LOTTE Hotel is a relatively new arrival to Moscowâs community of luxury hotels, yet it is one of the most interesting. Moscow expat Life talks to General manager Morten Andersen, and to executive chef Johannes Nuding.
Morten, is this a new building?
Yes, we opened in September 2010.
How many rooms do you have?
What is the total size of your meeting/banquet facilities?
Close to 3,000 square meters.
Is the hotel part of a chain?
We are 100% foreign owned by a private company, the Korean LOTTE group. LOTTE is the 4th biggest company in Korea, we turn over about $85 billion a year, bigger than LG.
But LOTTE are not hoteliers as such?
No, but we now own 11 hotels, and quite a few in the pipeline. This hotel is our first project outside of Korea, we have hotels coming up in China, a couple in Vietnam, in Guam. We are very actively searching for more hotels in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Does the hotel have any unique features?
Yes, our room product, and our restaurants. Our Royal Suite is the biggest hotel suite in Russia, and one of the biggest in Europe. It is in high demand from Russians but also from royal families from around the world.
Are you involved with any charities?
We are, we help two orphanages which are actually outside the Moscow region, we hold a New Yearâs Party for the children, and create activities for them in the hotel. They are 100 and 200 kilometres away, so we go there as well. We donate food and clothes, and we help with the upkeep of the homes. A hotel is like a big village, we have bakers, electricians, butchers, painters, carpenters and all sorts. The orphanages house children of all ages up to 18. We try to help some of them by offering them work experience; giving them some real life experience, of what it takes to actually hold down a job.
How many staff in total do you have? How many expats?
We have very few expats working for us in comparison to other international hotels in Moscow. We have speciality chefs in our French and Japanese restaurants. Because we are a Korean hotel, within the hotel we have three Korean managers, and my superior, who is the President of LOTTE in Russia. We employ a total of 350 staff in the hotel, plus another 100 temporary staff.
How do you recruit most of your staff?
We mostly use our website. The industry in Russia is quite small, so people already in the hospitality business get to know about new openings by word of mouth. For more senior positions, we use an HR company.
What is your training policy?
We have a policy of everybody receiving 24 hours of in-room training, plus daily on the job training. So we have a lot of training going on, because we take this very seriously. We use mainly our own in house Russian trainers, however we also employ a few foreigner trainers; from the UK in particular, for specific subjects.
Where are you from?
Iâm from Denmark, although I have not lived there for over 20 years. I studied with a hotel group in Denmark, as soon as I finished, literally the day after, I moved to London. I knew that I wanted to work in the international hotel industry, and Denmark which is a very small country, was not very international 20 years ago.
Where did you work before?
I stayed in London for 4-5 years, then one and a half years in a hotel near Birmingham. After that I moved to my first real expat position in Saudi Arabia, followed by positions in Bali, Jakarta. Malaysia, Borneo, Vietnam. Then I came here. So for the last 16-17 years I have been in the Middle East and Asia.
How long have you been working in Moscow?
For two and a half years.
What are the largest challenges for a hotel General manager in Moscow?
It is a challenge to find people who passionately want to work in the industry. The hotel industry world wide is not very well paid, you still see jobs for waiters advertised in the UK, for example, at Â£10,000 a year, which is ridiculous. The fact that you have to work weekends, nightshifts, during the May and New Year holidaysâperiods which are holy for many Russiansâall tends to put people off. We would love to train and cultivate more hotel professionals here, but not so many people are prepared to put in the necessary number of years to reach a reasonable salary. This is a pity, because there will be a huge demand for qualified staff, and salaries will go up. All of the top Moscow hotels are constantly short of staff, so this is the biggest challenge.
What is the strangest situation that you have been confronted with in your career?
There is no one thing, but working in the Middle East you see things that at first seem quite strange. But you get used to things. Things like people paying for events with bin liners of cash. In Vietnam, where it was so nice to see weddings going on in the hotel, people would make a great effort to dress up, and they would put on football boots because they were the only shoes that they had. But working in all of these places was a fantastic opportunity because I got to know so many people, including prime ministers, diplomatic communities, Hollywood stars and sports people, so you get to meet a lot of people.
Where are you from?
Where did you train, which postings did you hold before Moscow?
I trained and worked in Paris for 6 years before coming here, I also worked all over Europe, in Switzerland, Germany and Italy.
How many restaurants do you have in the hotel?
For the Fine Dining sector, we have the Japanese style MEGU, we have the French Les Menus par Pierre Gagnaire, we also have the Lounge, which is a very relaxed, VIP eating place. In the summer we have a beautiful terrace, which is very exclusive, everybody can come, but which at the same time is very private,
What is the largest number of people that have eaten at the same time in your hotel?
We have a lot of corporate parties booked throughout the year, and their guest lists are often over a thousand.
Tell us about the signature restaurant, what are itâs specialities?
We have the Les Menus par Pierre Gagnaire, I worked with Pierre in Paris, we make a very interesting, modern approach to traditional French cuisine.
What is the strangest dish that you have been asked to prepare?
Nothing surprises me after working in Paris for 6 years. Being in Russia, perhaps it is not what people request to eat, because we have done everything, it is other things, such as request to have a lion on the floor during a marriage, or guests who want to eat live fish. Somebody asked me for a steak well done, to me thatâs strange, but voila, thatâs my opinion. People have lot of really strange ideas, but nothing ever shocks you anymore, weâve seen everything.