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Smithy

Hotel restaurants: a necessary evil, or something more?

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Over in the topic How I Became a Professional Cook in France, I asked Chris Ward about teaching his students the economic realities of the food world.  This part of his response brought me up short: 

Quote

Actually most of them want to become hotel managers and they ultimately realise that most hotel restaurants are a necessary evil - you have to have one to attract customers, and you're happy if they break even.

 

This is a new concept to me.  It makes sense, in a way; I know that when I travel, ready availability of food (either in the hotel or very close by) is a factor.  Many eG members over the years have noted that hotel restaurants aren't likely to be as good as stand-alone restaurants. However, the idea that the restaurant is a necessary element for a successful hotel, but not likely to be a money-maker, is a surprise.  How universal is this idea?  


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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 From my very limited experience I have always found hotel restaurants to be extraordinarily expensive in cost and at best mediocre in execution.  But the dining rooms seem to be occupied if not fully at least moderately so leading me to believe that they must serve a purpose.   I think they meet the needs of the travelling business person adequately but are probably not high on the list of tourist choices for food. As long as the company I was working for footed the bill then anything that met my nutritional needs seemed adequate.  It has been a long time since I was required to travel on a company's dime!   So if hotels are primarily meeting the needs of the travelling business person then I guess the restaurant is a necessary evil. 

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

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You pretty much *have* to have food. Many guests will indeed want to explore the surrounding restaurants (assuming there are any) but many won't. Providing a "default option" means you don't lose 'em to a competitor up the road. 

 

My restaurant was in a small seaside hotel, and there was no other place to eat within 40 minutes' drive unless you count takeout pizza from the gas station. That's an extreme example, of course. 

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"The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

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I believe that at one time the Hampton Inn chain would only build where there was an established restaurant within walking distance of it.  The ones we most often saw were Dennys that were open 24/7 .I think they have relaxed that requirement now. Arriving late at night, it was nice to grab dinner and hit the sack before an early flight the next day.  Fancy food was low on my list then.   

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6 hours ago, Smithy said:

I know that when I travel, ready availability of food (either in the hotel or very close by) is a factor.  Many eG members over the years have noted that hotel restaurants aren't likely to be as good as stand-alone restaurants. However, the idea that the restaurant is a necessary element for a successful hotel, but not likely to be a money-maker, is a surprise.  How universal is this idea?  

 

When I think about the hotels I've worked in, it doesn't surprise me that they don't necessarily need to be money-makers.  In a large hotel, banquets are the much larger revenue source.  I helped out at a local Four Seasons for a couple of weeks last fall because they were desperate for temporary skilled pastry hands (and also worked briefly at a different Four Seasons circa 2003).  The vast majority of what we made went to banquets and private parties, some of them huge.  Plated desserts for 400 at lunch?  Honestly not my idea of a good time.  So I think part of the mediocrity comes from the volume they do and the shortcuts that get taken.  I would never dream of using pre-baked, IQF tart shells in my business, but I can see why they did.  You also have things like VIP amenities, room service, wedding cakes, and the guy on the 23rd floor who just wants a cookie competing for your attention.  I think it's really, really hard to do that kind of volume and maintain quality, and hard to find people who can deal with that kind of repetition and also execute dishes with more detail and finesse.  You need the worker bees, but worker bees aren't always artists.   (A gastropub I'm friendly with has a similar problem keeping staff - they need people who can churn out 100 burgers on a Saturday night but can also perfectly sear a slab of foie gras.)

 

There can be a different mentality in hotels too.  I don't want to offend anyone who works in hotels, but there seem to be more people who are there just for the paycheck and/or the travel benefits.  And with mandatory lunch breaks and regular pay increases, one can hardly blame them.  Corporate hotels probably don't care as much about the restaurant's profit as an independent restaurant because their goal is to have enough staff on hand to give their guests whatever they need 24/7.  Hotels are more about customer service than gastronomy.

 

I also worked at a high-end boutique, all-inclusive hotel (Amankora in Bhutan) as their pastry chef.  I don't recall food or labor cost being a particular issue there, again it was about giving the guests everything they could possibly need or want.  Cookies in the rooms and snacks in the cars frequently didn't get eaten but were part of the guest experience.  Sometimes we'd have days with few or zero guests but would have to find projects to keep the staff busy.  I think we did succeed in keeping the food high quality despite the remote location and challenges in sourcing.  But in truth, a lot of people just want their eggs for breakfast and steak for dinner.  Hotel restaurants have an obligation to please a huge variety of palates, and not everyone is traveling for the food.

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FWIW, there are a few outliers where the hotel restaurant is quite exceptional and are destinations in and of themselves. The Riverfront Steak House in the Riverfront Hilton in North Little Rock and Chez Philippe in the Peabody in Memphis are a couple of examples. But usually...eh, mediocre. And I've eaten at my share of them.

 

Well, there was a tempura place in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo that was pretty phenomenal....

