A lighthearted series highlighting the small details that hotels should get right—but all-too-often get wrong. First up, food and beverage.
Anyone who has been in the hotel business for more than five minutes understands that this industry is all about the guest experience. And that experience isn’t a monolith; instead, it’s made up of lots of small details that come together to (hopefully) create something great.
Those details matter—a lot. Think about every great experience you’ve ever had—a great dinner, a memorable vacation or a special moment with family or friends. What you remember about those times are the details. The way the fajitas were still sizzling when they got to the table, the way the sun and sand felt on the beach or the sound of the brass band in New Orleans.
What’s tricky is there’s not much room for error. In hospitality, you can’t get most of it right. You might have played great for the first three quarters, but a dropped pass in the end zone with 30 seconds left can still lose you the game and turn a hero into a goat.
In the spirit of getting the small details right, here’s some of the little details that too many hotels get wrong. This is, naturally, from my own personal perspective, but I think you’ll see some things that might be a little too familiar.
So, without further ado, here are Steve’s Peeves: F&B Edition—my top peeves that can spoil the experience in a hotel restaurant:
I’m fairly confident that the biggest reason James Bond likes his martinis shaken, not stirred, is because shaken martinis tend to be colder. Now I don’t care how you make mine, so long as it’s ice cold. Nothing is more depressing than a halfheartedly-cooled martini in a glass that was never chilled.
Cold eggs: Newton’s Law of Thermodynamics
At the opposite end of the temperature spectrum, we have the nemesis of every hotel kitchen: cold eggs. Eggs are one of those foods that gets cold before you can blink. But they’re also one of those foods where the experience of eating them changes so completely from hot (delicious!) to cold (gag!) that you just can’t afford to get it wrong. And nothing makes eggs get cold quicker than putting hot eggs on a cold plate. Why do we so often put cold plates in a buffet line with hot food? Don’t let this simple oversight ruin an otherwise great meal. Here is what Issac Newton discovered: Put a two-ounce hot egg on a 20-ounce cold plate and let it stand three minutes; entropy makes the eggs cold (and the plate warmer!)
Those single-serve condiments we serve with room service are adorable and convenient when they’re used as intended: for room service. But my goodness, why do some hotels continue to use those same miniature versions of condiments in the actual restaurant? It’s inconvenient, insufficient and infuriating trying to get ketchup out of a bottle that’s not much bigger than a walnut. And Harry Houdini couldn’t open the mini Tabasco bottles.
I could do an entire article griping about this topic alone. There’s nothing more distracting than a table that’s rocking back and forth every time you shift your weight. If your guests are crawling underneath your tables trying to wedge a folded-up paper napkin under a rickety table leg, you’re doing something wrong, or simply not doing your job.
Table centerpieces that consume too much real estate baffle me. If you want a candle or a small centerpiece to liven things up, that’s fantastic. But once the centerpiece takes up half the table space, you’ve gone ahead and jumped the shark. Here’s the test: If diners are finding it awkward to get their plates and glasses to fit, it’s time to rethink the size of your centerpieces.
Overly imaginative pizza
There are some things in this world that are really hard to mess up—including pizza. There’s really just three basic components, which is why it’s so discouraging when you’d like nothing better than some familiar comfort food and instead find a menu full of options that look like experimental concepts from an episode of Iron Chef. If you insist on getting creative and the chef wants to try out a fancy flatbread recipe with non-melting cheese and lacto-fermented turnips, that’s fine. But you darn well better have some plain old pizza options on the menu, as well.
The disappearing server
They take your order and serve your food and then are never to be seen again. Trying to get some hot sauce or an additional side plate is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo throughout your meal. And then they seem to magically appear just in time to bring the check and a very generous thank you in anticipation of a really big tip but failed to allow you to enjoy the full effect of your meal because you were left waiting for something. Or worse yet, you get a case of tennis elbow from trying to wave the server down throughout the meal.
Whether you’re nodding along in agreement or shaking your head in amusement, I think we all recognize how easy it would be to come up with our own personal list of common gripes.
These may seem like trivial things, but they are actually important red flags: warning signs of potentially more significant problems—like wastefulness and inefficiency, apathy, or insufficient attention to detail.
A hotel that can’t get the little things right isn’t likely to nail the big stuff, either. And when we dismiss those details, we’re doing the guests—and ourselves—a disservice. We’re compromising the guest experience in ways that might not feel like a huge deal, but can make a guest think twice before they book with us again. Because great memories may be made up of little details—but so are bad memories. As hotel owners and operators, we need to decide which kind of memories we want to be making.
Steve Van, president and CEO of Prism Hotels & Resorts, founded the Dallas-based company in 1983. Under his leadership, Prism has become an award-winning full-service hotel management, investment and advisory services company. For more information, visit https://prismhotels.com/.
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