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Create a Successful Hotel Restaurant
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By Robert R. Cohn, ex-Food and Beverage Director
June 2006

There are more and more people these days, which advocate you, outsource the hotel’s restaurant. Owners today, often think that you don’t know how to run a proper and profitable restaurant. They will compare your revenue to one of the big guys’ revenue in cities like New York, or Chicago, and tout that they have revenues of $12,000,000 per year, versus your dismal $1,000,000 per year.

It doesn’t have to be like this. 

You might be in a smaller city, or you might just happen to operate a resort, so to expect New York City-like revenues is not fair to you, and don’t think for even a New York Minute, that the big guys from the big city would have the same results in your situation (location, location, location!).

No need to despair; you are able to get results, but it does take hard work and a slightly different mind-set than you currently have.

Treat your restaurant to a far-going degree like if it were a free-standing operation, which has little to do with the hotel. You are lucky, if there is a separate entrance to the outlet, which doesn’t come off of the lobby, aiding perception, and reduce intimidation.

However, at the same time, do not forget about attracting your hotel’s guests, who give you a very nice base clientele.

First things first: provide your restaurant managers with an incentive, which takes into account their entire performance, to include hotel guest capture, and local traffic into the outlet.

Know your guest.

Who is your guest? Keep track on a monthly basis of hotel-generated covers, and locally generated covers. Eventually measure the progression year-over-year. You may want to compare this April to April of last year, and you would expect to see growth on both fronts.

The restaurant managers should come up with an annual marketing plan for their outlet. It is nice, if there is some money to be spent on advertising, but this is rarely the case, since the return on room-nights trounces the return on additional covers in the restaurant, so be creative; it doesn’t take dollars to be successful. Creativity is key. 

Here are a few examples of what has worked for me in the past. 

At a large resort in Hawaii we had a tremendously energetic restaurant manager, Joe Batteiger from Cleveland, Ohio, who had just the right personality to go on radio with what he successfully called “scratch and sniff”. He would talk about his outlet, and then have a tasting set up in front of the radio station, right at 5:00p.m., as people would leave work.

In San Diego I worked at a large convention hotel in the mid-nineties, close to the Convention Center. The 3-meal a day restaurant was a true “dog”. We only had good breakfast business, and lunch was 100% dependant upon convention guests. Dinner was a “horror story”; we only had one server scheduled ever for dinner. 

In order to create some kind of local business we decided upon Thursday night “all you can eat” Prime Rib, along with a salad bar, and a chocolate lovers desert extravaganza.

The first night we had 80 covers, which was a new record, I believe. 

Then we proceeded to create a cheap and ugly flier, with red letters on blue paper, which stated only the simple facts, and the price: All-you-can-eat Prime Rib, $11.95, includes salad bar, and a chocolate lover’s desert extravaganza. We papered the residential buildings in the immediate area of downtown San Diego, within a radius of less than one mile. The results were phenomenal. When we showed the flier to the hotel’s public relations and marketing firm’s leader, he told us it was a disaster in his opinion. We simply gave him the fact, which was that the restaurant was full every Thursday evening, and that people had to wait to get in. (Remember; lines are good in the restaurant business). We even received a very positive write-up in the San Diego Tribune, and we never looked back. I believe that the buffet exists to this day, and people even drove in from 15-20 miles to enjoy our little invention.

In a very large sprawling desert resort near Palm Desert, I was lucky to work with a very talented Executive Chef, who nowadays works for Ritz Carlton in Hawaii. We had a tremendous Mediterranean restaurant, which I would have put up against just about any top-notch restaurant in the country. It was located in, what I believe to be the oldest dining room in the Coachella Valley, loaded with charm, and some authentic items, such as the chandeliers, and a mural.

Our average check was around $100.00 per person, and we sold a tremendous amount of top-rated wines, such as Grgich Hills, Stonestreet, Swanson, Duckhorn, Silver Oak, for example.

We ended up practically “owning” the clientele of a nearby Marriott resort, by giving one dollar per cover to the concierge, who would send us business. We also had a strong following amongst the more affluent snowbirds.

In our Mexican restaurant we issued coupons for free appetizers/deserts to the management of a local Ralph’s supermarket, which brought us tons of business.

Another possible way of generating interest is by sending new menus to food critics, by organizing a food tasting on Saturday morning in a supermarket (if they allow you to do so), or other big box store, etcetera, etcetera.

There is no limit of what one can try.

So, be encouraged, and don’t think for a minute, you cannot have a very profitable restaurant in your hotel. Keep measuring your progress, and be creative.

Good luck. 

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Contact:

Robert R. Cohn
RCohn95038@aol.com

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Also See: Chefs Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand Joining Other Celebrity Chefs in the Trend that is Transforming Hotel Dining; Marriage Between Hotels and Celebrity-Chef Restaurateurs Can be Mutually Beneficial / June 2006
Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Starwood Form Third Party Development Arm for Restaurant Concepts in Starwood Branded Hotels / May 2006
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