2007: Melanie Canou was admitted to the Vatel Lyon Foundation year in order to study for her Master’s Degree in International Hotel Management.
2010: after internships in Colorado, in the US and in Queenstown in New Zealand, she decided to leave for China while waiting for her residence card in Quebec.
2014: Melanie is still in China and will tell us about how she jumped from opportunity to opportunity until her current job as the Assistant F&B Manager at the Sofitel Shanghai Sheshan Oriental Hotel.
Since you graduated in 2010, you’ve had over four years of experience in different jobs in China. Why did you decide to work in China?
A complete chance decision. I was planning on leaving for Canada, I had made a visa request to immigrate to Canada, because these type of files generally take about a year, and sometimes even longer. A friend of mine suggested going to China in the meanwhile to get more experience. And from opportunity to opportunity, I’m still here!
So tell us about when you arrived and the different jobs you’ve had in this country.
I was really enthusiastic when I arrived: lots of things to discover, a new culture, new culinary experiences, a new way of seeing the world to experiment with, a total change of scenery!
Then, as always, a few months later, cultural shock really hits you. I wanted to go home, take a vacation and a friend that I met in China advised me to wait at least a year before going on vacation. I followed his advice and I learned how to adapt myself. A lot of things are hard to accept when you’re a foreigner, attitudes and behavior that are completely the opposite of what we’re used to in France. It’s really hard to get used to all this. All you have to do is simply accept that their culture is different. This tolerance is priceless in many different fields and teaches us to develop a type of patience with people surrounding us.
But pugnacity is a good bet, because job promotions can come very quickly. I arrived in China as an intern in an F&B department. Three months later I was promoted to be the Restaurant Manager. I’ve got a lot of liberty and even if I really don’t have a huge amount of knowledge and skills, they gave me the opportunity to try! I didn’t have a lot of experience in Banquets, but, like at Vatel, I “learned by doing.” If you’re lucky enough to have a manager who supports and coaches you, you’ll learn even faster.
I don’t regret leaving France, even though it’s not a pleasure trip every day. And I’d recommend to anyone, with the same opportunity, to do the same thing, not to even think about it, and just get you plane ticket! All the rest will follow. In addition, when you’re a Vatelien, you’re never alone. The Vatel Shanghai Club has already had its third networking evening. You’ll probably meet a Vatelien in the hotel where you’ll be working. I met another Vatel Lyon student, Marie Charlotte Colrat, who is currently at the Sofitel Jinan, where I worked two years ago.
There a loads of opportunities in China. Hotels are sprouting like mushrooms whatever the hotel chain is and their RH departments are always on the lookout for good operational managers and directors to manage teams. Unfortunately visas are getting harder and harder to obtain.
What does your job consist in?
I’m in charge of different projects. For example, we worked for four months on the new brunch, and now we’re working on a special event Perrier wants to have on the beach. Last year I opened a new bar in the hotel and this year, a new lounge. Generally speaking I spend a lot of time on wines and beverages, with stock management, updating menus, and so on. I also am in charge of communication for the hotel’s bars and restaurants: the advertising campaign for events, daily publications on social utility sites, etc. That also includes a lot of operational work: the F&B department generates 50% of the hotel’s turnover, so you always have to be present in restaurants and bars with your teams. I also do a lot of coaching and training whenever possible.
Your final dissertation was on the subject: “How to have customers not staying in the hotel eat at the hotel restaurant.” How would you answer that today?
It’s funny because today I have the opposite problem. In my dissertation I recommended a number of measures to attract external customers to the restaurant. In my current job, I do everything possible to keep our hotel guests in our restaurants! We’re not located in downtown Shanghai. We’re quite a ways from downtown and only two five-star hotels are in this district. Our events are often sold as packages with the room. So our priority is to attract customers to the hotel and then from the hotel to our restaurants! If we want to attract external customers directly to the restaurants, we include benefits such as beach access! It’s the only one in Shanghai.