In this interview, Maxime Pfister, director of beverage and food at W Kuala Lumpur, shares his passion for food, fun and a life less ordinary.
What do you do?
I function as a strategic business leader of the property’s food and beverage operation, including Restaurants/Bars, Room Service and Banquets/Catering, where applicable. I ensure the food and beverage/culinary operation with the hotel meets the brand’s target customer needs, employee satisfaction and focus on growing revenues and maximizing the financial performance of the department.
I develop and implement property-wide strategies that deliver products and services to meet or exceed the needs and expectations of the brand’s target customer and property employees and provide a return on investment.
I stay aware of market trends and introduce new food and beverage products to meet or exceed customer expectations, generate increased revenue and ensure a competitive position in the market.
Teamwork makes the DREAM WORK. I work closely with our executive chef and venue manager, as well as the marketing, sales and finance department.
How did you get into the industry?
When I was young, I used always to be in the garden with both my parents and grandparents, going out to the forest to hunt. I also learned how to ferment fruits to make alcohol, which is so very French.
I was educated very young about the “good food – home food” philosophy. One of my dream jobs when I was a kid was to “eat and taste food” all day long.
I was also very fortunate that one of my uncles used to be a chef, and it got me curious at a very young age about how a restaurant operates and the possibility of living and travelling around the world doing what I love – to eat.
At the age of 16, when I had to make a decision on which career path I would like to follow, I chose to sign up for the Hospitality school in Strasbourg. I did my first internship in Corsica, which I loved. Since then, I have always worked in F&B, and while on this journey, I ended up in Malaysia, a unique and diverse country that I have come to love.
Share with us a story from behind the scenes.
I started working in F&B when I was 15 years old. I worked as a chef, waiter, bartender, and even in banquets with different types of restaurants from casual dining, to a luxury brasserie. I worked in several countries, in Europe, the Middle East and now South East Asia.
What’s a food memory from your childhood or travels that stands out?
Before deciding that I wanted to work in a hotel, I had a chance to visit a 2-Star Michelin restaurant in a small village near my hometown. I remember being amazed at seeing how many chefs were working in this restaurant.
The restaurant chef was kind enough to take the time to show us around and share a bit of his extensive knowledge. I remember that for him, food was everything related to the products.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
The best part of my job is the fact that I get to meet people who sometimes break the rules in the Fashion, Music, Art & Design scene and due to the nature and the brand of our hotel being known as disruptors, we tend to break some sacred house codes and do things that set us apart as the only W in Malaysia.
The worst part, I would say, was the past two years, which was unavoidable as the world stood still due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Many of our plans and projects could not be carried forward. However, we are looking forward to picking up on where we left off, and we are excited for people to see what we have in store.
Maxime Pfister’s favourite food and beverage pairing?
Tapas and Spanish wines! You can find great places that offer you stunning tapas paired with very affordable wines. Perfect for an aperitivo!
What’s one of the most outrageous things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
During my internship in St Tropez, I had to serve one of our VIP clients lunch. I was told that this person had a very important meeting that day, and service had to be impeccable. That person sat by the poolside, ordered a salad, and two other men joined him.
The men were quite tense amongst the other guests, who were very relaxed and enjoying their time. I could not understand very well the purpose of the conversation, but I could see there was a catalogue on the table. When I had a closer look at the catalogue, I understood that the client was about to buy himself a plane! It made perfect sense for him to feel tense as he was making a huge, not to mention expensive, purchase.
The perfect day off would be…
A nice and refreshing but somewhat satisfying run in the morning, a sunset session in the afternoon, and great beats before winding down in the evening!
A day in the life of Maxime Pfister…
Starts with a cup of coffee definitely!
My job usually involves a lot of planning and strategy, so days are usually filled with meetings.
This multi-faceted role allows me to work on my leadership abilities and communication prowess. I am tasked with several duties aimed at enhancing the guest experience to ensure they are having a great time staying and/or dining with us.
