The man who defined luxury and set the gold standards for Indian hotels

New Delhi: Rattan Keswani still remembers this embarrassing episode from his long association with the doyen of Indian hospitality, Prithvi Raj Singh ‘Biki’ Oberoi. It is worth recounting, for it tells a lot about the man who defined luxury — not just The Oberoi Group.

One evening, Oberoi summoned the Delhi hotel’s executive chef to tell him that the smoked salmon he had just served was not right because the onion rings on top were wrong. The chef, being a proud man, said that he had served the salmon just the way the Bible of cookery, ‘Larousse Gastronomique’, had said it should be.

“No, it does not say so. Get me the ‘Larousse’,” Oberoi shot back. The venerable book was produced and, yes, the ‘Grand Old Hotelier’ was right.

The problem, it turned out, was that the French used white onion rings that were not pungent, and therefore sat well on salmon, unlike Indian onions, which overpowered the original taste! Oberoi ended the discussion with his customary expression of displeasure: “What can I say to that?”

Seasoned hoteliers and old Oberoi hands such as Keswani (he’s also the author of the book ‘Check In Never Check Out’) can recount such incidents by the dozen from Biki Oberoi’s life. Oberoi passed away on Tuesday, November 14, at the age of 94.

For a man who spent the first five decades of his life literally living the good life, hobnobbing with Monaco’s royalty one evening, having a blast with European nobility at Cannes on the next, Oberoi proved to be not only a fast learner, but also immensely capable of topping up the legacy of his illustrious father, Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi, founder of the hotels that bear his name.

Stories about him can fill up a book — from his love for red lipstick, which is why every woman employed in front desk and guest relations positions in The Oberoi Group has to wear it, to his knowledge of such operational details as where to source low-cholesterol eggs for breakfast or the storage capacity of underground water tanks in his hotels.

It was his eye for details that made The Oberoi Group synonymous with luxury. Biki Oberoi kept reminding his senior executives, “Hospitality is all about common sense, which is so hard to find.”

And luxury, according to him, was not about in-your-face grandeur, but unique experiences and seamless service. Seasoned Oberoi hands still remember how he remembered every detail of every process, from room service standards to F&B margins, as Keswani puts it, “down to the bone”.

Biki Oberoi expected each of his senior executives to have his grasp over the details of the zillions of processes that keep hotels working 24×7.

People in the hospitality industry remember Oberoi, who formally took over the reins of the company from his father in 2002, for having lifted up the group from what insiders used to describe as the “InterContinental-Sheraton” style of hoteliering — very businesslike and American — to a new level of Asian luxury.

He achieved this by turning around The Oberoi InterContinental (opened in 1965); by opening The Oberoi Mumbai in 1986, literally across the road from the jaded Oberoi Sheraton (the present Trident Nariman Point), which had been operating since 1974; by restoring The Oberoi Grand Kolkata to is former glory; and by rolling out the Vilas hotels, starting with Jaipur, to set new benchmarks for Indian luxury.

And it could only have been a hotelier as finicky as Biki Oberoi to shut down his flagship property, The Oberoi New Delhi, for two years so that it could be rebuilt and ooze a more contemporary luxury.

Jay Rathore, who oversaw the turnaround, still remembers with amazement his employer’s phenomenal memory for details, including the exact locations of the hotel’s original load-bearing beams.

Oberoi’s message was as clear as daylight: Do not follow your competion; instead, define the competition.

He had made this point once to Keswani, who was recounting to him once how he, as a mere rooms division manager, had overheard him berating senior managers for the way food preparations had been garnished during a promotion at Harrods London.

Oberoi explained to Keswani that 90 per cent of The Oberoi’s guests were foreigners and it would be foolhardy for chefs to garnish Indian preparations with uncooked ingredients, from shavings of paneer to diced onions and coriander leaves, no matter how good they looked. Chances of foreign guests getting stomach bugs from uncooked garnishes were greater, therefore they were best avoided, no matter what the competition did.

No hotelier today can claim to have this kind of depth of knowledge about their business, but then, PRS ‘Biki’ Oberoi was in a league of his own. His passing truly marks the end of an era not only for luxury hotels, but also for Corporate India.


Fali S Nariman: Politicians, legal fraternity mourn passing of an era

New Delhi/Hyderabad: Condolences poured in from the political and legal fraternity after the death of former Additional Solicitor General of India and senior advocate of the Supreme Court, Fali S...

Eminent Jurist Fali Nariman passes away

New Delhi: Eminent constitutional jurist and senior advocate Fali S. Nariman passed away here on Wednesday. He was 95. Nariman argued several landmark cases, including the famous NJAC verdict. He...

Ameen Sayani, the voice of radio’s golden era, passes away at age 91

Mumbai: Ameen Sayani, the iconic radio personality, passed away at the age of 91 due to cardiac failure. He suffered a heart attack on Tuesday evening after which he rushed...

‘20-year-delay’: Narasimha Rao’s brother blasts Congress, thanks PM Modi for Bharat Ratna

New Delhi: P.V. Manohar Rao, the brother of former Prime Minister late Narasimha Rao, who was conferred with the Bharat Ratna award on Friday, said the coveted award should have...

Chaudhary Charan Singh, Narasimha Rao, Swaminathan conferred with Bharat Ratna

New Delhi: Former Prime Ministers Chaudhary Charan Singh and P.V. Narasimha Rao, and legendary agricultural scientist Dr M.S. Swaminathan will be honoured with the Bharat Ratna, announced Prime Minister Narendra...

Renowned Kashmiri poet, broadcaster Farooq Nazki passes away

Srinagar: Renowned Kashmiri poet and broadcaster, Farooq Nazki, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 83. Nazki started his career as a broadcaster and writer for Radio Kashmir and...

Mukesh Ambani ranked No. 1 Indian & No. 2 globally in Brand Guardianship Index 2024

New Delhi: Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries Limited, was ranked 1st among all Indians and 2nd globally in the Brand Guardianship Index 2024 compiled by Brand...

Zuckerberg fifth richest person in the world following surge in Meta share price

New York: Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg is now the fifth richest person in the world following a surge in Meta’s share price that has seen his net worth increase...

LK Advani to be conferred Bharat Ratna, announces PM Modi

New Delhi: Former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani will be conferred the Bharat Ratna, announced Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday. A BJP stalwart, Advani is also the founding...

Bernard Arnault returns as world’s richest man as Musk loses $18 bn

San Francisco: Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of global luxury goods company LVMH, has returned as world’s richest man as Elon Musk lost more than $18 billion in his net...

TN govt honors Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair with communal harmony award

Chennai: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin on Friday handed over the Kottai Ameer Communal harmony award 2024 to Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair during the Republic Day celebrations. Zubair...

Padma Shri to Dr Chandrashekar: ‘People’s Psychiatrist’ who adopted villages, went to doorsteps to treat patients

Bengaluru: Dr. Chandrashekar Channapatna Rajannachar is a well-known psychiatrist and philanthropist in Karnataka. He is fondly called a "People's Psychiatrist". His yeoman services have earned him the prestigious Padma Shri...

Read Previous

We have failed children of Palestine: Priyanka Gandhi on Children’s Day

Read Next

179 buried in mass grave in Al-Shifa Hospital: Director

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By :