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Don't ask. Eat it.

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Yes, we have a destination restaurant at the Umstead Hotel and Spa called Herons here in little old Cary. It's too pricey for me, so I have no personal experience with either the hotel or restaurant. I bet this is the sort of place the culinary students who prompted this discussion aspire to though.

 

There are other exceptions all over the globe, but they are for the moneyed few.

 

In the larger reality, after paying 3 times what one would normally pay for a better meal for a pretty terrible burger and fries in a Holiday Inn we were staying at, we vowed to not eat at a hotel restaurant again. There was no question at all about why we were the only guests in the restaurant at prime lunch hour. This place was not making money that day, with more staff than guests.

 

So, yes, hotel restaurants can vary all over the spectrum, but for us 99 percenters, the ones we can afford are pretty bad, and I can't imagine anyone attaching their dreams to working at the majority of them.

 

 

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> ^ . . ^ <

 

 

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The last restaurant I worked in, a Kyriad in France, was a real case in point. The hotel owner had our margins calculated down to the nearest cent, no overtime, 3 kitchen staff, fixed menus with fixed prices for 2 or 3 courses all to attract enough business travellers to fill his 104 rooms every night. 

Sure, there are some destination restaurants in hotels but most are there to fuel business travellers.

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Chris Ward

http://eatsleepcookschool.wordpress.com

I wrote a book about learning to cook in the South of France: http://mybook.to/escs

 

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I've had a few memorable meals in hotel restaurants. The Pressoir d Argent in the Grand Hotel du Bordeaux is a Mich. 1-star. Even room service was fabulous.  The Four Seasons in Phila had one of the best restaurants in town, the Fountain Room, which , alas, is gone.  Lacroix, at the Rittenhouse is still top notch.

 

But yes, hotel restaurants are mainly for 24 hr room service and breakfast buffets, which are critical for a business traveler. 

 

I've seen a trend in some NYC hotels where the room service comes in take out containers with disposable silverware. Same high prices for a big drop in quality.  French fries and Reuben s don't survive in  that steamy package. And I hate plastic utensils.


Edited by gfweb (log)
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20 hours ago, gfweb said:

Same high prices for a big drop in quality.  French fries and Reuben s don't survive in  that steamy package. And I hate plastic utensils.

 

Part of the current trend of quality and service drop for the same or higher prices. I feel really sorry for kids today. At least I have my memories. They won't.

 

I still hope things will start looking up, but who the hell am I kidding? Customer service, and pride in one's work seems to have been mostly replaced by contempt for the customer no matter how much they are paying. Great customer service still seems to be available when you grossly overpay, but how many of us can afford to do that?

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> ^ . . ^ <

 

 

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Koffman's underneath the Berkeley is great. I don't know how much of their business comes from the hotel.

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I should point out that not all hotel restaurants are run by the hotel. Company-owned spaces are often just there as an adjunct of the primary (room-renting) business. Independent operators leasing space in a hotel, as I was, are more motivated to turn a profit/attract a clientele in their own right. 

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"The only questions that really matter are the ones you ask yourself."

Ursula K. Le Guin

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

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22 minutes ago, chromedome said:

I should point out that not all hotel restaurants are run by the hotel. Company-owned spaces are often just there as an adjunct of the primary (room-renting) business. Independent operators leasing space in a hotel, as I was, are more motivated to turn a profit/attract a clientele in their own right. 

This may well explain why I was so surprised, given some of my experiences.  Thank you for this additional insight.


Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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36 minutes ago, chromedome said:

I should point out that not all hotel restaurants are run by the hotel. Company-owned spaces are often just there as an adjunct of the primary (room-renting) business. Independent operators leasing space in a hotel, as I was, are more motivated to turn a profit/attract a clientele in their own right. 

 

Indeed. For many years, my brother ran a restaurant in a hotel in the UK. He merely rented the kitchen and dining room space from hotel owners. It catered mostly to business travellers and, to be honest, my brother gave it up in the end because business travellers generally didn't want to eat the kind to food he preferred to cook. They tended to be unimaginative and unwilling to try anything even slightly out of the normal (in their eyes).

He was making money, but was bored out of his skull. He has moved on to better things. Less money but more satisfaction.


Edited by liuzhou (log)
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To add to all the cooks with experience working in Hotels. When I worked at The W. I had never had to make so many peanut butter jelly sandwiches in my life. I had just come from arguably the number 3-4 restaurant in our state...the CDC got an executive chef position at the W

 

Now we had an ok menu besides that. However, as stated above. The prices were crazy so everyone ordered the cheapest items. Nothing made me feel more worthless as a cook. However, as it was brought up. They are a necessary evil. There are plenty of business men and women who just need a quick bite before they go to bed or when they wake up. It can be a real drag in those kitchens. The food is always safe, and restricted by corporate. I remember we once couldn't serve Foie gras because California couldn't. There are just so many layers of tape. it drove me crazy...


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