Leading a successful team foreseeing a smooth hotel operation from the F&B side, work with my amazing, young talented professional staff who are respectful and in tune with guests at all times.
In this role, you are given an opportunity to also spot talents, recruit and provide ongoing training. I also monitor and motivate staff with constructive communication in a positive work environment and a shared vision of targets and career progression.
What does Maxime Pfister do for fun?
I love to cook when I have the time.
What’s something you’d like guests to know about W?
Boldly colouring outside the lines of luxury, W turns the traditional notion of the extravagant hotel on its head. Our irreverent attitude and taste for excess redefine revelry for the modern jet set. Our guests have a lust for a life less ordinary that drives them to demand more, experience it all, and hit repeat.
We share our guests passions, providing insider access to what’s new and what’s next. Moderation is not in our vocabulary, and we know that lust for life demands more, not less. W guests soak it in and live each day with a mantra: Detox.Retox.Repeat.
W creates an energetic W scene that is magnetic to everyday disruptors around the world.
How has the pandemic changed you, your perspective, or the way you operate?
The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed our lives. The lockdown has also affected our experiences of time – many of us would have already lost track of time, wondering which day of the week it is. It feels a bit as if time has come to a standstill.
Familiar routines, such as the daily commute and face-to-face meetings, were gone, and the sense of comradery was missing. The pandemic has altered the balance of power between employees and employers, and life began to look very different.
In a year of Zoom burnout, mask profiteering, and virtual yoga, perhaps no COVID-19 phenomenon will have a more lasting impact than WFH or work from home. The pandemic drove companies worldwide to shut their offices, sometimes at a day’s notice. It should come as no surprise that a year of stress, loneliness, fear, and trauma has affected our mental well-being. Completely uncharted territory, the pandemic has been a technological equalizer of sorts, where people previously unaccustomed to using tech tools in the workplace have had no choice but to adapt. Within the W Kuala Lumpur culture, we have become more efficient.
What’s something you’d like people to know about being a Director of Beverage and Food as a profession?
Not sugar-coating. This can be a very demanding job. What’s important is to remember to have fun in what we do and ensure our guests do so as well. Passion is key to being successful in the F&B business. It all comes from the heart. It’s important to know what’s going on within the local scene, become a local but also not to forget to know what’s going on with the overall latest trend.
Leadership skills are necessary for a food and beverage director. The ability to manage several projects at once, organize work crews and give clear instructions.
You need to be able to assess the customers’ needs, including determining and coordinating the meals and beverages that will be served to attendees throughout an event. Creativity is another asset for a food and beverage director to possess, as creative touches can make events more memorable and generate repeat business for a venue.
Maxime Pfister’s view on the hospitality scene in Kuala Lumpur?
With the introduction of design-heavy properties luring jet-setting aesthetes to a city of nearly two million inhabitants, Kuala Lumpur thrives on its business scene, housing the architectural splendour of the Petronas Twin Towers, and the exciting street food experience is undergoing a dramatic transformation that has endeared it to cool-hunting modern-day Malaysians.
I have been living in KL for three years now, and you can see that there are a lot of creative minds and talented personalities. Every week a new venue opens. In the coming years, we see more luxury hotels making their entry into Kuala Lumpur. It is becoming a very competitive city, which is great because it is levelling up the level of service provided, which provides healthy competition and pushes everyone to remain on top of their toes to remain relevant.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
We are working on quite a number of new activations within the coming months. One of them will be to have a chef’s collaboration once a month.
We are also working on events that will be related to Fashion and Design. Do stay tuned and check out our social media pages. For further details, visit wkualalumpur.com or get social with W Kuala Lumpur on Facebook and Instagram @wkualalumpur
Read more interviews such as this one with Maxime Pfister here, and stay up to date with the latest food and beverage happenings in KL here.
Fermenting fruits to make alcohol sounds interesting. Here, we have pineapple tuak (the Dayak rice wine) – haven’t heard of anything else.