Building a Better Hotel Restaurant

We were delighted with the Daily Meal’s list of the 101 Best Hotel Restaurants Around the World.

Why has hotel dining gotten so much better over the last 10 years? The main reason is that hotel investors no longer just look at RevPAR – they look at the ‘Transactional Value’ of each guest and what the entire guest spend is during the stay. Hotels that get a healthy contribution from F&B demand higher multiples.

Secondly, restaurants that bring in local traffic produce long-term positive results for the hotel in terms of brand recognition and differentiating the overall hotel offering.

Our experience with multiple hotel restaurant clients tells us the following ideas help ensure a hotel restaurant’s success.

Placing Yourself Among the Best Hotel Restaurants

AutonomyRestaurant Kitchen Line

Kimpton Hotels learned many years ago that the hotel restaurant had to operate as a separate business if it were to compete with the local independents. Kimpton essentially operates the hotels and restaurants independently of each other. This ensures that the concepts stand on their own, are chef-driven, and the restaurant doesn’t get stalled from top-down decision-making, which is geared to satisfying hotel guests and corporate accounts. It also instills a much more transparent sense of competition from within the brand.

Outsourcing

Other hotel companies have found value by bringing in seasoned independent groups like Starr Restaurant Organization, Culinary Concepts by Jean George, and Michael Mina to operate the restaurants. These organizations bring marketing and operating know-how that most hotel companies don’t have. Moreover, they have track records in similar markets and expose the hotel to the base of business they have built for years.

Separate and Not Equal

Nothing kills the luxury vibe of a fine-dining restaurant more than watching servers reset the dining room for breakfast. Or, an orphaned breakfast buffet sitting like a coffin in the middle of the dining room. Or, seeing hotel-uniformed staff hustling Room Service trays though the dining room. These, and other hotelesque cues, tell the diner this is really a three-meal-a-day hotel restaurant. Every visible aspect needs to project that the restaurant is unique.

Water cafe at eveningSense of Place

The best hotel restaurants draw from the locale. Menus that still have hotel classics like a Turkey Club and a Caesar Salad because “that’s what hotel guests want” will undermine the concept by trying to serve two masters. If you must offer the old standbys, keep it separate.

 

 

Happening Bar

A vibrant happy hour allows locals and hotel guests alike to sample the concept. No one wants to sit in a vacuous dining room, but most feel comfortable at a bar or cocktail table to assess their options.

Keeping a Pulse on the Guest Experience

Mystery shopping and social media monitoring are great tools used by many restaurants to continuously measure guest service and feedback. Top performing independents and hotel restaurants have long embraced gathering structured guest feedback though mystery shopping.

Social media monitoring on the other hand is a tool that up until recently has been dominated by hotel restaurants. To their credit, hotel restaurants have been using social media to their advantage. “Hotels have operationalized online reputation management and GMs and DOSMs understand that reading and responding to reviews and social media does drive bookings” says Michelle Wohl, Vice President of Marketing for Revinate, a leading provider of hotel and restaurant online reputation management software. “Hotel restaurants, that have been a part of that culture for a few years now, are very active when it comes to social media. Independent hotels, whether due to resources or lack of understanding, are slower to respond to the trend.” she continued.

Hotel restaurants are listening closely to their guests and adapting to the feedback they receive. Perhaps this plays a role in their popularity?

Hats off to our many clients who appeared on the list!

As to my favorite, while I have many, I give the nod to Wit & Wisdom at the Four Seasons Baltimore. The energy and vibe is all Baltimore Harbor and the menu provides innovative takes on all that is Chesapeake. My favorite bar still is Purple Bar in London where I still remain unsure if the sense of weightlessness you feel there is from the ‘space pod’ like environs or the meticulously crafted cocktails.

I urge all readers to tell us your favorite hotel restaurant or bar in the comments below.

15 Comments
  • Emily Johnson

    Guests who travel to Boston love the location and service offered at The Hotel Commonwealth – but have consistently said that their two restaurants, Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar; keep them coming back. In addition to their two award winning restaurants, the hotel also has a craft cocktail bar – The Hawthorne.

