Christopher Perone — The NoMad Hotelby Michael Cleland
Christopher Perone of the NoMad Hotel London on being specialty without being intimidating, defining quality and the need to avoid assumptions
A significant shift is taking place in how luxury hospitality is defined. Luxury definitely means indulgence and indulgence definitely craves quality but luxury is also traditionally associated with being classical, formal, conservative and strict. The idea that luxury can also be fun, disarming and casual - not taking itself too seriously - is, for most of us, a foreign concept.
Maybe it’s the tipping culture or maybe it’s just the culture in general but hospitality in the United States has a reputation for being exceptional. It’s warm, it’s welcoming and it’s whatever it needs to be to makes guests happy. It’s a style of service that puts conversation first, isn’t afraid to be informal and isn’t what, here in the UK, we typically associate with luxury or fine dining. At least until recently.
Around 2012 The NoMad Hotel rose to prominence internationally as flag bearers for a modern take on luxury hospitality. Their style was gold medal dining and world record quality but with an approach to service that was refreshingly whimsical and favoured flexibility over the traditional rigidity of industry norms. This informal approach was not accidental though but rather the result of an obsessively guest centric philosophy which perpetually explores innovative ways to make the guest experience weightless.
Chris Perone is the Food and Beverage Director at The NoMad London. He began his career in hospitality on Nantucket Island before moving to New York City where his fist role would be to open The NoMad NYC in 2012. During this time he alternated between Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad before leaving to pursue further study of an MBA at Trinity College, Dublin. Upon completing his studies Chris reunited with EMP, this time in London, to open Davies and Brook in Claridges Hotel.
For the last two years Chris has been working exclusively on the opening of The NoMad London which, earlier this year, opened in the old Bow St. Magistrate's Court in Covent Garden.
What is the role of a Food and Beverage Director?
In most hotels, the F&B Director oversees the restaurant and bar offerings. Here at NoMad it’s much more than that. We aim to integrate experiences for our guests through collaboration between departments in ways that we have never been able to do as a brand. The lines between rooms, events, restaurants all blur, and to that extent, so do our roles. I also have a heavy hand in helping to cultivate the culture of the building.
How do you define quality?
It’s delicious, of course, but I don’t think you can measure quality. You can measure consistency and variability and, for me, these are both interdependent with the idea of quality.
At The NoMad we’re extreme sticklers for controlling all of the variables that we’re able to. Specifically for coffee that might mean training, recipes, storage, machines, calibration or water but we have the same level of control whether it’s coffee or preparing our scallops.
We can’t control the variability of our product prior to receiving it but we are confident that it’s controlled once it’s in our hands. This then informs our expectations from suppliers and them understanding our need for consistent quality.
This is quite a complicated thing when you consider, for example, the scale of the NoMad Cocktail offering globally. It’s common, for example, for a guest to have tried the exact same cocktail at our bar in NYC and the fact that Pietro and Leo lead a programme that ensures the exact same experience here, with all of the variables, is nothing short of a miracle to me.
There are places we all go to that are ‘just ok’ but consistently so and I think, ultimately, quality for me is about meeting the expectations that guests have when they commit to visiting.
The NoMad Hotels have quite a clear and renowned 'brand' of hospitality...?
We think of hospitality as doing something for someone not to them. We don’t have customers we have guests and we’re conscious that hospitality shouldn’t be about presenting your expertise but rather making people understand that we’re welcoming them in our space as our guest and we’ll do whatever we can to make the experience memorable. You might forget some of the things you ate or drank but we want you to remember the way the experience made you feel
A famous NY Times food critic once wrote something to the effect that ‘….(a restaurant) made them feel lucky to be there without feeling like you should feel lucky to be there and it’s always resonated with me.
We want our guests to feel ‘seen’ and understood. Just sending treats to a table is a nice gesture but what if the guests don’t want them? We’d rather engage and offer something specific to the experience they’re having.
Is it difficult to deliver specialised products and fine dining without being intimidating?
It’s true yes. It’s really hard to hold back when you’re passionate about a product you naturally want to share that passion with other people. On one hand I would like to think that people often come to The NoMad hoping and open to trying new things and I find that those people are generally willing to interact and have conversations. On the other we have to make sure that those that don’t are getting the experience they seek too.
Part of this is I think is to do with hiring which maybe I’ll come back to but it’s also easy to ascertain how much interaction guests are looking for. One example is that we breakdown information into tiers, allowing our team to be armed with knowledge. This allows them to tailor their service based on how much or how little they perceive their guest wants. Again, it’s about giving our guests what they’re looking for, not showing off how much we know.
We want people to create connections whether it be with us, with each other, with the brands we work with or the products we serve. We want our guests to feel seen and don’t want to make assumptions about anybody when they walk in which is why it’s just ‘welcome’ when we greet people. The way to avoid assumptions is information and the best way to get information is to ask a question or have a conversation so we use every opportunity we have to create dialogue.
So there’s a big emphasis on hiring and training?
Of course. We can teach you the technical things and we can offer you the experiences for you to learn how to interact with guests in every conceivable scenario but we can’t teach you how to be a good person. It’s definitely not just function expertise that we’re looking for.
There are rules (of service) that we need people to understand and become expert in only so that that can know when to break them. The most authentic version of our style of hospitality at The NoMad is breaking our own rules in a thoughtful and intelligent way. What I mean by that is having the intuition to know when a guest wants quote-unquote perfect service but also when they want an interaction which is completely different to that.
We might break our own rules in different ways for different guests and create experience which are unique but all strive for constancy in the level of service delivered.
Does this extend to suppliers and other partners?
Our expectation are the same whether you work with us or are a vendor who supplies us. The NoMad isn’t a member’s club and we are not exclusive to one group of people. We’re a welcoming environment that tries to understand the different perspectives of the guests we host. In the same way we expect our vendors to be open and engaged in ‘hearing' us.
Relationships may begin with a contract that addresses the formalities. For example a reservation is a contract of sorts that specifies certain expectations from both sides but there is much more to developing relationships.