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Christmas is when hotels pull out all the stops and tricks to create magical experiences for their guests. In this festive series, three hotel employees share how they do their bit to surprise and delight guests during the festive period. Food and Beverage Director Abel Low is behind the creative feasts, treats and drinks that Novotel Singapore on Stevens and Mercure Singapore on Stevens offers on its special festive menus.

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How long have you been working in the hotel industry? 12 years.

Describe your day-to-day work. I oversee the food and beverage (F&B) operations for both Novotel Singapore on Stevens and Mercure Singapore on Stevens, managing our restaurants and bars. I also work and collaborate with several partners and companies to organise events like weddings or networking sessions for corporations. Of course, right now we’re in the midst of our festive celebrations and recently concluded our Sustainable Christmas Market, which is a market that is geared towards raising awareness on environmental sustainability.

What is your role in the hotel’s preparation for Christmas? For us in hotel F&B, Christmas is the season of creativity. We try to come up with dining experiences that bring alive the festive spirit and capture our guests’ imagination. This is the time when we introduce new dishes and drinks. I work with the chefs to prepare the menu, to make sure that everything we offer has a festive element, and of course, that it tastes delicious. Once the menu is fixed, I oversee the preparation of promotional content with the marketing team. That’s quite fun, because we get to go for tastings and work on nice shots of our creations.

All this actually takes place five to six months before Christmas itself, so you can see how much preparation and planning goes into the festive season.

What’s different about working in a hotel during the festive season? There’s such a huge difference! Everyone gets so excited about it and it’s very nice to see everyone so motivated to help make our Christmas celebrations as magical as possible for our guests. For some of our staff, this is their first year with us, so they are naturally very curious to see what the hotel is like during Christmas.

What’s exciting and keeps us motivated is that the phones already start to ring two to three months before Christmas! Many guests call, asking about our Christmas selection and what special treats we are going to have. The whole atmosphere is very festive and everyone is really energised during this period.

What do you consider as an indicator of success for your restaurants’ Christmas celebrations? The most rewarding thing is to actually see guests return to your restaurants, and especially so during the festive season. Many guests who booked last year were actually the first guests to book a Christmas meal with us again this year. This tells me that we have done our part in creating a good ambience and memorable experience, which is essentially what people come for. I also see guests taking photos and selfies with our spread. Personally, it is very meaningful to me to see people appreciate my team’s efforts.

During this period of preparation, what do you find the most enjoyable and what is the toughest part? I think the most enjoyable part is getting to learn new things every day, despite it being such a busy period. It has taught me a lot about the different departments in the hotel — what they do and how they too contribute to making our guests’ time with us a happy one. That said, having to liaise with so many different stakeholders is no easy task, so you need to keep tabs on the various tasks and teams involved to make sure we deliver what we promised.

Is there anything special your department is doing this year? We have a few special offerings this year. For the first time, we introduced Festive Takeaways, which allows guests to purchase some of our signature items off the shelf. Of course, we have also launched our festive buffet, with new dishes that normally wouldn’t be found in our international spread. For example, we’ve included dishes such as Gravlax and Honey Studded Ham, along with a huge selection of Christmas desserts.

You are also the brainchild of several of the hotel’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. How did this come about? It’s important to me to be able to use my work as a way to also serve the community at large. During the Christmas season, we have our charity lunch where we host underprivileged families who may not be able to afford to come together and have a festive meal. We’ll also be preparing some gifts for them to take home – after all, it is the season of giving.

We also started looking at various processes in the hotel to identify what we could do better. For instance, to reduce food waste, we started a new Buffet-in-a-Box initiative, where towards the end of each service, guests can purchase food items at a reduced price.

What is the most memorable experience of your career so far? I wouldn't say there's any one single experience. Since I started working in Novotel Singapore on Stevens and Mercure Singapore on Stevens, I have had many wonderful opportunities to try out new things and kick-start initiatives on issues that are important to me personally, like environmental sustainability.

What is one thing that most people don’t know about your job and what advice can you give to someone who is interested in joining the industry? Many people don’t see what happens behind the scenes. For anyone looking to join the hotel F&B department, they should expect to be continuously challenged to think outside the box and be open-minded.

It’s also about your personality. When I left military service in Singapore, I wanted to join an industry where I could meet different people from all over the world, and the hotel industry promised me those opportunities. I found the F&B department to be the most dynamic, given that it involved plenty of interaction with people and I got to learn and experience something new daily.

Ultimately, your commitment to making guests happy should be what drives you every day. Because in F&B, we are always the last to eat and the first to serve. You have to make sure that in whatever you do, you are creating a memorable experience for the guests.

Also, I think that someone has to be very passionate about the industry. I encourage newcomers to keep themselves informed, and look out for new innovations, new trends and new initiatives that have been introduced elsewhere and find ways to apply them in the hotel setting.