    On a personal note – Island Creek Oyster Bar became one of my favorite restaurants when I booked a reservation there for our 6 month wedding anniversary. The restaurant welcomed us by congratulating us and handed us a personalized menu that said ‘Happy Anniversary’ and our names. When were asking for oyster recommendations, we selected a variety but the server added a few of his favorites, complimentary. Finally, at the end of the evening – on our dessert, the restaurant wrote in frosting ‘Happy Anniversary’ on the cake. Food is normally extraordinary at this location, but add to it the attention to detail and servers who are really passionate about the food, and what you have is a restaurant that became one of Boston’s favorites in less than a year. As a guest, my husband and I went back there repeatedly over the course of the year because we knew it consistently provided excellent food and service.

  • Sheri

    I’m a little surprised to see Adour at the St. Regis in NY on that list as it closed in late 2012. CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental in DC is certainly good. Pierre Gagnaire’s namesake restaurant at the Hotel Balzac is outstanding – pretty much about 15 courses of one surprise after the next. For hotel bars, it’s tough to beat the Sky Bar outside on the 63rd floor at Lebua in Bangkok.

  • JR

    For ambiance and “scene” I’m a fan of the Wet Bar at the W South Beach, POV at the W in DC, Ghostbar at Palms Las Vegas, and the pool bar at the Delano — all are awesome for different reasons, although none of them make my list for their “customer service” (or lack thereof). For a more relaxed atmosphere, I’m a big fan of the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo.

    As for restaurants, Bukhara at the ITC Maurya in Delhi is awesome, nothing fancy or over the top, but quality food and a unique experience. I’ve always had terrific meals at the Blue Duck Tavern at the Park Hyatt in DC (I’d go there for food before CityZen at the Mandarin in DC). I once had a superb (and quite memorable) experience at Jean Georges at Trump NYC that left me dying to go back. Of course, in terms of service, I don’t think one can do much better than a dinner at any restaurant in any Mandarin Oriental property in Asia!

  • Jeff

    For me, it’s the Ace Hotel in NYC. The various restaurants The Breslin Bar & Dining Room, John Dory Oyster Bar, and Stumptown Coffee Roasters all offer something unique and special, but seem to work together in the context of the hotel. The public space at the hotel is frequented by tourists and locals (ofter seen on their laptops). This dynamic adds to the authenticity of the space and makes it a great day and evening spot for dinner, coffee and drinks–very New York.

  • Gary

    For me, the Clevelander in South Beach has the most lively bars. The have about five bars surrounding an outdoor pool, a view of the South Beach, frequent live entertainment and shows, hot friendly servers, and great drinks. Typically feels like a frat party, but with good service.

    For restaurants, The Old Hickory Steakhouse at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando provides all the views of dining in the middle of the Everglades with none of the issues. There is nothing like sitting down to a perfect steak and feeling like your eating outside in a lush tropical park by a stream and having no bugs and the climate controlled. The entire atrium is a sight worth seeing and the restaurant is always top notch.

  • Kate

    The Standard Hotel in Miami is one of my favorite places to stay in Miami – a complete departure from traditional South Beach hotels, the Standard is the best place to relax, recharge and refresh. The hotel specializes in the luxury spa experience with a variety of baths, hydrotherapy, and a beautiful hammam.

  • Richard

    I’m old enough to remember a time when dining in a 4 or 5 star hotel’s F & B venue pretty much guaranteed you a memorable meal and impeccable service. These days, I find it
    naïve to make such a blanket statement. Maybe age has enveloped my memories in thick fog, but I still recall the ever so slightly sweet croquant crust and tender milky texture of the sweetbreads I enjoyed at the Ambassador Grill in the original UN Plaza Hotel back in the early 80’s. My wife will bear witness as to the number of times I have tried to find or replicate that memorable dish in over 30 years of travel. Although the Ambassador Grill still exists in the newest incarnation of the original hotel, it’s merely a shadow of its former self.

    Currently, my favorite hotel restaurant would have to be Renoir in Montréal’s Sofitel. Chef Olivier is inventive, uses a light touch in much of his cuisine and has a healthy respect for the integrity of ingredients. He visits Jean-Talon market almost daily to source out the freshest local products. I have never been disappointed with a meal there. My
    personal favorite is the veal filet with crispy sweetbreads. His sweetbreads come closest to those I remember at the Ambassador Grill. If you have a chance to visit during summer, try to wrangle an invitation to tour the ‘secret garden.’

