Published On : Sat, Aug 27th, 2016

Le Meridien Nagpur — Is this really a 5 Star Hotel or city’s latest ‘Mangal Karyalaya?’

Le Meridien Nagpur

Nagpur: Call it a symptom of the failure of MIHAN or Nagpur’s once upon a time much touted ‘7 Star’ industrial estate at Butibori that would have ensured a high flying Corporate clientele for city’s first Starwood-Marriot property (management only) that Le Meridean Nagpur, is having to depend on conferences, parties and ‘events’ to break even. But their mainstay is weddings — not Nagpur’s elite weddings as much as a wedding venue for moneyed and socially aspirational folks of nearby towns of Vidarbha, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.

When this journalist had gone there a few months ago, one such wedding reception was unfolding. As soon we got down from the car a loud band started playing to “welcome us” and women dressed in the rural best of ethnic attire came forward to apply ‘tika’. Soon busloads of ‘baratis’ arrived from a town called Wani. The other party was from a town close to Akola. All relatives of both parties were going to be living in the hotel at really discounted rates. Discounts available for such mega events are 40% to 50% for room rent which means a room for as little as Rs. 3000 even.

Agra is one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Uttar Pradesh. You will come across many popular sites over here. It is home to Taj Mahal. You will never be disappointed after visiting such an enthralling city. People from all around the world come to take a look at this historical city throughout the year. In the City of Love, you will find luxurious along with cheap hotels in Agra. So, make it your next destination to spend your vacations.

Then there are conferences of multi level marketing companies and even ‘chit funds’. The most regular client is Herbal Life which has something going every weekend. The most ‘happening events’ are ‘Success parties’ floated by big companies for their dealers/ distributors of Central India. Many of them again hail from rural areas for whom it is really a very prestigious affair when they get to stay in a supposed “5-7 Star hotel”!

Nothing wrong with all this at all. Who are we to point fingers and say 5 Star hospitality places are only for city bred people? And what is a lavish property to do when its average occupancy is only about 30%? (Information shared by some Marketing employees).

But the underside of all this is that connoisseurs of the city who go there for celebrating a special event like birthday or anniversary are sorely disappointed by the quality of both the service and food. Unless your party is big enough to have hired a banquet hall and can dictate terms where it comes to food and prompt (buffet) service.

A group of three friends who went there recently were told that a ‘kebab and biryani festival’ was on at the Kebab Hut. The main restaurant had a Mexican food festival going. They opted for Kebab Hut. One was a strict vegetarian and two were non-vegetarian. They all ordered for alcoholic beverages and waited for the kebabs to be served. And waited… and waited. When first round of drinks was almost consumed, a plate of mutton kebabs arrived and was served very sparingly. Then came chicken, fish and prawns. But the veg kebabs took over 40 minutes to make their appearance. By the time they were ready to serve biryanis, the vegetarian person had already left since she was expected home by sharp 11 p.m. and it was already 10.30 p.m.! Le Meridien is so far away that 30 minutes is the least time one takes to drive anywhere in Nagpur. All in all a very disheartening experience with a price of Rs. 4000 plus!

When this, and other such disappointments were brought to our notice, we decided to investigate. The sad story that emerged is disheartening both for other starred hotels who might plan to come to Nagpur and Nagpurians themselves. Including the job aspirants.

Nagpur Today learnt that there is simmering discontent among all the junior staff including Management trainees who are looking to quit either to start their own ‘dhaba’ or work elsewhere.

“Even employees of city hotels like Centre Point and Tuli are better paid and have better working conditions” bemoaned an IHM graduate trainee. He gets paid about Rs. 800 per month. Other student trainees get only Rs. 500 and they all work for 12 hours in a shift!

The main problem in getting good clientele for their restaurants is the distance from the city and bad condition of heavily trafficked road. There aren’t many signs pointing to the hotel which further confuses a visitor.

Low custom means waiters get as little as Rs. 7000 per month. Management trainees who come with some experience and are graduates of good Hospitality colleges get about Rs. 17,000 to Rs. 18,000/.

Even many of these jobs do not go to Nagpur youth since the Hotel Management prefers to ‘import’ trainees from Bengal. They are given accommodation near the hotel so the long commute from the city is not an issue. Even these are ‘turned over’ every few months for fresh batches from the East, an insider revealed.

All this has led a failure among the staff to develop a sense of belonging and work as a team. They all work with one foot out the door and sadly, it shows.

The situation is further complicated as there is some staff from the earlier hotel Sun and Sand and the owner, based in Mumbai, does not want them touched. He is aware that a powerful conglomerate like Starwood-Marriot that took over Le Meridien chain worldwide is waiting and watching. If they think Nagpur is poised for the industrial growth that was on the cards they will go in for their own property sooner or later — or else quit once their contract of 5 years gets over.

Any 5 Star Hotel has a hierarchy that goes up from positions called Commie 3 – then Commie 2 – Commie 1 then Deputy Chef de party followed by Chef de party, then Sous chefs, an Executive chef and finally F&B Director.

Every category of food is supposed to have its own Sous chefs who are principally in charge of the food that gets cooked. Like Continental, Indian, Chinese, pastries and cakes, mithai, South Indian are all supposed to have sous chefs. Here there are 3 sous chefs – one handles Indian, the second Continental and Chinese and third Mithai and South Indian. One can just imagine the food served! (But Indian mithai is supposed to be very good – naturally since it is a MUST for weddings!!)
The service offered to the 3 guests mentioned above was dismal because the Kebab Hut has no kitchen of its own it appears. The same kitchen was catering to Mexican food festival and making kebabs and biryanis.

Thus the only guests who prefer to dine — in are the room guests who are ‘captives’ anyway. The nearest good restaurant for them would be near the Airport a good 7-8 Kms away. The highway sees heavy traffic of trucks after 9 p.m. and taxis are reluctant to go so far away.

We really sympathize with the General Manager Shiv Bose who is doing his best to make the property a profit making one. He says he has come to love Nagpur and wants to add value to their urban life… he is very proud of Le Meridiens’ international standards that are so exact that every lobby of their’s worldwide must have the same aroma and display similar art work.
Who can really blame him if he has had to convert it into a ‘Marriage venue’?
Band Baaja Baraat, anyone?

Sunita Mudaliar (Associate Editor)