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Meet Adam Crocini of Hilton Hotels

Senior Vice President and Global Head Food and Beverage Brands, Hilton

by Jeff Heilman
Adam Crocini Senior Vice President and Global Head Food and Beverage Brands, Hilton

The spirit of service and creating special moments for guests was completely absorbing—their happiness energized me.

Adam Crocini Senior Vice President and Global Head Food and Beverage Brands, Hilton

With a portfolio of 22 brands across all categories comprising more than 7,500 properties and more than 1.2 million rooms in 126 countries and territories, Hilton celebrates its 105th anniversary in 2024 as the world’s first global hospitality company.

Innovation has been a Hilton hallmark since day one, and more than ever, that includes food and beverage programming. Energized by cuisine and hospitality since childhood, Adam Crocini brings a lifetime of passion and world-class credentials to creating and evolving memorable culinary experiences for Hilton’s guests around the globe. Speaking with PASSPORT, Crocini dished about his early influences, key lessons learned from Wolfgang Puck, global travels, the power of a reimagined waffle, and the importance of telling the right story when designing or reinventing hotel restaurants and bars.

Where did your career story begin?
Born into a large Italian-American family that loved to entertain, I feel like I was raised in the kitchen. My parents and relatives were consummate hosts and I loved being part of the immersion of preparing the home, setting the table, and welcoming guests. Growing up in central Connecticut just outside of Hartford, we also regularly stayed at great hotels in New York City and elsewhere, where I fell deeper into the excitement of hospitality in action. Discovering passion early in life is a true gift.

Discovering passion early in life is a true gift
I was all in. At 16, I went to work for the Connecticut-based Max Restaurant Group, a culinary leader to this day. Starting out as a barback, I was part of the opening team for a 200-plus seat, James Beard-level Italian restaurant. The hours were long, from 3 P.M. to 2 A.M., but I could not wait to get back there each day after school. The spirit of service and creating special moments for guests was completely absorbing—their happiness energized me.

I hear destiny calling.
This was certainly the path I wanted to follow. With the goal of learning the restaurant business inside and out, I went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and earned my bachelor’s degree in professional studies, which covers all aspects of the hospitality and culinary business. My CIA education included an associate degree in culinary arts. While I did not intend to cook professionally, it was important to me to be able to speak to the art and technique of food as part of my front of house future.

Where did your professional journey begin?
My first job after graduating from the CIA in 2000 was at the Four Seasons Hotel New York. From food and beverage manager handling in-room dining, lobby bar, and restaurant operations, I was promoted to general manager of the hotel’s 57/57 Restaurant. After two years, I connected with Wolfgang Puck and spent the next 12 years in successive general manager roles with his organization. Major league moves right out of the gate.

Major league moves right out of the gate?
It was quite an adventure, starting with concept development, opening, and management roles in Las Vegas at Wolfgang’s former Postrio restaurant at the Venetian and the former Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at MGM Grand. From there, I embarked on a series of general manager roles at Wolfgang Puck restaurants in Hawaii, Washington, D.C., Singapore, and Los Angeles. In late 2013, I bid a sad farewell to Wolfgang when the Las Vegas Sands Corporation called me back to Singapore. Wolfgang and I are still friends (I dined with him in L.A. just the other night), but after 12 years it was time to spread my wings and take on new challenges.

Tells us about your experience at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.
I served as Executive Director of Food & Beverage for the entire property, which to this day is one of the highest grossing casino-resorts with one of the largest F&B portfolios under one roof in the world. After four-plus years there, I was recruited by Capella Hotel Group, a Singapore-based luxury hospitality operator. As Vice President of Operations for the entire company, I worked on world-class Capella properties in Bangkok, Sydney, The Maldives, and other locations. The role was a pleasure, and I had no intention of leaving—until Hilton called.

Time to come home?
Yes, to be back closer to my family and my wife’s family, along with the opportunity, which was huge. In November 2018, I joined Hilton’s Luxury & Lifestyle Group as global head, vice president, and chief strategist of food and beverage initiatives for Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel & Resorts, LXR Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, and Canopy by Hilton brands. I spent all of 2019 on the road visiting our properties, meeting with leadership, and working with the organization globally on plans to uplift our F&B experiences and offerings. Right when we had our strategy packaged ready to roll out, COVID-19 hit.

How did you and the organization manage through that setback and all associated challenges?
Like many hotel companies at the time, Hilton had tough decisions to make, including furloughing the bulk of the F&B brand team. Separate from that group, I retained my job. When the time came to bring people back and the business slowly rebounded, Hilton asked me to take on F&B responsibilities for all brands in addition to continuing to lead the Luxury & Lifestyle Group. At that time, Hilton had 18 global brands, ranging from Hampton by Hilton to Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts. After nine months in that role, I was promoted to my current position as Senior Vice President and Global Head, Food and Beverage Brands. With four recent additions including Tempo by Hilton in 2020 and our new long-stay concept LivSmart Studios by Hilton in 2024, we now have 22 brands in our global portfolio.

