Celebrity Chefs: Are They Worth It?
By Stuart Pallister, Head of Academic Editorial Content at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne
Celebrity chefs are 'very expensive' but they can bring instant brand recognition to your hotel restaurant. That was the general consensus among panelists at the F&B breakout session at the International Hotel Investment Forum held recently in Berlin.
Celebrity chefs: a recipe for success?
Moderator Sophie Perret , director of HVS in London, raised the issue of celebrity chefs during the session, saying that some in the industry still feel it's a 'recipe for success'. Jon Yantin , Managing Partner - EMEA of F&B advisory firm Hospitality House, said the chef is not irrelevant but "if anyone thinks Gordon Ramsey cooked their steak, he wasn't there."
It's naïve to believe Gordon Ramsey is cooking your food … but the chef has become the brand. That's the really important piece.
Yantin stressed that the hotel owner or operator's vision of how to use a particular space is more important than the concept. But he said, he was agnostic as to whether a celebrity chef should be brought in or the restaurant should serve pizzas.
Singling out another celebrity chef, Yantin said Jason Atherton had taken a 'portfolio approach' with his teams. "Again, most people don't expect Jason Atherton is grilling their seabream, so it has moved on correctly where it's not about the chefs themselves, it's about the concept around that chef, the vision that the chef brings."
Is it right to say no celebrity chefs? I don't agree with that. There are good examples in the marketplace now, where it's not about the person, it's about the vision they've created and the style they bring.
Hoteliers have the opportunity to create their own celebrity chefs
Another panelist, restaurant designer and operator Bob Puccini, CEO of The Puccini Group, spoke about how he opened Wolfgang Puck's first restaurants in Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1989. "We did about 12 million dollars a year which was a lot of money in those days - and it's not so bad even today. When that restaurant dropped to about eight or nine million, which it started to do in the mid-90s, it would almost get to the point of losing money because it's very expensive to work with celebrity chefs."
He added that his group has converted many restaurants that have failed and he advocated that hoteliers should create their own celebrity chef through marketing.
It takes a little bit of time but you can create your own brand around a chef with personality who cooks well. The mistake hoteliers make is thinking about the restaurant as the hub of the hotel. Think of them as the hub of the community because if they're not that, they'll never ever be successful.
"There's one hotel here in town that we've talked to about renovating because they were losing a million euros a year with a two-star Michelin restaurant. That's a lot of money to pay for the privilege of having somebody cook food that's just an exposition of technique. So my feeling is you're much better off doing an upper-middle class restaurant that's popular, that people will come in, and serve your community as well as the guests in your hotel."
Accor is a major proponent of the hotel as a community hub and its group CEO of F&B, Amir Nahai, told the IHIF breakout session that hoteliers should think and invest like restaurateurs when thinking about the community at large.
Watch the video: What Does Innovation Mean in Food and Beverage?
AccorHotels' CEO of Global F&B, Amir Nahai told a recent panel discussion at Ecole hôteliere de Lausanne that, for the hotel group, innovation is all about getting closer to their customers.
Creating strategic alliances with celebrity chefs
A fourth panelist, Mps Puri, the chief executive of Nira Hotels and Resorts, said it's sometimes easier to bring in a celebrity chef as hotels could form "a strategic brand alliance."
You're aligning yourself with somebody else that's a brand so it lends value to your brand or to what you're doing. Secondly, you don't have to worry about it because they'll bring the team and put the thing together.
"But when you do it yourself, you really need to have very strong food, bar, wine, and service cultures, and if you've got entertainment, a sincere entertainment culture. And oftentimes that's where things don't go perfectly but that's what needs to happen." He added that he himself is involved with an independent restaurant in London that does half a million pounds a week. "But it has a very strong culture and that's what is required in order to do it successfully."
The session came in the wake of the news that celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver had had to close down some of his Italian restaurants. "I feel for anyone that's struggling with a business," Yantin told Hospitality Insights, "but if you look at the fallout in the UK, it's not just Jamie Oliver, it's Prezzo and Byron."
Italian-themed restaurant chain Prezzo and burger chain Byron are closing a third of their outlets, the Financial Times has reported, while Jamie's Italian has announced it is closing 12 of its restaurants under a company voluntary agreement or CVA.
"Is Jamie's Italian as relevant as it could or should be? Is the price point correct? Is the wider experience strong? You've got to be on point because there's so much competition coming through and consumers aren't stupid."
The cost of working with celebrity chefs
Also on the sidelines of the IHIF, Puccini told Hospitality Insights that although it may make sense to bring in a celebrity chef initially to attract customers on the strength of their personal branding, investors pay a premium for their personal branding and the extra costs in terms of labor to maintain their reputation can be high.
"That's great for the start but it really can dwindle off relatively quickly because they're hardly ever there. So their visibility is low. And if the restaurant, for whatever reason, doesn't come together properly, they're going to fail just about as quickly as anybody else."
Find chefs that have personality and promote them because, within a small trade area, it's relatively easy to create a reputation around a chef if he's willing to be out there in front of the public and become a personality himself.
InterContinental Berlin — Berlin, Germany
Stuart is Head of Academic Editorial Content. After working as a television journalist in Asia and Europe for nearly 20 years, mainly at CNBC, Stuart switched to digital content development at INSEAD business school and the National University of Singapore. He is currently the Head of Academic Editorial Content at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne and Editor-in-Chief of Hospitality Insights by EHL.More from Stuart Pallister