Are You Getting Fresh? Hotel Restaurants Aren't Just For Breakfast Anymore

By Andrew Freeman President, Andrew Freeman & Company | October 28, 2008

Reality Bites. Let's face it, most hotel restaurants aren't typically destination hot spots and in fact, many are still decorated as "garden terraces" and have the sort of vibe that is most attractive to the drowsy breakfast crowd. Yet, hotel operators know they have a real opportunity to create restaurants with destination caliber cuisine that are both social centers and culinary experiences. These operators are bringing in experienced restaurateurs, consulting/rising star chefs, mixologists, as well as public relations and branding experts to help them develop clearly defined (and appealing) concepts, create enticing menus and identify innovative ways to build the buzz, covers and revenue. By making their hotel restaurants sexy, fun and delicious, these smart operators are creating hot spots that entice both locals and hotel guests alike. Though many hotel restaurants are still behind the times, the good news is more and more hotel companies are seeing the light by finding restaurant people to run their restaurants and investing in the spaces that were once just built for the convenience of their hotel guests.

As this trend grows we can say goodbye to the lonely hotel bar and the rubbery egg breakfast buffet and hello to popular spots that can very hard to get into. Hotel guests and locals are intrigued by the modern day hotel restaurants that take their inspiration from the classic hotels of the '20s and '30s, a time when these venues were bustling and romantic meeting spots. This can be clearly demonstrated by the popularity of the lobby living rooms at the W hotels and the exciting "lobby re-invented" concept that the JW Marriott group has introduced. At Andrew Freeman & Co., we are thrilled to be working on a new concept called LEVEL 3 for the JW San Francisco. When it opens in May, it will be a destination that is a true blend of lobby-meets-bar-meets-restaurant - with energy and appeal for every type of guest.

Today, discerning guests seek the convenience and the perks of staying in a hotel that has a happening restaurant bustling with people, innovative food and drink along and a great calendar of events. Many guests are making their hotel choices based on the restaurant options and they enjoy inviting local friends to visit and dine with them at these hot spots where by simply being a hotel guest they are privy to VIP treatment.

Make a Commitment and Stick to It

Hotel restaurants are natural revenue centers when they are done right. Of course, there is a built in guest market but you have to work harder and smarter to get the locals engaged. Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants is a prime example and one of the most successful innovators of this concept. They were the first boutique hotel company to create hotel restaurants as if they were free-standing venues with their own operating team and budget. Their business model is, and always has been, to design the very best restaurants possible to attract and appeal to the locals first without forgetting to attend to the needs of the hotel guests. For example, Scala's Bistro in San Francisco is located at the base of the historic Sir Francis Drake Hotel, and is a favorite destination for locals of all stripes and colors to gather for lunch and dinner. They sit at the bar for cocktails and quick bites and generally are pretty unaware that they are in a hotel dining room. It's not unusual to see a crowd of folks waiting for tables - and the seasoned staff knows how to create an environment where hotel guests feel extra special because this hot spot is in their hotel. The place is packed, the reviews are great and the revenue is strong. Across the nation, the trend is taking off and everywhere you look, hotel restaurants are making their marks. Las Vegas is still very hot when it comes to these destination caliber hotel restaurants. The list of celebrity chefs who have migrated there is a who's who of the culinary royalty.

If you can feel the excitement mounting and want to get in the game, here are my tips and ideas on design, menu development, marketing and vibe management - all geared toward creating the most popular restaurants for your hotels. Don't be frightened - it's time to step it up and turn each of your dining venues into true destinations.

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Mobile Technology: The Future is Now

Mobile Technology continues to advance at a relentless pace and the hotel industry continues to adapt. Hotel guests have shown a strong preference for mobile self-service - from checking-in/out at a hotel kiosk, to ordering room service, making dinner reservations, booking spa treatments, and managing laundry/dry cleaning services. And they also enjoy the convenience of paying for these services with smart phone mobile payments. In addition, some hotels have adopted a “concierge in your pocket” concept. Through a proprietary hotel app, guests can access useful information such as local entertainment venues, tourist attractions, event calendars, and medical facilities and services. In-room entertainment continues to be a key factor, as guests insist on the capacity to plug in their own mobile devices to customize their entertainment choices. Mobile technology also allows for greater marketing opportunities. For example, many hotels have adopted the use of “push notifications” - sending promotions, discounts and special event messages to guests based on their property location, purchase history, profiles, etc. Near field communication (NFC) technology is also being utilized to support applications such as opening room doors, earning loyalty points, renting a bike, accessing a rental car, and more. Finally, some hotels have adopted more futuristic technology. Robots are in use that have the ability to move between floors to deliver room service requests for all kinds of items - food, beverages, towels, toothbrushes, chargers and snacks. And infrared scanners are being used by housekeeping staff that can detect body heat within a room, alerting staff that the room is occupied and they should come back at a later time. The January Hotel Business Review will report on what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in this exciting mobile technology space.