How to make your hotel restaurants into local heroes

If you visit Cindy’s, the always-packed Chicago restaurant with its endless views, you may think that, looking out at the panorama of city and lake, you’ve seen the secret to its success. But to get the complete picture, you need to look down, imagining you can see through the floor – which is actually the roof of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. Yes, this is a hotel restaurant, and it was named as one of Chicago’s best, in the Chicago Tribune’s Annual Reader’s Choice Awards.

The long lines to get in to Cindy’s are irrefutable testimony to the power of a new trend: hotels as local heroes of the culinary scene, bringing in new accolades, new overnight guests and throngs of local foodies, with all their new local revenue attached. Here are three critical considerations for getting in on this high volume, high margin sea change in the hotel industry.

It’s a capital idea!
The promise of a high volume of business and the high margins that food and alcohol sales can bring is being fulfilled – but, as always, it takes money to make money. To really compete in the style- and quality-conscious local restaurant scene, hotels need to invest in exciting new concepts, designs and experiences. Many have (over a quarter of hotels in the past three years have renovated restaurants), and many more will (over half of all hotels plan to redo their restaurant in the next three years).

Local favorites leverage local resources.
reinventing hotel restaurantsIn today’s highly-informed consumer mind, the term foodservice conjures canned food, preservatives and trucks traveling cross country to offload highly processed wares. If you want to really compete for customers who are increasingly passionate about food quality, sourcing and nutrition, look past the easy options and dig for the creative gems that may be right around the corner.

That can mean culinary talent, like emerging chefs. It can mean local architects and designers, who have their pulse on the heart of a city’s style preferences. And it can mean local food and beverage suppliers, from organic farmers just outside your city to the craft brewery that’s a favorite of trendsetting local influencers and taste-makers.

Be seen, or be secret — but be special.
Restaurant awareness comes by many means, and two of the best are “line of sight” and “word of mouth.” The former has hotels “unburying” their restaurants and positioning them for prominence, whether fronting the street or topping the roof. The latter taps into the power of mystery, requiring passwords and personal invitations.

For instance, 398 Brasserie, in San Francisco’s Hotel G, boasts a bold “398” over its street corner entrance, and an interior that one local reviewer called “pure style”. On the secret end of the spectrum are offerings like Secret Pizza, at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, which is open until at least 4 a.m. every night, but must be discovered on the third floor, down a long, long, long hallway. Whether on the corner or on the sly, the restaurants making a difference to the bottom line all have one thing in common: they are undeniably special and often unique.

Can your hotel’s restaurant become a local hero? Yes — but it may require thinking less like a manager and more like the people who live just down the street.

Chicago Tribune
San Francisco Travel