Interview with Xander Hasaart
We had the opportunity to Xander Hasaart, owner of Par Hasard and asked him all about his Hotelschool The Hague experience and what he is up to nowadays. Is he still in contact with his old classmates? And does he still work in the hospitality industry? Keep reading to find out.
What is your name? How old are you? When did you graduate?
My name is Xander Hasaart and I’m 33 years old. I graduated in 2009. I did my internship in Hershey, Pennsylvania and started working in America right after my internship.
What is your favourite memory from your time at Hotelschool The Hague?
It has to be during Training Management Skills (TMS). We were practicing how to give feedback through a roll play, that was filmed. It was the first time I saw myself on camera and I couldn’t recognise myself. So now I give all my colleagues an hour or two per year on camera with a trainer, to practice. It’s nice to have learned that myself and be able to give them that experience as well.
Who was your most inspiring lecturer when you went to school?
Anne Smulders, who was our lecturer for TMS. She was nice and I learned a lot from her.
Could you tell us a little about your career after HTH and what brought you to your current position as a restaurant owner?
After graduating, I went to America where I stayed for a year. During my time there, I was an Assistant Restaurant Manager on a golf course in the beautiful Hershey Hotel. America is all about service, which I really like. During my time there, I really learned a lot about service. For example, the waiters there, are very good in driving revenue. For a waiter, it is important to find a balance; when to upsell and when not. You really need to learn to read the situation very carefully to avoid guests being annoyed by you, trying to upsell everything I learned to be very service oriented and I learned that it’s a good incentive for the waiting staff, to increase revenue with this drive. After my experience in America, I went to Cape Town, where I was hired as a Duty Manager. After spending five months in Cape Town, there was a strange but fortunate turn in my career; I became a GM at the age of 25. I think I got that position because he was a Dutch owner and he liked the way I operated. Cape Town also did not have that many professionals at that time, and I already brought my experience from my time in the United States. I stayed there for two years and managed the hotel based on all the guest reviews. Weekly, we decided how to solve each issue. We had a large team with 120 people and it was a nice group. I was very young, so it was hard. It took me two to three months to turn the staff around. It was simple, really. I was there every day at 6.30 to help the breakfast crew in setting up, and they all liked me. I did the same with all the crew in the beginning; the afternoon and evening crew too. I just helped them. This is the best way to get the team on board. You have to help people first, then slowly make changes; the impact becomes much bigger. If you start bossing them around one day one, they will be more resistant. When I came back, I worked in Van Der Valk in Vaals for a year. In the end I left, because I wanted to open my restaurant.
How did you decide to go into the restaurant business?
In June 2014, I opened my restaurant. It was very hard to find a location because I wanted to sell liquor, which is not allowed in a frieterie. Therefore, I needed to change my business plan, including two locations so that I could combine my ideas. I opened my first restaurant five years ago and today, I own seven restaurants. I added two pop-up restaurants as well, which are no longer open. Six years ago, I looked at it in two ways. I saw many restaurants open and close. It is a difficult business with small margins, high competition and staff issues. Therefore, I figured that I must start a restaurant with a high margin product. I come from Maastricht. It is common there that when you go to the frieterie, that you drink wine, listen to nice music, eat a steak and mussels and have a nice time. I noticed that in Amsterdam there was no concept like that... That is when I started to write a business plan; to provide proper service and a full experience in a snack bar. However, it turned in to a 240 square metres restaurant. After a year, when you open a restaurant and you have a good concept in Amsterdam, PR comes naturally.
During the first years, it was very busy. Actually, it was always busy, but after a year, the sun came and the restaurant was empty. I did not have a terrace. I had many staff members on the pay roll, and an empty restaurant. I had very high loans on the restaurant. Then an opportunity presented itself in Scheveningen. I had no money, but I still signed the lease, and I built the place in two months. And from that time, I minimised my risk by 200%. That was the turning point; my business became successful. Now I can transfer people between my places when necessary. It was a good decision. Now I pay much more attention to the weather.
At some point, I knew I wanted to move from my position as GM in a hotel, to the restaurant industry, as I could not make my own decisions in the hotel. The owner makes the decisions and you do wat you are told. They decided the strategy and policy and I disliked that. I wanted to be my own decision maker. I am very impulsive, and I very much rely on my gut feeling. However, you cannot convince anyone with your gut feeling only. Therefore, I wanted to started my own business.
By using the concept of standardisation, I went from having two, to having seven restaurants. There is a thick book with rules, guidelines, recipes and lay-out. Everyone needs to follow these standards. Every month, all employees have a training, and of course they – managers, waiters and chefs - have their own incentives; monetary or other things. Last year we went to Cape Town with the 55 employees. We stayed at the hotel I used to work in. It was very nice.
What where your struggles in your career?
It was a challenge to look for a business model that works, when you are not there as an owner. If you are physically present as an owner, you can really make the restaurant nice, cosy and profitable. When you are not there, you must teach people how you want it. However, they don’t always do it the way you want it to. Nowadays, I found my way to explain people how I would like to present my restaurants. However, this was difficult before.
What is your biggest achievement in your career so far?
The standardisation of my business. Because it is so not me. I really struggled in doing that. It was horrible and I hate it, but I know that was the only way to do it and to start upscaling my business.
What goals do you have for the short- and long-term future?
I hope to open two to four new restaurants a year. Two in the spring and two in the winter. But I only do it, when it feels right and if I can find the right franchisees or owners. It all starts with the right people; then the location follows. I have restaurants in a few different places, and we will see where the next ones will be. But it must be within a 50 km radius from Amsterdam. The factory is near and it’s not profitable if the location is too far from here.
What advice would you give current students to prepare themselves for a career in hospitality?
I think students should train and focus more on how to become an entrepreneur, rather than becoming a manager. We as Hotellos are so much more fun! I feel that you, as students, should attend all classes, where entrepreneurs explain you more about this profession. When I left school, I had the feeling I did not know how to run a business. I think that is a bit strange. Maybe I did not pay enough attention, but I think we should focus more on entrepreneurship in general. There are many good opportunities after graduating from Hotelschool The Hague and you will see how much the world is changing in the future. But maybe I am also biased since I am an entrepreneur; if you have it in you, you should follow your passion and just do it.