Hoteliers looking to revamp their restaurants have several factors to consider, starting with a concept that fits naturally.
A hotel restaurant’s success is not subjective. Take one look inside, and it should be obvious if the space is generating profit. If your restaurant isn’t busy, or if there is no buzz inside from patrons and staff, your research is over. If this is the case, it’s time to rethink this space so your restaurant is working for you, and not the other way around.
When rethinking a restaurant, it is important to avoid chasing trends. Operators should embrace ingenuity and be bold in their thinking but not lose sight of the fact that, to be successful, every element must serve the market set. Elements such as local sourcing and nearby attractions should be considered, as well as ways to offer whatever it is that the competition is not.
This is a delicate process and there is no handbook or manual to guide one through it but real life examples are always useful. The following three examples look at restaurants that were in need of a full rework, and how these overhauls generated results:
1. The luxury problem
The Harrisburg Hilton was previously home to Golden Sheaf, a 4-star, 4-diamond restaurant focused on offering cuisine reminiscent of California’s wine country. Unfortunately, this restaurant failed to gain traction with travelers and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, natives, despite featuring a setting that boasted both high-quality decor and a luxurious menu. It simply wasn’t what the market was demanding. It was time to make a change.
Sometimes all a hotel restaurant needs is to fill a void to be successful. Strong operators will do whatever they can to identify this void, or the strengths inherent in their local market, and express them through their menu, décor and service strategy. In Harrisburg’s case, there were multiple fine-dining restaurants in the area, but there was a curious lack of a high-end steakhouse or craft cocktail bar. This was the niche within Harrisburg that required attention, and it was a clear direction for innovation.
As a result, the Harrisburg Hilton’s restaurant, the Golden Sheaf, needed to be completely reinvented. The eatery was replaced by the 1700 Degrees Steakhouse, with the new restaurant seeking to retain the prestige of the Golden Sheaf while removing its air of intimidation by cycling in new furniture and fixtures. The property eschewed white tablecloths, and adopted a more casual dress code for its employees. A new entrance was added to match the restaurant’s less-formal aesthetic. 1700 Degrees retained an award-winning list of more than 700 wines, and its new positioning cast the restaurant as a modern luxury establishment. It became a refreshed take on an outdated concept.
2. Thinking small
1700 Degrees is just one of two new restaurants now operating in the Harrisburg Hilton. Another eatery there, previously known as Raspberries Bistro, was popular locally for its $15 buffet. This casual restaurant was attracting mouths but failed to make a significant profit. Having gone more than nine years without a refresh, Raspberries was due.
First, the name had to go. Raspberries was completely removed from the property, becoming Ad Lib Craft Kitchen and Bar in the process. The location’s interior was updated to include rustic hardwood floors and modern decor. Lastly, the buffet had to leave the spotlight. Instead, the restaurant focused on offering a selection of small plates and shareable appetizers. This gave the restaurant room to experiment with small, select dishes while remaining nimble enough to quickly innovate.
These investments had an immediate impact on the Harrisburg Hilton’s revenue, which more than doubled its previous performance. The success of this project proved that with small levels of innovation and an updated space, a restaurant can take on an entirely new life and find success in a short period of time.
3. Tavern revolution
The Henry, an Autograph Collection hotel in Dearborn, Michigan, is host to Tria, an American brasserie run by chef Tim Enfield. Today the restaurant is a major revenue generator for the hotel and a cornerstone of the local community, but this wasn’t always the case. For many years, Tria seemed to be stuck hosting business lunches and select dinners for special occasions, earning roughly $600,000 a year and failing to make a profit. The concept just wasn’t attracting the attention it deserved.
Following a comprehensive study of the Dearborn market, Tria began a full refresh. The business would retain its name, but every other element was to be completely reworked. Over the past 10 years, the concept of the “local tavern” has gone through a revolution, reverting from a routine sports bar to a gathering place for the community. The Henry needed something less formal, more inexpensive, and this concept was perfect because it would fill a void for this category of restaurant near the hotel.
Tria began serving small plates, similar to Ad Lib, and its yearly revenue more than tripled to over $3 million. By scaling down on elegance, the hotel was able to absorb the business it needed to surpass its previous metrics. By shedding its pretension, it came into its own.
Throughout this piece we have discussed the ongoing casualization of fine dining and how hotels can capitalize on this trend, but this is just one of several movements taking place throughout the industry. Travelers want a great meal, but it isn’t always necessary for service to remain formal. Hotel operators need the confidence to sometimes defy their hotel’s segment to succeed in their specific market. As long as you have strong data to back up your decision making, the hungry guests will reward the daring.
William D. Kohl oversees the strategic and operational direction of Greenwood Hospitality Group’s portfolio of hotels. Additionally, he directs the Company’s activities in restaurant development, concept design and re-positioning. Kohl’s portfolio experience includes oversight of many high-profile assets, direct responsibility for opening eight hotels as well as concept design of over 20 restaurants.
Kohl currently serves on the National Restaurant Association’s Board of Directors and is immediate Past Chair of its Political Action Committee. He is a past Director of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, Past Chair of both the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association and the Pennsylvania Tourism and Lodging Associations. He currently serves as a member of the Marriott Food and Beverage Advisory Committee and the Renaissance Hotels Owners’ Advisory Board. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate degree from Central Pennsylvania College in 2004. Recently, he was named Penn State University’s Alumnus of the Year for the School of Hospitality Management. He is also founder of Très Bonne Année, a series of wine and food events and international wine auction for charity which raises in excess of $400,000 annually.
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