The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2013

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HOT PROPERTY FOR LARS STOKKEBYE, RUNNING THE F&B PROGRAM FOR THE MONTEREY PLAZA HOTEL & SPA IUT Exceeding Expectations story and photo by John Curley G uests at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa have justifiably high expectations: The setting (on a bluff overlooking Monterey Bay) and the decor (casual exquisiteness) lead to a belief that something special is about to happen. And for Lars Stokkebye, the Director of Food and Beverage at the four-star hotel, that means everything you eat or drink Lars Stokkebye is the Food & Beverage Director for the fourstar Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa has to exceed those expectations—whether it's late-night room service or a lingering dinner at the on-site restaurant, Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar. Stokkebye has helped the restaurant set sail on a new course, away from the whitetablecloth crowd and more towards the person with an active lifestyle who's looking for rest, relaxation and fun. The challenge has been to balance the expectations of old-timers while meeting the needs of a younger and more active demographic. "It's been a challenge, but it's been successful," Stokkebye says, pointing out that in the year and a half since the new concept was installed, dinner covers are up 60 percent. "That's a lot," he laughs. And making sure that every guest has a memorable experience brings with it new challenges. Social media provides feedback and engagement, but not all of that engagement is positive. "I spend an hour a day contacting everyone who's left a constructive comment on Trip Advisor, Yelp or Open Table," Stokkebye says. "I'd say 75 to 80 percent of the time, it'll turn into a positive because they are so surprised someone has called them personally." It's not as if Stokkebye has always been on the top of the heap, though. He's worked in virtually every facet of the business, starting as a dishwasher at his sister's restaurant in Santa Cruz when he was 15 years old. "And 33 years later, here I am." Along the way he had stints at Roy's at Spanish Bay and at Pebble Beach, where he was running the cash concession operation during the U.S. Open golf tournament held there in 2000. "We had to have everything ready and in place by 7:30 in the morning," he says, "so that meant we were starting around 4. We had 16-hour days, 40,000 people on that Saturday. That was a pretty challenging time." It's all led up to where he is now, perched above the sparkling blue waters of Monterey Bay, helping to lead the restaurant to wherever it's going next. "In a lot of ways, 2013 has been about getting back to basics," Stokkebye says. "Getting back to the roots of what this business is all about, what hospitality is all about. It's like opening the door at home and you have a guest coming in. You want to take care of them and want them to return." 50  /  the tasting panel  /  august 2013 TP0813_034-65.indd 50 7/24/13 9:48 PM

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