FLASHBACK: 1987… from sous vide to spas

Dear readers,

I have been producing this series of Flashbacks for a little over three months now: each week summarising entire years in a feature-length article. Looking for what is different and what remains the same in the hospitality industry during the last 25 years of Hotel & Restaurant (originally named Hotelier & Caterer) has shown that the secrets to success are timeless.

While tastes in food and decor - and hairstyles and size of shirt collars! - may have changed and technology has advanced in leaps and bounds, the rules of offering guests a quality experience remains the same: excellent product and service, quality food and beverage, relaxation and place to work, led by experienced and passionate management and staff. These elements are critical to profitability, longevity and happy guests and employees.

If this series has fascinated you, resonated with your team, or conversely failed to inform and entertain as is our motto at Hotel & Restaurant, do let us know in the blog below. We would love to hear your thoughts on the history of the hospitality industry. After all, the decisions you make today that we report on tomorrow, could be captured in a "Flashback" article in 2030 that looks at what were the latest trends in 2011.



On to 1987… The year started on a sad note as Ramsay, Son & Parker, as our publishing company RamsayMedia was then known, bid farewell to its chairman, the late Norton Ramsay, who died after a short illness on 17 December at age 73.

He joined his father, SAG Ramsay in 1938 in the family publishing business, and in 1950 he purchased The South African Hotel Review, which was later merged with National Hotelier to become then-called Hotelier & Caterer, now called Hotel & Restaurant.

Since then he launched a string of successful publications in South Africa and Zimbabwe, including CAR. His son Alan Ramsay took over as chairman and holds the post to this day.

The late Harold Eedes, past publisher of Hotel & Restaurant and Norton Ramsay’s son-in-law, said in the obituary: “His drive and enthusiasm were an inspiration to everyone. He was hardworking, wise, kind and in addition had a well-developed sense of fun – all traits which added up to making him a great man and magazine publisher.”

In the months that followed, Hotelier & Caterer reported on a series of big events in the hospitality industry:

-        Chefs where getting ready to host the 23rd congress of the World Association of Cooks’ Societies at the Johannesburg Sun in 1988. Billy Gallagher, director of food and beverages at Southern Sun Hotels was the driving force behind the coup. Gallagher was also named Catering Man of the Year 1987 by CATRA.

-        Dr Reinie “Doc” Mornet was elected chairman of the board of the Witwatersrand Technikon’s Hotel School in Braamfontein.

-        A Fedhasa survey showed that some 78% of on-consumption premises in SA were operating on a non-racial basis.

-        Editor Andrew Moth said: “Hoteliers who do not welcome people of colour in their establishments are doing themselves, their colleagues in the industry and the country a disservice.”

-        Mike Pettit, GM of the Holiday Inn Cape Town and a respected hotelier and industry leader, mused on how he got into the hospitality industry: “I think it was summer school vacation jobs selling ice cream at Bournemouth and working a summer season as a tour guide for Global Tours in Europe.”

-        Wine wholesalers KWV, Gilbeys and Douglas Green were represented for the first time at the annual Nederburg auction, then in its 13th year and celebrating 67 wines from 22 top estates for sale. Then Nederburg marketing manager Christine Rudman said: “It’s a breakthrough to have so many major outside wholesalers participating at the 1987 Nederburg auction, and marks the achievement of our aim to provide a showcase of the best of the South African wine industry has to offer.”

-        A sous vide revolution was underway in Europe, invented by French chef Georges Pralus in 1974 when he cooked a terrine de foie gras under vacuum – or sous vide – and was gaining traction in SA. It remains popular today as a method of cooking a variety of ingredients and dishes with minimal weight loss while maintaining incredible colour and magnificent flavour.

-        Chef and restaurateur Peter Gravelius of Smugglers in Muizenberg said: “The formula is basically to put out the nicest possible food at a price that the people can afford. We don’t work with profit in mind and the only budgeting I do is to work out more or less what a plate of food costs me, given the cost of the main ingredient – which will be the meat – then we put as much as we possibly can into it. If you run a restaurant purely from a profit motive you won’t be doing your customers or yourself any justice.”

