Industry Update
Opinion Article11 April 2016

Four Steps to a Successful Hotel Restaurant

By Babs Harrison, Managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners

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Many hotel restaurants are mediocrities. But lately the big news is how many truly outstanding hotel restaurants there are. That potential is tantalizing and just four steps will bring you that much closer to the winner's circle.

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Of course there was a time when an excellent hotel restaurant was a classic oxymoron - a vivid contradiction in terms. Most were there because the owner felt they had to offer food and, sometimes, aggressive pricing - did we mention that many hotel restaurants have reputations for being overpriced? - even produced profits.

But at what cost to the hotel's reputation - a cost that only escalates as angry diners take to TripAdvisor and Yelp to excoriate both the restaurant and the hotel that houses it.

The other side of this coin is - for instance - New York where by one count there are now six Michelin starred restaurants in Manhattan hotels, from Jean Georges at Trump International to April Bloomfield's Breslin at the Ace.

It's not exactly a stampede but there definitely is rising interest in upping the quality of hotel food, both because it can throw off dazzling profits but also because this is a sharp way to impress a guest of the hotel. And people also like talking - on social media - about the good meals they have had (and the bad) and raising a restaurant's quality very probably will result in more and better social media.

Four steps will boost your restaurant - but they will not necessarily be easy.

Step one: Know very clearly what the goal of the restaurant is. What do you want to be known for?

So often, marketing fluff language pollutes the search for excellence. It is mandatory that such language be cast out. Take out the eraser and strike stuff such as "unforgettable culinary experience." Ditto empty phrases like "gastro pub" - unless it actually is one.

Hone the language - this is so important because the right language gets everybody on board, from busboys to top managers. Let them know who they are.

This is good: "We focus on distinctive takes on Southwestern classics where the focus - always - is on letting the extraordinary raw ingredients, mostly locally sourced, shine."

Or: "Our intention is to be the state's best health-focused fine dining restaurant."

Or: "The best steaks paired with the right wines: That is what awaits every diner here."

Step two: Now go ahead and cut out all the lies.

In the social media world, lying is a fast track to being called out online.

Do not call yourself "award winning" - unless you have won awards that many have heard of.

Do not call your cook "a celebrity chef" - unless he/she has been on national TV, and if it is local TV it has to have been often. Starring in a few self-produced YouTubes is not the basis for celebrity.

If it isn't 100% true, cut it. Now.

Step three: Decide what you will be known as best at.

Not pretty good at. But best at.

As I look at restaurants that seek to win wider recognition, I see many stumble because they do not have a hook that lets them win attention.

Being best at is the hook.

Make the best bouillabaisse on Friday night in your town and that is a hook. Ditto the best veggie burger. Certainly the best pizza.

Remember step two: don't lie.

What are you the best at? What can you become best at?

Focus, focus, focus in a pursuit of excellence.

Step four: get serious about reputation management.

Double down on the important social media channels such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, and OpenTable.

And use them as a punch list of what has to be fixed, in order to truly achieve your goals.

I often have talked with senior hotel managers who tell me how great their restaurant is - and then I read the TripAdvisor and Yelp streams and wonder how they could be so clueless or is it delusional? That is not the way to restaurant success.

Good restaurants don't sweep guest complaints under the rug. They fix them. And the online review sites can help identify what your weaknesses are.

Do just these four steps - and, no, it won't be easy - and you will be that much ahead of your peers in the hotel business.

But just maybe that is a root of the problem. Step five - a bonus round - is benchmark your f & b not against other hotels, but against the best in town. That is critical because a good measure of success is how much of your business comes from people who aren't hotel guests. Increasingly I believe that at successful hotel restaurants it has to be over 50% of non-guest business. When most diners come not because they are trapped and it is easy but because they want to, you know you are doing things right.

And congratulations.

Babs Harrison

Babs Harrison is managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners, a boutique public relations/marketing consultancy for select luxury resorts, hotels, and spas. Harrison has 25 years of experience in hospitality and has worked with leading brands in the US and internationally .

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