In today’s increasingly competitive landscape, hotel owners and operators must search for new ways to set themselves apart from their competition. These distinguishing characteristics can come in many forms, ranging from high thread-count linens to technology upgrades to best-in-class conference and meeting facilities.
One area that is also emerging as a potential game changer is a hotel’s restaurant. A quality restaurant with a creative concept and distinctive personality can take on a life of its own, becoming a destination for two audiences: the hotel’s guests, who are seeking a comfortable venue that entices them to leave their room and the local community.
The restaurant can also serve as a great marketing tool for the hotel itself. A visit to the restaurant may be a guest’s first time through the doors of the property. A positive first impression and experience will enhance the hotel’s reputation. It is viewed as a restaurant that just so happens to be located within a hotel rather than simply the hotel’s restaurant.
As with anything, success depends on due diligence and proper execution. Market research must be conducted to ensure that any concept developed is not only original but also tightly defined. If continental, American or eclectic is the answer when a guest asks what type of food is served, the restaurant becomes like any other. A broad amalgam of food and service that attempts to appeal to everyone likely appeals to no one. The operation is seen by the hotel as the “cost of doing business” and does nothing to enhance guest satisfaction. You will likely see a mass exodus of your guests to your local, free-standing competitors that profit as a result.
How to make it happen
To be successful, the owner/operator must have the conviction to step outside of his or her comfort zone. The competition is not other hotel restaurants in the market but rather local, free-standing establishments. Your restaurant can only be successful if you develop it with that in mind. Some things to think about include local sourcing of food and beverages, a small plates menu, locally brewed craft beers and barrel-aged cocktails. Whatever direction you take, sustainability is key. Changing menus, formats and themes is akin to changing your lobby layout only after a major renovation.
Guests also want to be able to view specific information regarding their food and nutritional choices. Is technology incorporated into the operation in the form of tablet-based menus to enable them to do so? What about dynamic wine and beer lists with details and links to relevant brewery and winery websites? Providing these features requires an investment of time, money and effort but they will deliver solid returns in the form of positive reviews and repeat guests.
Certainly, many of these elements portend a move away from traditional service styles and offerings. But that is the point, isn't it?
Successful restaurants also offer what I call, for lack of a better word, buzz. It’s difficult to define but apparent in a successful operation. It provides energy, excitement and a sense that something is happening. You can readily identify the restaurants that have it and those that do not. It’s generated, in part, by the components of the overall concept. However, it is often a chicken and egg conundrum. You need customers to create buzz, and you need buzz to attract customers. How then does one approach this issue? It is easier to accomplish in a hotel setting, considering that there are always people moving around and activities taking place. Ultimately, however, it depends on the quality of your initial research and the passion to stay ahead of current dining trends and guest preferences.
Certainly, this strategy isn’t for everyone. But if you’ve decided to take the leap, do whatever you can to stay abreast of the trends that dictate relevance. Relevance equals volume. Volume results in buzz and profitability. Your restaurant will then become a profit center, a viable marketing tool for the hotel and a signature feature that you can be proud to take ownership of.
Tom Conran serves as a Principal of Greenwood Hospitality Group, where he is responsible for strategic investments and third-party hotel management assignments. Mr. Conran has more than 30 years of hospitality experience in the management, finance, and real estate sectors. Prior to Greenwood, Mr. Conran served as Vice President of Business Development for Richfield Hospitality. Mr. Conran earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. Mr. Conran was a founding member of Meetings Planner International in Hartford, CT and he currently serves on the Owners’ Advisory Board of Doubletree Hotels.
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