Sean Cassidy’s expertise in understanding the right mix of dining options captures many of the changes in hotel eateries in metro New York. His involvement in the food service industry began at the age of eighteen. Originally from New York, he moved to Arizona and took a job at the Hyatt Regency Gainey Ranch.
Having taken an interest in the hotel business, Sean Cassidy would return to New York to work as a front desk agent at the Sheraton Manhattan. After a few years in that position, he was promoted to housekeeping manager. From there, he transitioned into the food and beverage sector, spending several years in restaurants and overseeing banquets at the Sheraton. Cassidy’s rise to his current post as the hotel manager of the Westin New York At Times Square is the culmination of twenty-five years of commitment to learning and fine tuning his craft.
There are several requirements necessary to succeed in a hotel food and beverage setting. Cassidy said, “Number one for me is hard work, along with recognizing the importance of relations with customers as well as staff. Number two, you need to be able to solve problems, whether it’s a customer, an associate, a general manager, or an owner.” He went on to describe the significance of planning and preparedness, “People are going to have problems. So planning is vital in order to solve those problems.”
The hotel food and beverage industry is especially complicated considering the various operations that are involved. Although restaurants, banquets, and room service all share commonalities, Cassidy explained that they essentially operate as three individual businesses. “While they’re all connected in some ways, they really are separate businesses and you need different skill sets for each one,” he said.
For Cassidy, banquets are the most complicated as a result of the time pressure. Conversely, banquets allow for more prep time. Restaurants, however, are in constant motion. Cassidy explained that the fast-paced nonstop environment could be tricky to navigate. Room service is likely the most challenging. It is difficult to monitor and manage the stream of outgoing orders that are all being delivered to different locations. In addition, twenty-minute delivery guarantees add another layer of complexity. These factors make room service a highly stressful operation.
Cassidy described the relationships that the Westin New York At Times Square has had with outside licensees and how they have evolved. Previously, there had been a Shula’s Steakhouse in the hotel, but it has since been replaced. “We repositioned and eliminated our Shula’s Steakhouse. We renovated the space, reinvented the concept and menu, and now we have the Foundry Kitchen and Bar,” Cassidy explained. The steakhouse did not maintain the appeal that it once had, so the restaurant needed to be reinvented. The Foundry now offers a buffet breakfast, which has proven successful. According to Cassidy, customers appreciate the variety of a buffet, and perhaps more importantly, a faster meal. “People don’t want to sit down to breakfast and spend forty-five minutes,” he reflected.
Sean Cassidy detailed some strategies to consider in order to build a successful food and beverage operation. “First, you have to look at your environment, or the market that you’re in. Each market is different and has its own specific needs and trends,” he explained. In Cassidy’s case, he recognizes that the Westin Hotel in Times Square is unlikely to attract a large local customer base. In fact, the majority of the customers will be tourists and office workers from nearby buildings.
In an effort to attract a wider audience, The Foundry has adopted some innovative initiatives. For example, the restaurant now places tablets at every table in the lobby. The tablets allow patrons that are waiting in the lobby for a table or a spot at the bar to order drinks and have them delivered by a staff member.
The Foundry has made other adjustments, as well. “We recently instituted a pizza oven. We wanted to offer casual bar options and decided that pizza was a great way to continually change an offering without expending any extra labor or expenses,” Cassidy explained. The kitchen now boasts a wood-burning oven that allows for several different pizzas to appear on the menu.
“I would make the very same career decisions today,” noted Cassidy. Young people with culinary backgrounds should consider the diverse career options that hotels offer. For example, a young person could start out as a chef, but end up being the Housekeeping Manager or a General Manager trajectory. Food service within the hotel business offers a variety of options and career paths. Cassidy’s extensive background in the food service sector led him to his current position as Hotel Manager of the Westin New York At Times Square.