-        Highly respected hotelier Deon Viljoen, then MD of Andre Rust Hotelstaff, pointed out four key problems in staffing: “Standards control and the training of skilled staff are not what they should be; the brain-drain is taking its toll…; salary structures need to be further upgraded; and career opportunities within the industry are not being adequately promoted.”

-        Meatless meals were considered as important as meat-based meals on the menu. Chefs and caterers were urged to show all diners that they care by offering vegetarian dishes with “care and flair” and not simply “a thrown-together collection of garnishes”.

-        Walter Christen, executive chef of the Wild Coast Sun, served up to 10 000 visitors on a good night. He said: “I don’t serve three sauces with one meal. To me it’s not natural. I don’t think the human taste buds can absorb three different sauces on the plate and appreciate them. For me the important thing is the natural taste of the ingredients I use. Preferably I don’t use too many ingredients in the same dish so that you don’t get conflicting flavours.”

-        Linger Longer, now no more after the recent and profoundly sad death of chef patron Walter Ulz, was judged the 1986 Restaurant of the Year by Business Day, one of many awards and accolades received by the establishment and its chef and owner. Then MD Ben Filmalter said: “The success is due to my staff, my chef Walter Ulz, and our clients and patrons for their continued support. Through them our standards and professionalism reach great heights.”

-        Sun City launched its Skytrain, then hailed as “one of the most advanced methods of travel in the world”.

-        The relatively new trend of wine bars was seen to fill a gap in the drinks market, giving clientele an alternative to restaurants and pubs. They sold more than just wine, had a good menu, featured live music and offered a relaxed atmosphere.

-        Johannesburg’s famous Carlton Hotel, long closed but which in its heyday saw many top hoteliers and chefs work on the premises, was headed up by new 33-year old GM Patrick Kelly. Foreign businessmen used to account for some 75% of the hotel’s business during the early 1980’s, but under Kelly’s leadership the plan was to direct most of marketing and advertising efforts to the local market.

-        A brand new product on the market was cling-film for covering dishes used in microwaves.

-        Eric Parker was appointed group marketing director of Squires Foods, particularly responsible for developing franchising in Squires Loft, Longhorn Steakhouses, Longhorn Fast Foods, Captain Dorego, Theme Pubs and RJ’s.

-        David Wigley, former hotelier and then MD of Fedics Food Services, commented: “One of the major areas for improvement which would bring about higher standards and lower cost is in the area of convenience foods, or value-added products. This applies to the whole of the food-service industry. We are looking for products which arrive in the kitchen in a semi-prepared state, and I would hope that in the next few years we shall see many more of these products on offer from suppliers.”

-        Paul Dodsworth, executive chef at the five-star Heerengracht Hotel in Cape Town, produced beautifully presented classical cuisine in the “Van Donck style”. He said: “In a word, the aim was perfection. That includes consistently high standards, not just of the food but of service.” GM of the hotel at that time was another top hotelier, Horst Frehse, age 36. His motto: “I firmly believe that if one has a happy working environment it will carry over to guests. The positive comments we receive daily from our guests bear that out.”

-        Bill Frohlich was appointed innkeeper of the President Holiday Inn. He has been associated with Holiday Inn since 1979. Although he has worked for other hotel groups since then, when appointed GM of the new Holiday Inn Rosebank a couple of years ago, said his blood does indeed run green.

-        Hans Enderle, then MD of City Lodge Hotels, pioneered the “deluxe budget-hotel” concept. He said: “City Lodges are the first selected service hotels built from scratch in South Africa… There is not one hotel similar to City Lodge overseas, and we’re rather proud that ours is a South African hotel concept. Our City Lodges are of a much higher quality than the standard budget hotel in terms of furnishings, fittings, services and facilities. And our breakfasts are better than those served by the few budget hotels in America that serve breakfast at all.”

So that’s just a glimpse of what happened in the first half of 1987. On the downside, South Africa was becoming a pariah state due to its Apartheid policies, making attracting international guests harder.

On the plus side, the industry was starting to transform and hotels and restaurants continued to raise their standards; train local staff and not just import international experts; grow associations to strengthen the industry; grapple with liquor laws; try out new products and services; present the best of internationally inspired cuisine; develop its own homegrown concepts; and set the groundwork for the industry to grow rapidly when political and economic conditions improved.


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