Daniel Gutierrez is an ambitious young man who is new to Garza Blanca, with just three months on staff, but at the age of 28 he already has a long history of working in restaurants, hospitality, and food & beverage management, and a tale of hard work and international adventure behind him that landed him here in Puerto Vallarta.
Tell us about your background.
I was born in Veracruz, Mexico. I lived there until I was 15 years old, when I had the opportunity to move the to the United States to live with family in Inglewood, California, in the Los Angeles area. I learned English and started my restaurant career there.
When I moved to California I didn’t speak any English at all, but it was very important to me to go to a high school where classes were taught only in English because I knew that I would have more opportunities in my professional life if I learned to speak English well.
I started working part-time in a restaurant after school and on weekends. I started as a dishwasher at age 16, and eventually worked as a cook.
I graduated high school in 2007, went back to Veracruz, and went to university at Instituto de Estudios Universitarios (IEU). I graduated from a 4-year culinary program and became a professional chef. I worked in restaurants in Veracruz until age 24. My highest position was Sous Chef. Then I decided to move over to hospitality and management.
Why did you switch from being a chef in restaurants to hospitality?
I decided to move into management and front-of-house because I wanted to have the opportunity to engage with the customers face to face.
My first job at a hotel was at Royal Haciendas in Playa Del Carmen, where was a Restaurant Supervisor. My previous experience working as a cook and a chef was very helpful in this position, because I knew how the kitchen is supposed to run.
Where did you travel internationally?
After one year at Royal Haciendas, I got an offer to go to Indonesia. One of the chefs who was my teacher in university was working at a company in Indonesia that owned several restaurants and was opening a new Mexican restaurant.
So I went to Indonesia from September 2016 to September 2017 to help open the restaurant, train everyone on the staff including the waiters, and help with operations.
I had the pleasure to work with the Mexican Embassy in Indonesia as an Event Coordinator. I coordinated celebrations for Cinco De Mayo and also Mexican Independence Day (September 16th).
It was a great experience because I got to know a lot of people – the Mexican Ambassador, the Consulate, lots of people from Australia, England, Columbia.
One of the best gifts I got from Indonesia was that the Mexican ambassador in Indonesia gave me a personal recommendation. He wrote a letter about my work and said that I did a nice job. It was really a pleasure to receive this from him.
You recently got married?
Yes, my wife is from Ukraine and I met her while I was living in Playa Del Carmen. She was living there for work. After I was in Indonesia for about 6 months she came to visit, and we went to Bali for a trip. I proposed to her on Bali and she said yes! It was very romantic. However that put me in the position to choose between my fiancée and my career abroad, because she was still living and working in Playa Del Carmen and I had an invitation to go to Dubai with the same chef who brought me to Indonesia. I chose to come back to Mexico and get married. We got married in November of 2017 in Playa Del Carmen and I went to work for The Carmen Hotel.
How did you end up in Puerto Vallarta at Garza Blanca?
At The Carmen Hotel, I worked as the assistant food and beverage manager. My boss at the time eventually moved to Puerto Vallarta to work at Garza Blanca. After some time, he invited me to come work with him, and I accepted.
What attracted you to working at Garza Blanca?
I did some research about Garza Blanca and I found a lot of positive guest comments on social media. I saw Garza Blanca’s TripAdvisor page and I noticed that the managers respond immediately to guest comments on the page. I found that to be very interesting. That showed me that the managers really care about the company. Garza Blanca is a 4 Diamond resort, Hotel Mousai is a 5 Diamond resort; you can see right away it’s the top of luxury, top of service. Behind great service always comes a great staff. It’s a company that has a lot to offer and is constantly growing. I see the opportunity to grow with the company if I apply myself and cover the needs and expectations of my role.
How do you describe your role at Garza Blanca?
In short, my role is to make sure that our members and all of our guests go home satisfied about the experience they have in every restaurant. That includes the service, the food, the drinks, the experience, the engagement. And not just to give the experience of a 5 Diamond or 4 Diamond hotel but to really make them feel love here. That is what makes guests happy, and that is what makes guests decide to become members. That’s one of the top reasons why people come here, because of how the employees engage with the guests and make them feel at home.
How do you interact with members?
We know all of our guests have needs, especially our members. There is a procedure I always follow with all guests. For example when they arrive I don’t really try to engage with them. They’re tired, they need to check in and get settled. I want to wait until the next day to give them a call and ask them everything if everything is going fine. I ask about the flight, if they had any issues with arriving or check-in, if they have any food allergies or any other preference that I should know. I pass this information to my supervisors, and to all of the restaurants. The restaurants identify each guest when they come in for a meal, and the restaurant staff says for example, “Mr. Smith I know you have a food allergy, we’ve made sure to inform our staff so you don’t have to worry about accidentally eating the wrong thing while you’re here.” Guests and members feel a personal touch because we take the time to do this for them.
I also like to talk to the guests about how they feel about the restaurants. Do they like the ambience, the food, the drinks? It’s really important not just to listen to them, but to take action and say I’m going to do it. For example, a member bought a bottle of wine last week, and didn’t have a wine opener in the room, so I talked to room service and they gave a wine opener to this particular member for the week. We don’t usually have wine openers in the rooms, but we made this accomodation for this member.
If it’s in my hands to make it possible, we do it.
Most of all, I always get in touch with the guests and ask them about their experience in the restaurants.
Last week a member mentioned that we need more vegetarian options. I asked her if she had asked the waiter for vegetarian options, and she said she had not. I told her you can always ask the waiter for vegetarian options. For example, she wanted a green salad, and that was not on the menu. If we have the ingredients we’ll make it for you. No problem.
I think this is part of our culture as Mexicans. We are warm, happy, loud, expressive people, we have this character of being allegre, happy. We have a saying, “Treat the guest like you want to be treated when you go somewhere else.” This goes hand in hand with our culture.
What can members expect in the future?
The food and beverage team is putting a lot of effort into creating even more tasty food and a better ambience for our guests and members.
We are about to change the dinner menu at Blanca Blue in the upcoming weeks, and remodel the restaurant in November. I think it’s time to refresh Blanca Blue, the way the restaurant looks, and its menu. It’s been a year and a half since we changed the menu, and some of our members come to Garza Blanca three times per year. We don’t want to give them the same thing all the time, we want to continue to refresh and renew our restaurants and our menus, while still keeping the high quality our members expect.
We are also working on a new menu for Aqua Azul, which is the snack bar for both the panoramic pool and the beach pool.
In BocaDos we just launched a new menu with a Wellness section, which includes gluten free, vegetarian and vegan options for a healthier way to eat.
How is your department utilizing technology?
You always have to keep learning and adapting to what’s new in the market and what your competition is doing. Each server has a tablet that they use to take the order and send it right away to the bar & kitchen. This minimizes errors and expedites the entire service process.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
I’m really proud to be here. I think it’s a really important company to work in. My philosophy is, “work hard, don’t give up.” If you love what you do, you never think of this as a job. You’re happy to go work and it’s like a second home. Sometimes you spend 8, 10, 12 hours or more and you don’t even realize it’s a job, it’s just like home. It’s nice to be able to see your coworkers as your family, because you see them every day and spend so much time with them. Garza Blanca, the company really cares about its staff. They make us feel that we want to stay here, and it’s nice. Not all companies have this feeling. It’s really hard to find, to be honest. And this company culture comes all the way from the president, down to human resources, and to every department. It’s not just one part but it’s the whole system that operates with a lot of care for the staff, and that translates into a great experience for guests and members, as well.