    For bars, you can’t do much better than a visit to Toronto’s Park Hyatt Roof Lounge. It’s an intimate (read: small) space, serves a great Martini, and has killer views to the lake
    and CN Tower. Joe has been there forever, and if he takes a shine to you, he may even relate an interesting story or two about some of the celebrities and VIP’s he has had the (dis)pleasure of serving over the past few decades. (Hint: if you eat the olives he may provide, you’ll get better stories). I have a disdain for mixed drinks so my beverage of choice there will be any Macallan single malt.

  • Karen Ansbro Leone

    SALT at the Wentworth By The Sea in New Castle NH is fabulous. Food great, vibe fun and service is excellent! The views from the front porch of this hotel is mesmerizing. I love this renovated hotel and this restaurant. Check it out! Or if you need me to, that’s fine too. 🙂

  • Arthur Chang

    These lists are good for general reference, but the comments on this page are far more meaningful to me. I like seeing actual guests rave about their experiences–this is where hidden gems that are off the radar can be found. For me, Giverny at the Mirbeau Inn & Spa in Upstate New York takes top prize. You will never see this small restaurant featured on a top 100 list, but it remains my favorite to this day. My wife and I stayed there during a winter storm years ago; the power went out, but the chef created a custom tasting menu cooking by the fire and made the experience so storybook romantic that it could only be exceeded by his exquisite gastronomic creations. Very sadly, the restaurant is no longer there…

  • Carla

    What a fantastic selection below to add to my own “must try” list. As for me,
    two hotel restaurants remain memorable: forage in the Listel Hotel in
    Vancouver BC, for its exceptional menu featuring local and sustainable
    ingredients, and complementing the hotel’s zero waste policy. The name is
    no accident, as they actually have foragers who collect wild mushrooms and
    other delectable ingredients.

    My other fav is Essentia in The Palms Hotel in South Beach. Also a farm-to-table concept, the chef has an on-site garden where produce is picked daily to become part of the scrumptious organic menu. The gourmet dining is enhanced by an exotic ambiance, with
    a covered terrace flanked by double French doors and dark ceiling fans
    reminiscent of the idealized 1950’s Cuba, and a poolside terrace that made me
    feel as if I was dining in a rain forest. The chef’s talents are not limited to
    the dining room, as the fresh herbs and fruit also find their way into the
    artisanal cocktails served in the Essentia Lounge. Did I mention Essentia
    Lounge is also on my top hotel bars list?

    Another favorite hotel bar is the Half Shell in the Viceroy Hotel in Anguilla. This intimate beach bar sits right on the sand looking out on the azure waters of Barnes Bay.
    Delicious food and drinks followed by a dip in the warm Caribbean
    Sea……what more could one ask?

  • coylehospitality

    Accept

    Thanks,

    Jim

  • Gligor Tashkovich

    I agree with you that the Ambassador Grill is a shadow of its former self. It is so dark and industrial looking — although someone told me recently that the angular ceiling is architecturally significant.

  • Gligor Tashkovich

    I was there for the first time ever for a Founders Card reception in the last month. I was surprised to find such a large building in Manhattan that I had never been in (or even heard of) before.

  • Gligor Tashkovich

    My favorite Hotel restaurant is Asiate in the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York City. I love it because the service is excellent and the views are spectacular. Usually, it is one or the other (either you have a great meal or you have a great view — but rarely-to-never both), but Asiate pulls it off.

  • Gligor Tashkovich

    Asiate is in fact a 3-meal-a-day restaurant and I’ve been there for all three meals. However, they are able to pull this off because of how it is designed. There is a somewhat narrow entrance in the corner that limits your view of the entire restaurant while they change it over between meals — so the magic of the restaurant and the view hits you everytime you walk about 15 feet through the door.
    While I have limited experience in bars, I would have to say that the bar at the NoMad Hotel with its 24 foot long mahogany bar creates just the right experience. I especially liked it because even when it was crowded, you could still hear the people around you without raising your voice. They also served free fresh hot-out-of-the-oven rosemary bread loaves to their customers.

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