The finer details

27 December 2018

Hans Koch discusses the importance of creating a hotel restaurant that can stand as its own unique endeavour, while maintaining the overall ambience of the wider establishment.

It is time hoteliers realised that travellers, and untapped local potential, are tired of the same stuffy dining rooms and never-ending multicourse meals in hotels. Their restaurants are notorious for being overpriced and underwhelming; they disappoint travellers looking for a social atmosphere or a taste of home while on the road.

At the same time, local diners often have a perception that hotel restaurants are poor quality, catering to travellers that don't have the time to find somewhere more 'local'. How this affects a hotel’s reputation depends on the prevalence of dissatisfied and angry diners who take to TripAdvisor, Yelp or other social media to abrade both the restaurant and the hotel that houses it.

Rather than creating a unique concept, hotel restaurants have often ended up as a last-minute addition to the larger enterprise. For them to be fresh and well received, they need to be conceptualised and treated as separate business entities, yet remain compatible with the hotel’s concept. This can be applied to anything from the restaurant’s design to its social media presence. The most successful are those that also bring in local flavours and design elements authentic to the destination.

Positive reinforcement

A number of individual hotels, as well as some of today’s successful hotel chains, such as Hyatt, Four Seasons and Rosewood Hotels, have made a strategic shift to only work with specialised restaurant designers, rather than having hotel designers do their restaurants. Their new concepts cater to people's appetites for restaurants, lounges and bars that are authentic, casual and comfortable. They’re looking to celebrate local ingredients and a local atmosphere in a unique and unpretentious way.

The latest trends indicate that there is a rising interest in upping the quality of hotel food, both because it can create great profits but also because this is a key way to impress guests and locals. People also like talking on social media about the good meals they had (and also the bad) and raising a restaurant's quality will result in more positive exposure on social media.

Another way for hotels to create attractive stand-alone restaurants is by partnering with well-known restaurant operators or celebrity chefs to create a buzz. Today’s travellers and locals are always looking for experiences that offer something more. The ones that get it right are being acclaimed nationally and internationally as go-to destinations.

In this respect, a big but not impossible challenge for hoteliers is the need to convince owners to invest in attractive concepts, and talented restaurant and bar professionals, and to give these professionals the power and room to operate, create and practice their skills. It is currently implausible to be a top hotel with a mediocre restaurant – the modern guest is too savvy and will ultimately hold it against you.

Another challenge is that while the hotel industry is focused on localised fine-dining trends, little attention is paid to the growing popularity of fast-casual dining, the hybrid concept that blends fast-food or quickservice restaurants with casual dining. Though fine dining will always have a place at upscale properties, hotel guests expect variety, especially if they’re spending multiple nights at a hotel.

People want to have an approachable experience, as well as more formal choices – how many times do you want to go out and spend £120 a head on food and wine?

So in addition to fine dining, chefs are increasingly exploring a quick-service space in a hotel, as the fast-casual restaurant industry around hotels has grown exponentially in the past decade and shows no signs of slowing down.

Also, in hotels with two or more outlets, one of those should simply be a bar-lounge with food, as it is relevant to the way people eat and drink today. We’re currently looking at millennials and Generation X, but the baby boomers also want to socialise with younger people. Hotel lobbies and bars are coming back in vogue.

Room key to success

Finally, I would say the biggest challenge a hotel restaurant faces today is drawing the line between being a destination where locals and travellers want to visit, while accommodating in-house guests that expect good and reliable dining on-property. Hotels that can successfully manage these challenges are boutique concepts and brands that are creating winning hotel restaurant concepts.

Restaurants need to be conceptualised and treated as business entities, separate to, but compatible with, the hotel. And they need to make sure concepts are authentic and comfortable, celebrating local ingredients and a local atmosphere in unique ways.

Restaurants must appeal to travellers and locals. When communicating internally and externally, be open, true and honest; decide what you want to be known best for. Focus on the pursuit of excellence, and give your professionals the power and room they need to perform.

And finally, get serious about reputation management, especially on social media channels like TripAdvisor, Yelp and OpenTable.

Hans Koch Hans Koch is president of EHMA and offi cial delegate for EHMA’s Swiss chapter. Throughout his 35-year career, he has worked for hotel operators all around the world, ranging from Hilton International to ITC Hotels. He is also managing director of Hans E Koch Hospitality Solutions.

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