Marianne Hunnel, currently the content development manager for Disney’s park events operations team, has been with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts since 1989. During her time with the company, she has served as a chef, food and beverage consultant manager, and culinary program manager for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. In 2009, her role evolved to include culinary and beverage program and seminar logistics, festival wine shop logistics, and the beverage selection and pairings for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival Marketplace selection. Now, she is focused on culinary and beverage seminar and event content and all the programming logistics affiliated with these sessions in relation to Epcot’s four main international festivals, the Festival of the Arts in the winter, the Flower & Garden Festival in the spring, the 75-day Food & Wine Festival in the late summer/fall, and the Festival of the Holidays at the end of the year. We spoke to Hunnel about what guests are really after at these festival food experiences and imagined how best to apply this to the world of restaurants.
From Hunnel: You have to stay relevant, and the only way you can do that is by going out and talking to the guests when these events are happening, seeing what they want. We can sit together in our office and talk, read magazines, and think, but it’s so important to talk to the guests and see what they want.
Steal it: Checking in on guests in the dining room is a great way to make them feel taken care of and to keep an ear to the ground, asking them what they liked and how their experience can be improved.
From Hunnel: We try to impart some high-end things that you normally wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. Like, we added Dom Perignon Champagne by the glass about four years ago, and it is in the $30-range for a 5-ounce pour. We said, “Oh, is that a good thing to do?” But, we found there’s a lot of people that would love to taste that and the finer wines that are out there, but they can’t necessarily afford or they don’t want to commit to a $150 bottle. We’re finding that people are willing at all ages to get quality rather than quantity.
Steal it: What higher-end product could be sold in manageable tastes at your restaurant?
From Hunnel: The hot topics right now are locally sourced ingredients, organic, and clean food where people are not using any type of pesticides and cooking where its a high-level ingredient and not adding additives. Whatever a chef is doing for our festival, first and foremost, we want them to share those sustainable stories. That’s a big message everywhere right now. We’re really trying to look at our sourcing and make sure that if we’re pulling something from mother nature that it’s being placed back.
Steal it: Is there a better way to bring home—or further develop—your restaurant’s sustainable story on the menu or through staff interactions?
From Hunnel: Guests love to know what tools chefs like to work with or what’s their special technique: “Why does this taste better when you make, and when I make it with a recipe, it doesn’t work out?” Sometimes it’s as simple as, “Well, I toast the garlic before I put it in the dish.” There are a lot of little techniques like that, little tricks of the trade that the consumer can learn and take it back with them.
Steal it: How can you get your chef out either into the dining room or in the community to engage guests with educational tidbits? Farmers markets often have programming where they welcome chef demonstrations, as do local food fests.
From Hunnel: Guests love, love to hear the stories. We try to educate the chefs in their presentations to focus on special stories: what makes the items that they’re creating special and share some secrets. Even things that are more traditional, like their grandmother or mother used to do this, I think that’s what people really love. They want to know technique, but they also love to hear about why people are doing what they’re doing. We’re all inspired by one another through our storytelling.
Steal it: What stories is your restaurant’s menu telling? Is there a better way to convey the meaning behind the food?