Hotel restaurants boost street cred by catering to locals

HOTEL RESTAURANTS HAVE typically been viewed as providing fare for in-house guests and not bent on serving a wider clientele. But the concept is changing today as hotel restaurants are realizing the value in catering to an almost captive customer base – the local community.

In general, a hotel restaurant adds an average of 20 to 25 percent in revenue to a hotel’s operations. But with the right focus, an experienced chef, well-trained staff and hyper-local marketing, a hotel can nearly double its F&B revenue.

“Marketing my restaurant to the locals has always been important to me,” said Hershal Patel, owner of Perspective Hospitality Services, which has three hotels with restaurants on South Padre Island, Texas, a vacation destination on the Gulf where hotels and restaurants not only serve visitors but local residents as well as guests staying at other hotels. “Both the locals and hotel guests need a dining experience,” Patel said. “We need to always provide something unique – either by way of large servings or great quality of food.”

Providing consistency as well as new fare keeps locals coming back. “People are aware of the goodness of farm-fresh produce and meat; and when these are adapted to local flavors, the result is always great.”

A signature item at the Lookout Bar & Refuge is the Hershal Burger, but the chef also whips up special menus, such as the Marley Menu that features a Rasta Burger.

Lookout Bar & Refuge is attached to Perspective Hospitality’s La Quinta Inn & Suites. Its large outside dining deck overlooks the beach and attracts folks from all directions. Next to the LQ, Perspective Hospitality also owns and operates the Garden Grille & Bar at the Hilton Garden Inn. Elsewhere on the island, it owns La Copa Cabana Bar & Grill at the La Copa Inn. It is also building a full-service Courtyard by Marriott with a beachfront restaurant.

Local sourcing

The restaurants are well-known for sourcing products from local farmers. The practice supports other local businesses and takes the hotel owners deep into the community.

Garron Gore, director of food & beverage innovation at Hospitality Ventures Management Group in Atlanta, Georgia, said, “Region-specific fare is a great way to attract local guests. For example, in Nashville southern food is a big hit with both locals and tourists. It is good for the farmers, too; they are small producers, but when hotels provide their products with free PR and advertising, it gives them the opportunity to scale up, too.”

HVMG is a third-party manager for hotels in various segments, including full-service properties in cities and destination markets throughout the U.S. A recent project is JP Atlanta, a restaurant in the Hotel Indigo Downtown Atlanta, a lifestyle brand of InterContinental Hotels Group that opened to much fanfare in January. Owned and developed by John C. Portman Jr., a legend in hotel architecture and development, the hotel attracts business and leisure guests. JP Atlanta serves its guests, but the fine-dining spot is also super-focused on drawing other visitors and local residents.

Portman built the first W Hotel in Atlanta, which recently underwent a major renovation in its F&B spaces. In the past two years the brand, owned by Starwood Hotels & Resorts, invested $100 million in renovating restaurants and bars at 10 of its U.S. hotels with the goal of attracting area residents. Today, W Hotel says 40 to 50 percent of its restaurant revenue is generated by local diners.

Food fanfare

One of the major challenges branded hotels have in attracting non-guests is the perception that hotel food is mediocre at best. Gore said it’s important hotel restaurants “offer fare that is out of the ordinary.” JP Atlanta, for example, serves American fare that harkens from the 1960s in a tribute to 91-year-old Portman, but with a modern twist. Its menu names the local farms that have provided the meats and produce.

Gore highlights the importance of the chef who runs the restaurant. “Does it excite the chef when he sees the menu? If he finds it monotonous, chances are high the guests will feel the same way, too. So, chefs should think out of the box and put a red mark against those dishes that are not gaining traction with the guests. After all, guests today are well-traveled and educated in food. So, don’t just give them eggs done over-easy. Give them Eggs Benedict.”

The trend is to be creative with fare that can stand the test of time. Local artisanal cheese, farm-fresh eggs and even burger meat grinded in-house all make a difference to a hotel restaurant and bring both guests and the local community within its fold.

“Whether you just have a grab-and-go outlet or a small restaurant in-house, be the best that you can be. Try to be perfect,” Gore advised. “Have action stations at breakfast where you serve homemade baked items or made-to-order eggs.

“Engage the local community further by retailing products made locally, such as honey pots, chutneys and jams in jars. Of course, the correct retail certificates and FDA approvals are needed for this. But it is also a great way to draw in the local community.”

When it comes to breakfast, Patel said his hotels go above and beyond the usual eggs, toast and cereal offered at most limited-service hotels. “We infused local fare even into the breakfast menu. We have breakfast tacos made with locally sourced tortillas and homemade salsa.”

Staff training

Developing and nurturing talent is another important consideration. From bartenders and servers to the wait staff, everyone needs continued training and development to ensure the hotel restaurant measures up against standalone competitors.

For smaller operations, owners and operators such as Perspective Hospitality, cross-train their staff to reduce labor costs. “We have a couple of Hispanic-origin housekeeping staff who cook [breakfast] tacos in the morning; and move on to clean the rooms after the breakfast hours. We also have a full bar and bar menu that is very popular with today’s crossover Millennial crowd. Our bartender is also the concierge,” Patel said.

Many foodies in search of a dining experience keep an eye on the chefs. If a hotel restaurant has landed a top chef, it is worth getting the message out.

It is essential for the chef at the helm to know the food pulse of the hotel’s target clientele. He or she can then guide the cooks and wait staff into serving regional favorites, and even pairings based on location.

Local marketing

JP Atlanta’s chef Julio Delgado zeros in on local business opportunities by offering lunch and dinner specials, but also something more. The restaurant invites people to sign up for its newsletter and in the process enter to win a “kitchen table” dinner for four, personally prepared and served by Delgado.

Lookout Bar & Refuge and the Hilton Garden Inn team up to serve guests and visitors to South Padre Island not only food, but a variety of entertainment. A big draw are evening fireworks; and the restaurant has sponsored shows featuring local jazz ensembles and rock bands and even performances by Mariachi bands and hula dancers.

Perspective Hospitality also celebrates holidays with the community. The Hilton Garden Inn offers buffet dinners on Thanksgiving and Christmas days. It is easy to market such deals in advance on social media, which is free and has a great reach.

Besides advertising, word of mouth has boosted business at the hotel eateries. The good vibes apply to social media as well; positive comments posted on food-rating sites by local customers go a long way in pointing tourists to the restaurants.

A check on TripAdvisor and other peer-review sites of the hotels and restaurants mentioned in this article shows hotel guests focus their critiques on the lodging accommodations while those who have dined at the restaurants seldom mention the hotel, demonstrating the stark division in clientele as well as how important it is for hotels with public F&B outlets to get it right on both accounts.

Digest This

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Monthly and Annual Retail Trade reports retail and food service sales for March was $460 million. Full-service hotel restaurants generated $25 million. Hotels with food and bars reaped $56 million.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports, in 2014, Americans spent a total of $26.6 million on hotel F&B; and nearly $550 million on hotel eateries with bars.