Project focus: Kaohsiung Marriott, Taiwan

Acker So FCSI helped transform Taiwan’s biggest Marriott hotel into a dining destination. He tells Amy Snelling about consulting on the kitchen design for eight F&B venues

Set in the heart of Taiwan’s second-largest city, the Kaohsiung Marriott Hotel is as expansive as the place it calls home. One of the biggest hotels in Taiwan, overlooking the Heart of Love River in Gushan district, the franchise venue sprawls across 31 floors, housing 700 guest rooms and suites.

Catering in a hotel of this size calls for a big food and beverage program, which is where Acker So FCSI came in. The general manager of professional hospitality design company and consultancy, Angles + Curves, So was called in as project director to consult on the kitchens for the full F&B offering.

Over almost five years, from 2017 to 2021, he and his team managed the complete kitchen design for four of the hotel’s eight dining outlets, including two 1,500 sq m (16,000 sq ft) venues – all-day dining venue M9 Buffet Restaurant and specialty Hong Kong restaurant King Chui Hong Kong Cafe – as well as consulting on the conceptual design for the remaining four venues.

So is no stranger to high-profile projects like this one; Angles + Curves is the recommended kitchen consultant for international brands across China, including Marriott. However, one special part of this project was the amount of space he and the team had to work with.

A “huge” F&B area

“What was amazing about working on the Marriott Kaohsiung is that they have a huge food and beverage area,” So says from his office in Shanghai. Working in prime retail estate areas across mainland China, he has noticed the space in many restaurants he’s worked on in recent years getting smaller – today, he says, they typically cover around 400 sq m (4,300 sq ft).

For his Taiwan debut, it was the opposite. At the Kaohsiung Marriott, the all-day dining venue M9 Buffet Restaurant sits over 1,500 sq m (16,000 sq ft). Just one floor down, Hong Kong-style café King Chui expands across 1,400 sq m (15,000 sq ft). Both restaurants can seat over 300 guests.

Venues of this size allowed the team more room to get creative. “Luckily, we worked with a great interior design company, Touch Design Group (TDG) – we’ve worked on lots of projects together before, and like us, they have a strong understanding of the Marriott brand,” says So. Collaborating closely with TDG’s principle, Arthur Luo, the pair quickly got into a routine of crafting cohesive plans to present to their stakeholders.

All in the details

Sharing some of the design highlights, So and Luo admit it was all about the details. When planning M9, the pair drew on the story of Kaohsiung as a harbor town: “We designed it using curved features, playing on the idea of a cruise ship,” recalls Luo. They also decorated using light wood and pale colors to help create a feeling of calm and coolness amid the southern city’s intense heat.

At King Chui Hong Kong Cafe, Luo adds: “We wanted to capture the feeling of a Hong Kong city street, with street-style lamps lighting the kitchen.” Rather than placing the display kitchen behind plain sheet glass, they designed framed windows, so peering in would be reminiscent of “looking into an old Hong Kong house, watching your mom cooking home-style dishes.”

Anchoring both M9 and King Chui with impressive front-of-house kitchens was a key part of the brief to help elevate the dining experience, So explains. Taking King Chui as an example, he notes: “In traditional Hong Kong-style restaurants, the kitchens are tight and all back-of-house, but here it’s out in full view. Guests can see the chefs wok frying and ducks roasting.” The kitchen was realized using equipment custom-built and designed for the luxury show kitchens to heighten the dining experience.

In a location with stiff competition for buffet restaurants, a showstopping open kitchen was an important selling point for M9, to help attract guests from both inside and outside the hotel.

While working on these expansive venues was great for So, in a hotel the size of the Marriott Kaohsiung – with dining rooms designed to seat over 300 guests, requiring their own back-of-house and front-of-house kitchens – they needed to plan out every square meter carefully and make it count.

One consideration in the very early stages was the positioning of M9’s open kitchen. Designed to draw people in, it needed to be carefully placed to help manage the flow of guests moving through the restaurant, ensuring diners wouldn’t end up clustered in certain areas.

The kitchen design also helped support the workflow. “For such a huge F&B area, we typically recommend implementing some production kitchen features to reduce the number of chefs needed at any one time,” So explains. “However, the local team have their own cooking culture which is very important to them. They preferred to stick with more traditional techniques requiring more chefs.” This again required careful space management.

Remote collaboration

Throughout the project, from the custom-made equipment in the show kitchens to the design that paired Marriott’s aesthetic with Kaohsiung’s culture, it was the details that were crucial to So. To help get them right, it was important for him to be on-site to have key conversations including the briefing, design discussions, and condition inspections face to face.

 However, Covid-19 changed everything. Impacted by restrictions across the region – like many people in his position – So became reliant on technology and his relationships with the team on the ground to make sure everything was moving according to plan. “We were not able to visit the site during the kitchen equipment installation or commissioning period,” he says. “I’d have video calls with the local contractors to walk me through the site, but of course, it couldn’t be as detailed.”

Not only was So unable to visit, but timelines also shifted as plans were reviewed to adapt to an uncertain situation. New budget constraints triggered by the pandemic made progress challenging. “It was a time when communication was difficult, but essential… Everybody had their own goals,” he says. “For the onsite project team, it was about completing the job on time, but for me, it was also about looking for quality, and I needed their local support.” To overcome the distance, So explains that they scheduled regular conversations with the contractor, the operator, and the owner to make sure that everybody was on the same page and could share any concerns.

Despite the changes, So is happy with the outcome of the project – especially when looking at the overall design. Reflecting on M9, he adds that, although he couldn’t be on site towards the end, thanks to support from the interior designer Arthur Luo and the other crew on the ground, the open kitchen design is almost exactly aligned with Angles + Curves’ original rendering.

Importantly, the efforts appear to be paying off, as Luo tells us: “When I visited in January, the general manager said that people come from across the city to line up for the weekend buffet.” They come for the full experience

Amy Snelling

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