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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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.