If there is the quintessential American entrée, it’s steak. A good steak is as dependable as a good pair of socks – and a lot better served medium-well.
A steakhouse has been a staple of hotels and resorts ever since the Texas cattle barons of the mid-19th century drove their herds to the rail yards of Abilene, Ks. and the vast plains of Montana. Steakhouses such as Delmonico at The Venetian in Las Vegas, the Bull & Bear at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, Wolfgang Puck’s Cut at The Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, Calif., and Flagler Steakhouse at The Breakers Palm Beach have set the standards for hotel and resort steakhouses in regards to service and quality.
“People definitely come in for the steaks,” said Matt Schindler, executive chef of the Bull & Bear restaurant. “At this time of year we do 250 to 280 covers and probably 75 percent of that is steak.”
It can be argued, in fact, that hotel and resort steakhouses are re-creating the Great American Steakhouse, making it less a temple of testosterone and more accessible to a broader audience by offering greater varieties of cuts of meat and expanding their menus to include vegan and vegetarian items.
“Not only changing the way people think about a hotel steakhouse, but the way hotel restaurants can be,” said Danny Estevez, food and beverage director at the InterContinental Miami, whose Toro Toro Pan Latin steakhouse is a popular South Florida dining spot. “A lot of hotel restaurants aren’t worth the value. They try to squeeze every dime out of a guest. That’s not what I want to do. I want to create value and fun in an energetic atmosphere. I’m competing against my neighbors – not neighboring hotels.”
A good steak or other menu item at a high-end hotel or resort steakhouse has become a comfort food, of sorts, to guests looking for some familiarity. That’s where restaurants such as BLT Steak at The Betsy Hotel on South Beach and Shula’s on the Beach at the Westin Beach Resort & Spa in Fort Lauderdale thrive. Each is a name brand with restaurants at select hotels and resorts across the country, so guests (and locals) know what to expect from the menu and entire dining experience.
“When you think about a steakhouse, you think about expectations,” said Daniel Lydia, general manager of Shula’s on the Beach. “We can put whatever we want on the menu, but you come here for quality.”
That quality must be delivered, not only for the sake of the restaurant, but for the overall success of the hotel or resort that houses it.
“We make sure it’s a partnership that we are comfortable with,” said Jimmy Haber, managing partner of ESquared Hospitality, the restaurant group that owns the BLT franchise
. “Unlike a stand-alone restaurant, it’s a partnership – a two-way street. We don’t want to do anything to upset hotel guests. Once we are comfortable that we have the right partner, we have to make sure it’s the right location for our concept.”
In addition to The Betsy (one of the more successful locations), BLT has steakhouses in Ritz-Carlton hotels in White Plains, N.Y. Charlotte, N.C., and San Juan, Puerto Rico, as well as the W Hotel in Atlanta.
“A (hotel) steakhouse does extremely well versus a non-steakhouse. It’s not that you can’t have a successful non-steakhouse restaurant – you can - but steak places seem to have more global appeal, especially for women and children,” Haber said. “If we want to be in a hotel, we want to cater to that as opposed to old-line steak place. We want a menu that’s more diverse. We take as much time with dover sole as we do a steak.”
For Schindler, a diverse menu means thinking outside the borders of a traditional steakhouse.
“We’ve added a few more dishes and starters, Schindler said. “And we’ve taken a little more finesse when plating – making it a little more modern.”
When the management at The Breakers Palm Beach decided to renovate its Flagler Steakhouse, it did so, according to food and beverage director Nick Velardo, not so much to re-create the Great American Steakhouse, but “to create our steakhouse.”
“We still pay tribute to the great steaks and the things that have made us successful, but also did some things that were unexpected, like the art work and the Italian and seafood sections of our menus,” Velardo said. “For us, it was all about looking at different ways we could make our guests happier.”
And for a lot of people, happiness begins with a good steak.