How do you approach such a diverse and distributed menu of F&B options?
Our F&B competitors are not other hotels, but independent restaurants and bars. Accordingly, we treat our F&B concepts like independent entities that look, feel, and act differently than the rest of the hotel experience and engage guests as their own distinct destinations. We also feel a responsibility to add value to the community in which we operate. Hotel and restaurant business can ebb and flow depending on seasonal factors such as school or summer holidays and peak business periods. By creating F&B venues, products, and experiences that celebrate the local community, we aim to generate the kind of excitement that attracts locals on a constant basis.

How do you approach the ever-important cycle of staying current and keeping the excitement alive?
I always embraced Wolfgang Puck’s sharp focus on making sure that he stayed competitive while being forward-thinking, challenging the norms and bringing something innovative and compelling to the market. For example, every decade since opening his flagship Spago restaurant on the Sunset Strip in 1982, he has invested millions of dollars in refreshing the interior design, artwork, style of cuisine, and OS&E (Operating Supplies and Equipment), while maintaining his core principles. So, when thinking about F&B programming for a hotel or when approaching a CapEx (capital expenditures) cycle, we intensively study a given market to learn about guest preferences and how to keep them engaged, where gaps might exist, and opportunities for innovation. The goal is to be a market leader and maintain that edge until the next cycle.

Can you share examples?
Partnering with celebrity chefs and restaurant groups is one way to evolve F&B programming. In 2023, Hilton partnered with the José Andrés Group to bring The Bazaar by José Andrés into the Waldorf Astoria Washington DC. Differing from José’s more casual concepts in D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood, The Bazaar is an elevated product that matches the sophisticated, high-end Waldorf Astoria brand. For our expanding contemporary Tempo by Hilton brand, our team created the “Spirited” and “Free-Spirited” cocktail program, which combines creative versions of classic cocktails with alcohol-free counterparts.

The basics always need fresh eyes to stay relevant too. In a consumer survey, Hilton found that complimentary breakfast is the number one amenity that guests look for when booking travel. Last year, we introduced a seasonal, limited-time program that reimagined a mainstay product, the Hampton by Hilton waffle. For Valentine’s Day, we went with a red velvet-flavored waffle, followed by a pumpkin spice version in the fall. Those changes had the strongest impact on Hampton’s social media presence in the brand’s history and exemplify the approach of staying mindful of what our guests love and look for, while thinking of new ways to keep them engaged.

What achievements are you especially proud of at Hilton?
In January 2024, we launched StiR Creative Collective as Hilton’s in-house F&B consulting and development arm. I am immensely proud of this initiative. Three years in the making and spanning strategy, concepting, and branding, StiR encompasses market research, visual identity creation, menu and recipe development, pre-opening and repositioning support, marketing and PR guidance, and other services to better serve our franchisees and our ownership community at large.

I am especially excited about StiR’s F&B programming for our Conrad Orlando property, where a team of best-in-class interior designers, architects, and other professionals have created five customized restaurant and bar concepts. These include Sophia’s Trattoria, focused on light, fresh Southern Italian coastal cuisine, and Ceiba, a rooftop restaurant serving elevated, five-star Mexican regional dishes and one of the largest tequila selections in Central Florida. Speaking of mixology, the team includes two of the world’s 50 Best Bartenders. Giancarlo Mancino of Mancino Vermouth created the Spritz Bar at Mediterranean Riviera-inspired Apéro. For the Papaya Club beach bar, Polynesian Tiki cocktail culture expert Paul McGee summoned the spirit of Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber days. Guests can also enjoy house-made sandwiches, salads, gelato, and other grab-and-go bites at the beautifully designed Little Spoon retail outlet.

Exciting is the operative word. What is next?
Hilton continues to expand worldwide in 2024 and beyond. Waldorf Astoria debuted in Seychelles this January with Waldorf Astoria Seychelles Platte Island. London’s iconic Admiralty Arch, located at the opposite end of the Mall from Buckingham Palace, is set to open in 2025 as The Waldorf Astoria London Admiralty Arch. Waldorf Astoria is also coming to Australia next year with the Waldorf Astoria Sydney, followed by the brand’s debut in Japan in 2026 with properties in Tokyo and Osaka.

On the lifestyle side, we are growing Tempo by Hilton with 2024 openings in Nashville, Louisville, Raleigh, and San Diego. Good things are happening across other Hilton brands, and we are excited to continue to bring fresh perspectives to hotel F&B and show people that Hilton is a hotel business that also provides exceptional restaurant and bar experiences.

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