/her department during the pre-opening stage, as experience, someone is in following a critical path and is efficient in completing tasks as required and good in leading and delegating their teams, the opening will be smooth.
So, overall I do agree that a "Plus" and advantage should be given to the staff/managers that have a good pre-opening experience, as they tend to blend, adapt, perform better under stress.


Tarek Haydar - Hoteliers Journal