Giving beachgoers a taste of Mediterranean living, Azure Beach is a shore-side retreat that’s more than just that. Here, Azure Beach Managing Partner James Burton tells Hotel & Catering News Middle East all about the urban hangout.
Tell us more about your background and career journey all the way to Azure.
I was lucky enough to have only worked for three hospitality companies in my professional career. I started at the age of 17 collecting glasses for a nightclub called Pangea in Marbella, Spain, and moved with them to the UK to open Pangea in London. I worked with them for five years where I finished up as bar manager. I then moved to Nikki Beach Marbella as a bartender when I was 22 and stayed there for a total of nine years.
Nikki Beach was the perfect playground for my career, where I had the opportunity to travel and grow through different positions and locations. It’s where I developed my passion for F&B, eventually finishing as general manager after consecutively opening the Nikki Beach Mallorca, Ibiza and Bali locations.
I then joined Sunset Hospitality in 2015 as managing director of one of their nightlife venues and eventually took on the role of managing partner to open Azure Beach and Ammos Greek Restaurant. With close to two decades experience in hospitality and five years in the UAE, I currently work as group operations manager for Sunset Hospitality, while also being the managing partner at these two properties.
How are you promoting Azure Beach as the ideal destination for weekenders and holidaymakers all year long?
Azure Beach is the city’s favourite beach-side hangout, whether you’re a UAE resident or only here on holiday. Apart from the exceptional service, venue layout, menu and experience that guests enjoy, it also has exciting offers throughout the week, and we believe that one of the most effective ways of showcasing our venue and offerings is through social media – the venue is definitely ‘Instagrammable’.
That said, we choose to proactively work with a lot of the city’s mainstream consumer media platforms and select local and international influencers – collectively, these have all had a positive effect for Azure.
Tell us about your F&B outlets, how are you maintaining success in such a competitive market?
Azure Beach concentrates on bringing the best to our clients and staying ahead of the curve, whether that’s in terms of high-quality food and beverages, reasonable pricing or pushing the boundaries with events and activations which are at the forefront of trends.
Vogue and Stamina evening R&B pool parties, for example, are two concepts that were very well received. We first launched the pool parties in 2018 in partnership with an events agency, and they’re now the biggest pool parties in Dubai.
What’s your plan of action for 2020?
We’re expanding and are opening two Azure Beach locations in 2020, bringing the UAE homegrown concept to international waters. Though we’ve only been operating for three years, we’ve had great success and would like to further that achievement into our upcoming properties by bringing the excellent Azure Beach standard and experience to new clientele in other destinations.
As for Azure Beach Dubai, we have an exciting line-up of events planned for 2020 that are sure to level-up everyone’s social calendars. They cover everything from evening pool parties to brunches, lunch deals, picnics, an open-air theatre, gastronomy events and so much more.
Reflecting on last year, how successful was it for you? What are some of Azure Beach’s achievements and what excites you at the moment?
We had some great milestones in 2018. It’s by no means an easy job to run a fully-functional beach club in Dubai, given the temperatures, workload and competition, but we’re happy that the Azure family have managed to secure top-ranking positions on leading social media sites.
For example, Azure Beach has topped Tripadvisor’s list of F&B outlets for over six months, garnering over 1,800 reviews so far. Apart from that, the beach attracts some of the most exciting international concerts and events that cater to up to 5000 guests.
We’re excited for the year ahead with an impressive line-up of events planned for the coming ‘beach and party’ season. Our strong partnership with Rixos allows us to aim high with the goal of Azure Beach being recognised as the best beach club in Dubai.
In terms of service, what factors set you apart and how would you define exceptional customer service?
Apart from constantly striving to ensure we’re serving the freshest and highest grade of produce to our guests, I believe it’s the personal connection between our staff and the guests that sets us apart. At Azure, we treat all staff as we do our managers – there’s mutual respect among everyone regardless of the position. We developed a personal relationship with them, embedding the family culture into the team, which they’ve now built the confidence to extend to our guests.
This is how we’ve gained plenty of regulars at Azure. It goes beyond getting their order right, but also more of building a genuine personal connection with them.
How often do you conduct trainings for staff and what are the key areas that you focus on?
We have set biweekly trainings, but the learning is constant. If and when any issues occur, its best to find out at an early stage and correct any challenges through hands on training and demonstration. It’s about personally showing staff members what’s wrong and more importantly explaining why it’s wrong, so they understand better.
Once you explain things in a personal manner and physically show your team members how it should be done, it’s rare for someone to do the opposite – their best learning is shared by demonstrating rather than dictating it.
How are you using social media to create brand awareness and to engage your online customers?
It’s one thing to know your brand imaging, or your DNA, and another to live it. At Azure Beach, we live and breathe the brand. From our operations through to our online presence, we maintain the same tone and feel.
What’s the most unusual request you’ve ever received at Azure Beach?
After working for so long in hospitality, I’d like to think that I’ve already heard the most unusual requests, even though sometimes that theory is put to the test. As long as it’s within our moral compass, we look forward to delivering and catering to the most eccentric ideas and requests we receive from our guests, in our own Azure Beach way.