There was a time when the epitome of great food was found in a hotel restaurant. In the times of Escoffier and Ritz, the earth shattering dining experiences always happened off the lobby of a hotel dedicated to service and overall excellence. Today, unfortunately, the reality is quite different. Now, there are certainly exceptions, but ironically, in most cases, excellent hotel dining is created when a property outsources its’ food operations to a third party.
From a financial perspective I understand the rationale behind this change. Hoteliers who are dollars and cents managers will look at the profit potential from restaurants and note that this pales in comparison to turning rooms. No doubt, restaurants on their own are not the cash cows that rooms have the potential to become; yet, I would comfortably state that this attitude is very short sighted. Allow me to set the stage for my argument:
From the guest’s perspective, hotels have created an environment of low expectations for food. Hotels tend to not look at their restaurants in terms of their contribution, but rather in terms of their independent profitability. In the end, most guests look at the restaurant experience in a hotel as the last choice, rather than the preferred choice. When convenience is the most important factor, guests will look to the hotel to fill their stomachs – rarely to create memorable experiences. Here are some reasons why this is shortsighted:
 The hotel guest is a captive client who, in many cases, would prefer to relax and enjoy the “experience” of participating in a hotel value proposition.
 When choosing a hotel stay, one of the considerations that EVERY guest shares is where to enjoy a meal or two. If a hotel takes pride in and promotes a quality dining experience it can become a differentiated product that helps to sell those profitable rooms.
 There is something to be said for pride. A great food operation helps to instill pride in the workplace. Front desk staff, marketing staff, culinary and service staff will all benefit from feeling good about the entire hotel package.
 Everything that a hotel does in regards to marketing, works towards creating positive word-of-mouth advertising. When a guest has an extraordinary stay – including food – they will tend to stand on a soapbox and tell the world. Capitalize on this.
 Separating yourself from the pack of competitors means that you must surprise the guest and exceed their expectations. The room must be clean, up to date, and filled with the basic amenities that go with the turf. The differentiated pieces are service excellence and incredible food. Far too few operations can boast that this exists. THE OPPORTUNITY IS THERE.
Maybe I am the exception to the rule, but ALL of my friends in the business are individuals who take pride in their work, look at every opportunity to do things exceptionally well, view every plate that they produce as something that carries their signature, and have little tolerance for those who do not feel the same. I can’t imagine working for an operation, in this case a hotel, which does not take full advantage of this passion. I may be an idealistic person, but I want to believe that the vast majority of cooks and servers who work in hotels want the same thing. The reason why mediocrity reigns in so many hotels and hotel food operations is a direct reflection on management and ownership that doesn’t get it or care. When I stay at a pricey, well-regarded hotel that has sub standard food operations that are overpriced and undervalued, I point my finger squarely at managers and owners. There is no excuse for this – NONE.
In the long run, any business that fails to sweat the details will pay the price. This is, as we should all know by now, a consumer driven market. Consumers are far more savvy about where they spend their money today than in the past and if you fail to meet or exceed their expectations, they will look elsewhere. Wherever there is a weak link, someone will eventually step up and fill the void.
Wake up hoteliers – food is not a necessary evil – it is an important part of the hospitality experience. Hotel guests may come initially for the location and the ambience, but will only return if the full package works together.
As a chef and an educator I am deeply offended by properties that charge absurd prices for crap. Most chefs would give their right arm to have the financial backbone that a hotel can provide for a restaurant, but are oftentimes turned off to careers in hotel dining because the experience is more utilitarian than inspiring.
Escoffier would turn in his grave if he spent any time today in hotel restaurant operations!
I just spent a few days in a prominent hotel, in a great city. The room prices were high, but expected for the location. The food was very mediocre (not worthy of any investment) and the prices were laughable ($19 for scrambled eggs, $8 for toast, $5.50 for a cup of coffee, $14 for rail stock gin and tonic). Since food is an important part of my life, I would rather stay at an entry-level hotel next time and save my money for solid restaurant experiences.
Sorry – but hotel restaurants have become the least exciting part of the food business – time for a change in attitude.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC