Talking tableside: James Werner of Hotel Arts

A peek into the job of director of food and beverage at one of Calgary's top hotel groups

James Werner, Director of Food and Beverage at Hotel Arts
James Werner, Director of Food and Beverage at Hotel Arts

Managing a restaurant is hard enough. Now, imagine the job of managing multiple restaurants, hotel in-room service and the catering department? That's all in a day's work for James Werner.

Hailing from Edmonton, with restaurant stints from the Kananaskis to Ontario and back, James Werner has established the roots he needs to direct all of the branches of Hotel Arts’ food and beverage department. With three restaurants (Yellow Door Bistro, Raw Bar, and Oxbow at the Kensington Riverside Inn), in-room dining, a bustling banquet department, and an offsite catering division (that can host a 1,400 person event) under his command, he relies on his meticulously built team to offer world class food and service.

What does the job of director of food and beverage at one of the hottest hotels in Calgary entail?

Every week is different, depending on the events and catering. I’m more of a leader from above: spending equal time with my departments, ensuring that they’re on point with their goals and budgets, and being available to support my team. There’s a real ebb and flow, all-hands-on-deck vibe to the job, which means there isn’t a lot of downtime.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

We’re in an ultra-competitive market in a tough economy. We want to do more and think outside of the box, but the downturn in the economy, while the cost of goods is skyrocketing, is challenging. Not to mention, the increase in minimum wage forces us to reconsider our business model. We need to get creative to take care of our business and our people.

What did you take away from your previous management experiences that has led to your success at the Hotel Arts group?

I’ve had the opportunity to work in fine dining, family dining, pubs, even nightclubs. It taught me to be adaptable to any business you’re in. If you build a good vision of service and trust the teams you’ve built to execute it, then you’re set up for success.

What’s the best review a guest could leave?

When Yellow Door Bistro opened, we received a review that they hadn’t had service or experience like that since the 80s. Most people would take that as a negative, dating us, but those were foundational years. We’re in the business of hospitality, without arrogance, and getting down to the basics, so that review meant a lot to me.

Would you say AirBnb/VRBO is a threat to the hotel industry?

It’s a double-edged sword. We’re all a little bit different, we have our own distinct brand and style of accommodation, so it’s not exactly competition. It’s positive to see the food and beverage economy growing in new ways. It adds to what we have to offer as a community and helps Calgary compete as a tourist destination on a national level.

Do you find yourself critiquing hotels when you travel?

Ha, you can’t not! You’re looking at everything: the rooms, the environment, their menus, etc. It’s not just judgement, it’s sort of like market research, staying current and seeing what your peers are doing.

What’s the most outstanding experience you’ve had a hotel?

My favourite hotel is the Rimrock in Banff and their wonderful restaurant, Eden.

I went there when I was just beginning my food and beverage career and they really pulled out all the stops. Everything was immaculate, not a piece of trash, not a smudge. Everything was perfect and pristine with flawless execution. They showed me what service could be.

Do you have a go-to wine that you love these days?

Whispering Angel rosé for summer; it’s the most outstanding rosé. I ensure it’s a glass pour option in all three restaurants because it’s the best.

What’s your favourite neighborhood in Calgary?

I lived in Bowness for nine years and loved that community for that small-town feel. But we’ve moved to Copperstone, and now I love it. It has everything we need for our young, growing family.

Do you have a guilty culinary pleasure?

Foie Gras. I cook it for my wife’s birthday every year; it’s our favourite. It’s rich and delicious and bad for you. If we’re talking cheap eats though, pizza all the way.

What’s your idea of the perfect date here in Calgary?

We’re perfectly happy to go for a nice easy dinner in peace and quiet. It’s not glorious or adventurous, but we like to just reconnect.



Bourbon or gin? Bourbon

Waffles or bagel? Bagel

Hockey or football? Hockey!

Get up early or stay up late? Stay up late.