Director of Catering and Conference Services
Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 2017
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Current
- Renaissance Dallas; The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead and The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta; The Ritz-Carlton, Washington, DC; The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis; St. Louis Airport Marriott; Boston Marriott Burlington; Renaissance Bedford Hotel, Massachusetts
- Brookfield, Wisconsin, USA
- AAS in Culinary Arts, Johnson & Wales University, Norfolk, Virginia
“This was really about coming home for me,” says Kristen Swidrak of her return to St. Louis, adding, “and what better place to land than the sexiest hotel in the city.” As Director of Catering & Conference Services for Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis, Swidrak plays a dual role of driving Hotel revenues by signing clients for meetings, gatherings and gala events, and then seeing that all the pieces are in place to ensure those clients have the best experience possible.
Vendor relationships are crucial to Swidrak’s job. “That’s a big part of why I was hired,” she says, noting her passion for maintaining relationships – with florists, stationers, entertainers, wedding planners, photographers, you name it – that she had previously made while working at another city hotel. Social media is also a key tool for her success, particularly image-sharing sites such as Pinterest and Instagram. “Our engaged couples are all online looking for the perfect décor and food and beverage presentations, and we have to know what’s trending so we can deliver on their expectations.”
Then there are the internal relationships she nurtures within her own and other departments. Swidrak’s team includes three catering sales managers, a conference services manager and a coordinator, but there is a wealth of talent to tap throughout the Hotel beyond. “Whatever the client’s expectations, I know our staff can make it happen.”
Swidrak is quite keen on the city and Four Seasons place within it. One of the best things about St. Louis is its consistency, she says: “This has always been a good place for families, and the social and philanthropic communities are quite active. But now there is a much more vibrant scene downtown, and the city is doing a lot to attract young professionals.” Meanwhile, Four Seasons brought a unique concept to the local hotel scene, she says. “This was a new build, which doesn’t happen as much anymore - more like an urban resort with a world-class restaurant and spa. The Hotel really changed the scope of downtown, and that’s where all the energy is these days.”
Swidrak started off studying English and journalism at the University of Missouri but wasn’t really excited about either. “Instead of studying, I devoted time to watching cooking shows on PBS, which was the only network that had them back then.” Thinking things through, she acted on her interest and enrolled in Johnson and Wales University to pursue a culinary degree. Her parents thought she was crazy. “But they were still supportive!”
The program required an externship, and Swidrak landed as banquet prep cook for USD 8.50 an hour at a hotel near Boston. “And that led to everything else,” she says, adding promisingly, “Hospitality is one of the few careers left where, regardless of what degree you may or may not have, you can start at the bottom and work your way up in a few years.” Or less: not long after she started, the hotel’s catering coordinator quit and the catering director asked Swidrak if she’d like to assist with chatting up guests at an event. “I thought it would be fun to get out of my uniform and put on a suit, so I said yes. Afterwards, they offered me the coordinator position. I’ve been in sales ever since.”
Lesson? “It’s fine to have a five-year plan when you’re coming up and curating your career. But you have to be open to opportunities as they come to you.”
The conference services aspect of her current job, which includes detailing and securing services for groups onsite, is the latest open opportunity for Swidrak, who worked at seven hotels, including luxury properties in Dallas, Atlanta and Washington, DC, before joining Four Seasons in early 2017. “Servicing my own events is a whole new piece of the hotel puzzle for me,” she says.
Swidrak still has a thing for culinary – “everything but baking; that’s too exact” – and enjoys nothing more than checking out new restaurants and throwing “mean dinner parties” at her home for family and friends. Meanwhile, she had no trouble quickly finding her favourite spot in the hotel. “We all work hard and a lot of hours and we have to make sure to carve out some quality time for ourselves,” she says. “I will never have a problem going to The Spa to relax.”