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Creating A Destination

BITAC® Food & Beverage Panel Discusses Key Factors For Hotel Restaurants

Wednesday, January 23, 2019
Dennis Nessler
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Having a clearly defined concept, creating a compelling and cost-effective menu and aggressive marketing through social media are among the key factors identified by hotel executives who offered a blueprint for operating a successful hotel restaurant.

BITAC® Food & Beverage kicked off earlier this week at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar in The Bahamas with a panel discussion entitled “Driving Your Hotel Restaurant Into A Destination.”

The panelists began by addressing some of the more common errors they see with hotel restaurants. “The biggest mistake is the thought that if you build it they’re going to come,” said Dean Wendel, vp, food & beverage, Concord Hospitality Enterprises. “Too many times we build a restaurant and it’s behind the desk or it’s somewhere where people aren’t seeing it; it’s not being activated. So we started bringing our restaurants and bars to the forefront as you walk into the hotel.”

Armando Monterroso, corporate director of food & beverage, Kalahari Resorts & Conventions, also weighed in. “A lot of times we design restaurants without a clear, defined concept and I think it’s crucial. When you decide to go out to dinner you don’t say ‘hey let’s go to that restaurant that serves a little bit of everything, you say let’s get a steak or some Asian food.’ So it’s a defined concept that you can then market properly and the concept needs to be driven all the way through,” he said.

Katherine Kies, corporate director of food & beverage, PM Hotel Group, commented as well. “If you have one bar and one restaurant within a hotel you have to be really thoughtful about creating a sense of place and an experience. It’s not just the menu and the name, but it’s the design and you really lean into that and carry that all the way through,” she noted.

Meanwhile, the group acknowledged the importance of finding the right mix when it comes to the menu.

According to Wendel, “I think you’ve got to make sure that you’re working within the skill set of the team that you have. You’re not going to be everything to everyone, so you really do have to define who you’re going to be and what you’re going to be and make sure that the items that are on your menu are executable and that you can be profitable,” he said.

Monterroso added, “When you think of hotel dining and you want to be not just a ‘hotel restaurant’ you’ve got to have some fun. You need to have some regionality and give a sense of place where you are.”

Kies, meanwhile, acknowledged the need to accommodate the growing number of dietary needs of guests from vegetarian choices to gluten-free options as well as protein alternatives. “We’re really trying to push forward with all of our menus and realize that’s not just the anomaly anymore, but rather it’s most people. A large percentage of people are looking for something in one of those categories so it needs to be present on every menu,” she maintained.

Of course, marketing is always a critical component of creating awareness for a venue. As such, social media continues to grow in importance and in deference to that a couple of the executives acknowledged that they now outsource that part of their operation.

Wendel detailed Concord’s approach. “We’ve gone into our local markets and found individuals or companies that have a real strong social media presence and we bring them on to run our social media. We started out trying to do it in house. It might have been the restaurant manager or the chef and they get busy and then it’s three weeks between posts. So now I think many of us are finding ourselves using these local kind of firms that have 50,000 followers. When they’re posting on Instagram it’s getting seen,” he said.

Kies reinforced the point. “We’ve identified a portfolio of properties that would benefit from that sort of external marketing so we’ve partnered with a third-party firm to do it. In rare instances you would have that bartender who was super savvy and loved doing it, but that person would leave and then it would go dormant. Then there’s always the concern about what content is going out there and is someone monitoring it? It’s so important now and everyone uses it to make decisions,” she stated.

Monterroso further acknowledged “it’s crucial.” He went on to point out the importance of responding to social media whether the feedback is positive or not.
“I think it’s really important to respond as best we can. Our goal is to make it right and we want to address those things. It’s managing the content on your social media as best you can,” he insisted.

The group also underscored the role of chefs in taking your hotel restaurant to the next level.

According to Wendel, “it’s not about a star chef or celebrity chef, it’s about a chef that has some recognition in the community and is also really willing to put themselves out there. It’s really important that they’re involved socially in the community…Doing charity events and really putting themselves out there I think that does a lot to get them known and help bring people into the restaurants,” he stated.

Monterroso took it a step further. “Chefs today need to be salespeople. If your chef isn’t an advocate to sell your business then you have the wrong chef. It’s all about the total experience at a hotel, the chef has to be a salesperson and they need to be in the community,” he concluded.

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Dennis Nessler    Dennis Nessler
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