It’s early May, and although the sun is shining, we still need blankets and enjoy the warmth provided by the heaters on the terrace of ÉS Bisztró at Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest. While other guests are continuously arriving, we decided quickly to order the fresh white asparagus offered with Hollandaise sauce and sautéed new potatoes on the seasonal menu (optionally with ham, grilled salmon, beef tenderloin or breaded escalope of veal). After a brief hesitation, we chose honey panna cotta with raspberry and salty caramel as our desserts – and it was definitely a good choice. In an exciting discussion with Ildikó Dudás, Director of PR, and Judit Dénes, Director of Sales and Marketing, of Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest, we talked about the joys of the reopening, the past six months of the lockdown and how Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest and ÉS Bisztró are now attracting locals.
ÉS Bisztró is open again after a long and painful break. How do you feel now?
Judit Dénes: We were eagerly waiting for it, just like everybody in the hospitality industry, while we were continuously changing our plans again and again. So, we decided to open as soon as it was possible. Our terrace had been well maintained in the past few months, and we had purchased new heating equipment to offer an enjoyable time here, even if it’s not summer. We were happy to discover some hidden talents of our colleagues throughout the lockdown, as everyone took part in our renovation process. Thanks to our efforts, our terrace was full of guests during the first weekend after the reopening.
All of us chose white asparagus from the seasonal menu. What will be offered in ÉS Bisztró when full service and inside dining are possible?
Ildikó Dudás: The profile of ÉS Bisztró won’t change in the future. As you can see from the menu, we have an authentic Hungarian-Viennese kitchen with some of the most typical dishes – for example, Wiener schnitzel and ‘szalontüdő’ (stew of veal tongue), which is rarely offered in restaurants. Also, we have an excellent grill to provide wonderful steaks, not just beef steaks but the same from fish, prawns or chicken. And of course, we have the so-called trendy meals, burgers, vegetarian dishes and blackboard specials changing every two weeks with seasonal ingredients, just like the white asparagus or morels, for example.
Everyone in the hospitality industry struggled to retain their employees through this last period. What kind of experiences did you have?
Judit Dénes: Yes, this was a difficult question for us, too. We were lucky to have a solid financial background as we are part of an international chain of hotels so we could keep our people and said goodbye to only a few of them at the end of last summer when we absolutely couldn’t see how long this period would last. However, since then, thanks also to the financial aid from the Hungarian government, we didn’t have to lose any other people. Of course, some of those who left said goodbye not just to the company but to the whole hospitality industry.
Everyone in the hospitality industry struggled to retain their employees during this last period. What kind of experiences did you have?
Judit Dénes: Yes, this was a difficult question for us, too. We were lucky to have solid support from our owner so we could keep our staff members and lay off only a few of them at the end of the summer of 2020, when we really couldn’t see how long this period would last. However, since then, thanks also to the subsidy from the Hungarian government, we haven’t had to lose any other people. Of course, some of those who left said goodbye not just to the company but to the whole hospitality industry.
I guess it wasn’t easy to hold on during those months, and not just financially but also in terms of finding goals to motivate each other during the most difficult moments.
Ildikó Dudás: We could finish the last phase of our comprehensive room and suite renovation project, refurbishing two guest floors, so now all of our rooms and suites are waiting for our guests with a fresh and modern design.
We tried to keep up with doing everything we could do during those times, as we just didn’t know how long restrictions would last. We had online workouts, which other Kempinski staff members from European countries joined. We offered our rooms as ‘home-offices’ to guests, which is a popular service we provide even now. We signed a contract with a delivery company for food delivery. And, as you know, we have had this terrace since 2013, but generally, it’s open from spring to autumn and at Advent time, when people enjoy walking in the city centre with some mulled wine in their hands. Due to the circumstances, we decided to keep the outdoor bar, called Hütte, open from last Christmas till now. Locals were thankful as they hardly had any possibilities of eating and meeting each other outside their homes. We offered online cooking as a teambuilding activity for companies, with all the ingredients portioned and delivered to the participants’ homes so we could be 100% sure they got a delicious meal by the end of the cooking course. Plus, we were very busy with CSR activities: We took part in HotelHero actions, which was initiated by Dóra Anek (CPI Hotels), and we delivered food to children’s homes, specially dedicated to the teachers who were in an extremely difficult situation with all the kids locked down inside the homes.
Now that we can, step by step, get back to our normal lives, it’s clear that local tourism will be the first to awaken in Hungary. What do you offer to Hungarians who generally don’t consider Budapest a holiday destination, especially to stay in a five-star luxury hotel?
Judit Dénes: We have two new packages for locals. The two-night offer is to taste and try our delicious kitchen, with our Family Table service, which is similar to an ‘all you can eat’ offer. However, this provides table service, while the quantity is still unlimited, including steaks and other delectables which generally can’t be found on a buffet because of the rapid quality decrease if not freshly served. And here comes another one: Kempinski Hotel Corvinus was opened as the first luxury hotel in Budapest in 1992. So it’s no wonder we’ve had plenty of famous guests in the past 30 years who have left their entries in our guestbook, and we’ve inherited exciting stories, which we can now tell our guests on guided tours through our suites. This one is part of our one-night package.
Industry experts agree that the pre-pandemic business has not yet returned – maybe around the spring of 2022. What do you think the very near future holds?
Judit Dénes: We were continuously open for the arrival of business travellers, who are still coming. And, of course, we are very happy now to welcome leisure guests, currently just from Hungary, but hopefully soon from outside the borders, too. Budapest has become an incredibly popular destination, and not just for holiday planners but for the MICE sector as well. These are only forecasts, so it’s still not predictable when we can get back our ‘normal’ life. It’s also an interesting question as to when the river cruises will start again as this would definitely require similar regulations in every country concerned.