Jean-Pierre Etcheberrigaray’s best advice


As the mastermind behind the first grappa bar in North America, at the InterContinental San Francisco; the cognac bar at the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta; and the Sushi- Teq bar, which pairs makis and tequila at the InterContinental Boston, Jean-Pierre Etcheberrigaray has earned a reputation for creating innovative food and beverage concepts in North America. Prior to joining IHG in 1989, Spain-born Etcheberrigaray served as food and beverage director for a number of upscale hotel brands across the globe, including Pan-Pacific Vancouver and Le Meridien. Today he oversees food and beverage operations and plays a crucial role in new hotel development and renovation projects for the InterContinental and Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts brands in the Americas.

While great advice comes my way almost daily through people from all walks of life, my father was the first person to teach me a valuable lesson, which was ‘learn to anticipate’. Having grown up in the Basque country, where survival was no easy feat, I learned to prepare for both the good and the bad times. Today, the hospitality industry demands this type of anticipation. In the course of my career, I’ve had formidable situations that arose from outside forces that were difficult to anticipate. So I’ve learned to always be on edge, on top of a situation, looking at how things may go wrong. What if the lights go off? What if the plane is late? If you expect something, you know what to do should it happen.

I learned another big lesson from a general manager I worked with years ago in the Middle East. One day during an oyster promotion, he asked me, “Are you satisfied? Was there a better, more creative way of doing the event?” The question stopped me in my tracks. There were certainly different ways to have organized it, but I wasn’t sure whether they were better ways because I hadn’t tried them. Now I know that if you want to be a cutting-edge leader in the industry, you must at least try to find a more unique way. Even if only to find that your way was indeed the best way.

Let’s say we’re developing a bar concept. We have a team of hundreds of people, including architects, engineers and designers. I always ask, “Is there another way to do the bar? Where does the sun rise and where does it set?” I challenge the status quo by asking questions that ensure the business will thrive. If there’s a particle of doubt, we must find a different path. Years ago, at one of our Boston hotels, there was a plain, rather non-descript vanilla bar, like any other hotel bar. So I hired a team of people, including a historian, to find another way of doing the bar. Our research showed that Boston had 68 rum distilleries and a long history of rum production. Clearly, rum was to be made the signature drink! Today RumBa at InterContinental Boston has become a city classic.

Being prepared and more unique has become part of my DNA. I have applied these great little wisdoms in many situations, on different continents, in various projects. By using this simple yet great recipe, I have found more innovative ways of doing business. I don’t plan for today. I plan for what awaits a couple of years down the line. I am always trying to look at that future, to anticipate and be creative. If you direct your brain that way and apply it to your area of expertise, things turn out more exciting, more fun and ultimately more successful. It’s something I like to call “possessing sexy-tude”. At least they turn out more fun, and in our industry we can’t do business unless it’s also fun.