Q & A: Catching Up With Marriott’s F&B Head Dana Pellicano

In the new BizBash Questionnaire, we get to know the vice president of food and beverage experience for Marriott International, Americas.

By Claire Hoffman August 20, 2018, 7:16 AM EDT

Photo: Courtesy of Dana Pellicano

Dana Pellicano is the vice president of food and beverage experience for Marriott International, Americas. She has more than 20 years of culinary experience, starting with her first job as a prep cook in a New Jersey pizzeria. Since then, she has served as general manager for several restaurants in New York and as a food and beverage director for both the Ritz-Carlton and Loews Hotels. She’s been with Marriott since 2012, and is an adjunct lecturer in the Preston Robert Tisch School for Hospitality at N.Y.U., where she teaches entrepreneurship in restaurants and bars. Pellicano lives in New York City.

What are you working on right now? We’ve begun actively planning for an operations conference in 2019, which will bring together rooms, food and beverage, and events leaders from our hotels across the Americas continent. It’s very exciting, but there is also an awesome responsibility that comes with hosting and planning these types of conferences. If we truly want our leaders to leave feeling inspired, we have to ensure that every moment and touchpoint is remarkable and inspirational. I’m the most excited to afford the leaders the opportunity to network, learn from senior leaders, and to just spend quality in-person time with our teams.

What entertainment is inspiring you lately? I am constantly consuming news and industry material, so when I see movies or watch TV it’s for total and complete relaxation and escapism. No show gives me greater joy than the Great British Baking Show—the original and early seasons that are now playing on public television. It’s thrilling without being cutthroat or needlessly dramatic. I also love Fixer Upper, which has made me less afraid of renovations and helped me think differently about how to use and transform spaces.

What's your favorite new product or piece of tech? I recently got an Apple Home Pod and it pulled me down the rabbit hole of smart technology and the Internet of Things, which is something that we’re seeing integrated into events and food and beverage more frequently. Two days after it arrived, I had an electrician over to upgrade all my lights to smart LED bulbs that I could control from the app, which joined my Lutron shades and smart lock on the front door. I definitely didn’t need any of this, but I love the ease of controlling things from my phone or by voice command, and it helps that I no longer worry about misplacing remotes.

“Social media has become an equalizer of sorts. It’s not only the most lavish—but also the most unique—experiences that have the biggest impact.”

What was the most memorable event you've attended—or worked on—lately? For the past two years, our regional teams in the Midwest and northeast have sponsored a “home-grown” culinary challenge called Masters of the Craft. It is an Iron Chef-style competition of sorts, where chefs face off for bragging rights within their region.

This year, we’ve expanded the competition to include beverage and made it continent-wide. So far, 2,200 associates have competed. Ultimately, the final two beverage and culinary “masters” will face off this fall, with one winner for each category crowned the winner by our chairman, Mr. Marriott. I was recently in Atlanta for the southeast regional competition and was blown away by the passion of these chefs and mixologists. The best part was witnessing the families who came to cheer for their loved ones as they battled it out. One young girl told me this was the coolest thing she’d ever seen her mom do, and how proud she was of her. I’ll definitely remember that for years to come.

What's the biggest thing affecting the hospitality industry right now? Hand-held technology and a growing cultural emphasis on innovation are driving an increased desire for instant gratification across all industries. This demand is certainly affecting the hospitality industry, and Marriott International has introduced a variety of offerings and platforms to meet the evolving needs of our clients and guests. The Meetings Services App makes it possible for properties to engage in instant chat with planners and field instant requests for things like coffee refills or temperature changes in meeting rooms. The app also allows clients easy access to processes like bill review on-the-go.

On an individual level, mobile dining has been integrated into the Marriott mobile app, so guests can use their devices to order hot, delicious food delivered to their guest or meeting room, or even poolside, within 25 minutes. This will be available in over 200 hotels in 2019.

How is your job different now from what it was five years ago? Social media has amplified the positive and negatives of hospitality incredibly, and none of us can afford to not have a certain amount of social-media proficiency. Today, a meal’s importance is directly measured by the amount of times it was liked or retweeted. In particular, there is extra pressure not just on our planners but on our clients to balance rooming lists and dietary preferences with creating hashtags and shareable, covetable experiences.

Conversely, and in a fascinating way, social media has become an equalizer of sorts. It’s not only the most lavish—but also the most unique—experiences that have the biggest impact.

What do you love about your job? I have the best job in the world. I get to travel the continent, helping properties craft food and beverage experiences that guests will line up for and that our teams are proud to create. Along the way, I taste the most amazing dishes, drink crazy delicious beverages, and visit the coolest places on earth. Even so, the thing that I love most about my job is the people I meet along the way. I truly believe that I work with the kindest, most genuinely hospitable people in the world, and they’re also the best and brightest at what they do. I’m consistently encountering people who motivate me to learn more and dream bigger.

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