Emma Banks

First Lady of Hospitality in the Middle East

As a progressive visionary and an inclusive thought-leader, Emma Banks is by far the most successful female leader, in an industry that has traditionally been dominated by men, hence her befitting title First Lady of the Hospitality Industry in the Middle East Region. With over two decades in the F&B sector and to have accumulated a wealth of experience, serving in several pivotal roles throughout her career, Emma has not only carved a niche for herself but has also paved ways for all the upcoming, and ambitious female professionals in the industry.

Early Days...

She was born in South East Asia, and after spending her early childhood there, she lived most of her adolescent life in a sleepy seaside town in North Wales along with her parents, where she also picked up her very first summer job as a waitress at the tender age of 11 in a typical British seaside café. 

Emma is someone who is self-made and began to taste the results of her hard work at a very young age, which also led her to understand the true value of passion and dedication at work. Later when she moved to Leeds University in Yorkshire for higher studies, she held down three jobs, to help support her bills and education. She enjoyed working at the restaurant cocktail bar called Plunketts, a Café and also a snoozy working Railway Man’s pub and it was here that she realized that she was good at what she did and could earn very good money and tips, and also have fun. 

“I also remember crying one night at work as a waitress, when my floats did not balance well and all my tips were taken away, to help me learn to fix the same! Times have definitely changed since then, but, it still is a challenging job, however, if hospitality is in your blood and you love it, then all the hard work is well worth it!”, says Emma. 

After graduating from university, she got an opportunity to work in the telecommunication services sector, at a large call center servicing a graduate management program. It was during her time here, that Emma realized that being in an office and speaking to customers over the phone was not something that excited her and so she followed her passion to secure her next job with one of the biggest pub and leisure companies in the UK called Allied Domecq, as an area manager running local pubs in the North of England. Here she loved every bit of what she did, learning every trick in the book and the rest as we say is history.

Connection with Culinary...

Emma was not really from a food-focused family, nevertheless, they enjoyed sitting around the table and eating good meals together. Being born and raised in Malaysia, she was fond of Asian Food and grew up loving spices, street food, and hawkers. During her childhood days, a real treat used to be the “Satay Man” coming to the house and cooking on a sawn in a half oil drum to produce the most delicious of Satays. Even though she did not come from a culinary background, Emma always appreciated good food and enjoyed eating out, often.

Career Highlights

Emma believes that coming to the Middle East was a real watershed moment in her career that in time led her to secure prestigious positions including as the Managing Director of Jumeirah Restaurant Group (now Sarood Hospitality), where she formed a great portfolio of successful restaurants and bars together with the team there. 

She has also received a variety of industry awards and doing the double in 2018, winning GCC Hospitality Leader of the Year and as well as the F&B Leaders Heavyweight, which she believes helped her move up the ladder and join Hilton. Later on, in 2019 Emma was featured among the 2019 Women to Watch in Hospitality, which then was followed by the most coveted title, as #1 in The Caterer Middle East’s Power 50 2020 list.

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Featured image was taken prior to COVID

Thoughts on Industry Trends & Evolution

According to Emma, guests today are always looking for an authentic experience in a great atmosphere and also a vibe that they can share on their social media. Experiences are indeed the New Luxury and the guests today are increasingly looking for upscale “Fun Dining” as opposed to the usual “Fine Dining'.

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Featured image was taken prior to COVID

People are also ordering out so much more, breakfasts have exploded and a lot of restaurants now offer it all day and the immense need for here and now have driven the rapid evolution of serious food delivery and the rise of the third party, dark kitchens. Healthy and socially conscious eating is also on the rise with more plant-based options. Supporting local, knowing the source and ethical attributes of the food are fast becoming more important as well, for the diners.

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Featured image were taken prior to COVID

“I am responsible for Hilton’s restaurants and bars across EMEA; apart from overseeing the top of the line operations in the UK and Europe where the cuisine and culinary scene is highly developed; GCC is fast becoming a highly discerning market, having gone through the phases of developing QSR brands, five-star hotel licensed/ unlicensed restaurants, big mall F&B casual dining, and lately the exciting development of several homegrown concepts”, says Emma.

The Covid -19 Effect

“Until 2020 and the dramatic impact of COVID-19 we were in the golden age of travel. We know that the world is craving to travel right now and that the demand for travel and hospitality will soon return and that the F&B will form a big part of this adventure for the customer". 

Globally, Hilton implemented several programs to respond to the challenges of COVID-19 to help guests enjoy an even cleaner and safer experience. In April, Hilton CleanStay was announced that delivered an industry-defining standard of cleanliness and disinfection in properties around the world. In line with Hilton CleanStay, F&B outlets have seating arranged to accommodate social distancing, as well as QR code menus, along with Room Service delivered through contactless delivery. 

F&B definitely plays an important role in Events and to responsibly host meetings and events. Hilton Team Members actively partner with clients to effectively achieve the meeting’s objectives while addressing both the health and environmental concerns by offering biodegradable, disposable dishware and flatware upon request. Further, the Grab & Go, pre-plated and individually portioned options are being offered as alternatives to open breakfast and buffet service.

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“In July, when we introduced Hilton EventReady with CleanStay – a global, industry-leading cleanliness and customer service program specific to meetings and events. I was the EMEA F&B lead for this project; playing an integral role in putting together temporary F&B brand standards and guidelines. Within these, I was absolutely adamant that the entire disposable cutlery we had to offer was biodegradable, to help ensure that the new measures were as environmentally friendly as possible, this then led to the creation of suitable F&B materials that are now being used by our hotels all over”.

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Current Role

Based at Hilton’s MEA Regional Office in Dubai, Emma Banks is responsible for F&B strategy and development across EMEA, supporting Hilton’s trading and future pipeline of hotels. 

“I am so proud to lead an EMEA F&B team for a leading global hospitality company. When COVID restrictions allow, I can’t wait to visit the 68 countries in EMEA that we have hotels in and meet our many talented F&B teams and enjoy the local cuisine and culture. I am honoured to be considered a thought leader in the F&B space in the GCC and proud to have spearheaded the campaign to eradicate single-use plastic from the F&B business in the region.” says Emma. 

A Piece of Wisdom 

"If you work in the field of hospitality you have the opportunity to do a job you love and are passionate about, but you have to seriously love it, for it is demanding. In return, you have the opportunity to travel and work all over the globe and be in a team with energetic and just as passionate individuals who also love hospitality. You also get to work within a diverse team and meet lots of guests from all over the world. One day is never the same as the next and variety is the spice of life in hospitality.” – Emma Banks.
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