Learning the importance of preference

Chinar Jain
About the author : Chinar Jain

Hospitality Manager, Sodexo India

Published on : 12/9/21
  • My career has taken me from the swanky, sprawling rooms of India’s most prestigious hotels to bustling corporate restaurants and cafes in the center of Mumbai. Whether I’m serving international VIPs, local Bollywood stars or well-traveled tech execs, one thing remains the same ౼ preference matters, perhaps more than anything else.

    Early on in my career, I worked as a butler in an upscale hotel. We catered to a very high end and luxury clientele. When these guests arrived, I was their single point of contact, ensuring that their personal preferences were taken into account in every aspect of their stay ౼ from their dining experience to their laundry service, to how their room was decorated. Back then, I remember asking myself, how will this skill set help me in my career? And it was at that moment, when I realized how important the concept of preference really is.

    Zeroing in on personal preferences

    Today, I am a Hospitality Manager for one of Sodexo’s biggest tech clients in Mumbai. I work with my team to create innovative dining experiences for nearly 300 customers each day. While this corporate environment may seem worlds away from my previous experience, identifying and catering to preference is the common thread that runs throughout my career.

    Our customers come from all over India and have travelled throughout the world and, as a result, they have very different preferences when it comes to food. Their preference is influenced by where they grew up, their mindset, their relationship with food. I think it is so important to learn why they have certain preferences ౼ it has really broadened my own mindset.

    Food is our fuel

    We spend a lot of time getting to know our customers, where they come from and the types of foods they like and miss from home. I like to include them in the process, too. If someone from a particular region tells us that we should be preparing a meal in a different way, that's fine! I want them to share their mother’s recipe with us, and we’ll try to make it better the next time. Food is so personal. So that means we need to set up processes, work on recipes, get feedback and turn it around to improve our services.

    When we get it right, we engage that person and everyone around them. That is what I love about food. It’s something that connects people and makes them happy. I really believe that when we serve food, it’s not about a perk, it’s our way of taking care of our customers. Food should be the fuel for productivity, it should help them focus, it should create connections, it should transport them to a place or time.

    Exploring new territory

    One of my favorite things about my job is having the freedom to be curious and ask. The leadership style that we follow is not hierarchical and that breaks the stereotypical way of working. The ability to work on any idea that comes to mind, whether related to food or not. That could mean working on food concepts like plant forward, protein optimization, elevating the coffee experience, or something in a completely separate department. For example, during the pandemic, I realized that I wanted to contribute more. So, I sat down with my boss and we decided to create a learning and development vertical, which was my long-lost dream. For the past year and a half, I’ve been running two programs. The first focuses on empowering women in the culinary world and training them for leadership roles. The second is a leadership development program for our cafe managers and sets out to make them “future ready.”

    Right now, as a member of our Diversity and Inclusion Council, I have successfully achieved 40% gender diversity ratio by welcoming more female talents in departments like culinary, operations and kitchen stewarding. And now, I’m looking for ways to be even more inclusive of transgender individuals on our teams. For example, we’re working on making our new and existing sites more LGBTQ+ inclusive ౼ meaning taking into account our transgender employees when we design restrooms or uniforms, looking into forming allyships and other programs.

    I truly believe that when you have the freedom to think openly, there is no limit to the greatness that can happen as a result. I may not succeed every time, but here, new ideas are always heard and appreciated. And that motivates me a lot to push the boundaries and think beyond.

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    This article was created by Chinar Jain, Hospitality Manager, Sodexo India

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