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Win-win for Zuma

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New Zuma GM says his main objectives are to increase Zuma’s popularity and the number of guests walking through its doors.

By Laurence Civil

A new general manager recently took over the reins at Zuma, the contemporary Japanese restaurant at the lobby level of St. Regis Bangkok: Achim Berger, a German national who boasts a long, successful career in restaurant management in many continents. Since he got onboard Zuma Bangkok on June 15, Berger has been working on several improvements in the restaurant, the good results of which are already beginning to be noticed by its patrons and observers alike.

“One of my objectives is to increase Zuma’s popularity in Bangkok, as well as the number of guests walking through the door,” Berger told Lookeast Magazine. “To do that I plan to introduce themed music nights, explore the possibilities of extending our happy hour, and maybe adding a special Zuma cocktail.”

Already, Berger has introduced a new business lunch menu with two options at Zuma. The deal includes one of the restaurant´s classic main courses, a Zuma salad and a miso soup for Bt490++, or one choice of Zuma signature dishes for just Bt780++. “Our business lunch offers Zuma quality, seven days a week, at an affordable competitive price, delivered within 45 minutes,” Berger says.

These are only the beginning. “Being in the same building as St. Regis Bangkok, with the two businesses physically connected, I have taken this chance to improve the interface between us,” Berger says. “Now St. Regis guests can charge their bill at Zuma to their room account, and by the end of September, Zuma will provide a room service menu. With this, business partnership should be a win-win for both parties.”

But while Berger understands that there is a thin red line on pricing strategy, he says he won’t substitute Zuma quality with price. “Consistency is essential, and every day we must try harder to become better,” he says.

Achim graduated from the Hotelakademie in Berlin 10 years ago with a bachelor´s degree in Hotel, Restaurant and Catering Management. Before coming to Bangkok, he was managing Trader Vic´s, the Californian chain of tiki bars and Caribbean restaurants.

He moved to the Middle East with the brand. His first post was in Kuwait where they serve “Mai Mai Thai” (Thai translation for `no´ to the famous rum-based cocktail — or any other alcohol for that matter), but still managed to successfully develop the brand there without the chain´s famous signature cocktails.
Next destination was Bahrain, which was the company´s largest franchise in terms of business volume, size, and the number of staff.

Since then, he has changed employers and his responsibilities continued to expand. For two years before moving to Bangkok he was overseeing 24 restaurant operations in Europe, Africa, and Asia for The Robinson Club, a resort chain owned by German tour operator TUI Group.

He says of his comeback into the field, with a focus on one action-filled restaurant: ”I gave up a corporate job to get back into restaurant operation, but I am thoroughly enjoying the challenge.” He thanks previous Zuma GM Paddy McHugh for “the brilliant job he did in the first two-and-a half years since the opening of Zuma Bangkok,” and the intense one-week handover before moving to pursue other interests in Singapore.

“I was attracted to Zuma because it is one of the world’s top 10 hospitality brands,” says Berger. It’s as if fate brought him here. Sven Koch, CEO of Azumi Ltd, Zuma brand´s holding company, was also his former boss at Trader Vic´s. He recalls, “He casually asked me if I was interested in this job in Bangkok. Then with the blessing of company president Reiner Becker, I was formally interviewed by Marc Bratland, managing director of Zuma and Roka Asia, who hired me.”

Berger is obviously happy to be in Bangkok, and with Zuma. Apparent in his career, as well as in the career of many other international professionals, is that at certain times, certain cities pull and capture the most competitive talent. Evidently Bangkok is one of those hubs at the moment. “To work in Asia has always been on my to-do list; a job in Bangkok was a win-win for me,” says Berger echoing the sentiment of other international professionals lured by this exciting city.

Now already feeling fully at home at Zuma Bangkok, expect Berger to enhance even more the restaurant’s reputation for providing a fully enjoyable dining experience. Even as we speak, it was obvious that his mind is already planning lots of things for the restaurant, like adding the often-overlooked importance of music as an element of the dining experience.

“I once had a 13-course dinner at Silk in Frankfurt, with music paired to match the food and wine,” he shares his inspiration. “House music was played with the dessert — we were ready to party. It´s that kind of experience which I want to introduce at Zuma.”