Room With a View
by Larry Mundy
May 2006

 The New Food & Beverage – Food “Just Like Home”
There are certain phrases in the English language that give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, just hearing them.  “Litter of puppies.”  “Roaring fireplace.”  “Home-cooked meal.”  These hearken back to a simpler, less complex time in our lives when simple pleasures abounded, the warmth of family enveloped us, and we were all too young to be candidates for colonoscopy.

Hotels go to great lengths to promise all the comforts of home, and if you have a typical F&B operation, there is probably some sort of traditional “comfort food” on your menu.  Even if your restaurant margins are as thin as Lindsey Lohan, you are trying to give your guests a little touch of “like Momma used to make.”

I was musing on this while entering a local stand-alone restaurant advertising “home cookin”.  It was one of probably hundreds of that particular brand, all of which offer “home cookin’” and use their franchisees’ marketing contributions to saturate the airwaves with that slogan.  Parking was tight, so I had to enter by walking past the restaurant’s dock while cases of food were unloaded from a big truck.  Freeze-dried celery slices.  Flash-frozen Idaho new potatoes.  Acme 30-Weight Hollandaise Sauce, contents 6-1 gal. cans.  Acme Sausage Gravy and Light-Duty Adhesive, 24 1-lb. tubes.  Acme Powdered Pork Chops, exclusive “shaker” container.  Acme Silk Parsley Sprigs, for decorative use only, NOT FOR RESALE.   Home cooking sure has changed.  But you know what?  What followed was the best meal I’d had all week.

That’s because “home cooking” has changed at home, too.  We all work, and stop by the cleaners, and take the kids to soccer, and by the time we get home everybody’s too tired to make actual fresh ingredients into a “home-cooked meal.”  If we did, we’d all be eating that home-cooked meal just as Jay Leno signs off the Tonight Show.  Instead we eat “convenience foods,” which means that in just three minutes we can enjoy a delightful three-course meal in an oblong composite-paper tray, that looks like the meal pictured on the box would look if it had been cooked, and then sat on the sidewalk since October.

Some nights we can’t even manage that.  We just grab a half-eaten bag of vinegar and barbecue-flavored potato thins and pop open a can of diet cherry-grapefruit soda while we scan the junk mail.

If we want to give our guests “home cookin’,” let’s get into the 21st century and do it right.

First off, there is no wait staff at my home.  I have to fetch things myself.  And I have to pay for them before I eat them.  Collect money, a few bucks a head, as the guests are entering your F&B area, and after that they’re on their own.  Make it clear that attire is very casual, and that robes and house shoes are encouraged.

In some easily-accessible area, there should be a big fridge, where foraging always begins.  The guest grabs a plate out of the dishwasher and sticks his head in the fridge, where he will find a cornucopia of half-empty condiments, the Special of the Day, and some minor alternatives.

About those “alternatives.”  Today, when your guest only eats half his meal, the other half goes into the garbage.  That’s not how it works at home.  At home, the half-eaten plate goes into the fridge for the next taker.  Your fridge should be large enough to accommodate half-eaten remnants of the Special of the Day for at least the past 10 days.  If your guests are hungry enough, food wastage should approach zero.  Did someone leave a half-eaten bag of chips by the pool, or a barely-used Coke in the guestroom?  You know what to do.

The Special of the Day is lovingly prepared by the Night Auditor at the end of his or her shift, and consists of whatever can be combined in a “crock pot” and cooked all day.  This technique renders even the toughest meats, tender and juicy 12 hours later.  A pound of beef jerky, five cans of consommé, and a large bag of rice, and you are ready for two dozen happy diners.  Thanks to the efforts of prisons and summer camps everywhere, you can now buy institutional packs of Beef By-Products Helper with Noodles, Chicken Parts Chowder Mix, and Tuna Bits with Taste-Flavored Imitation Pasteurized Cheese Food Product.   Mmmm.  Food cost per occupied room should drop to less than the cost of a complimentary newspaper (some newsprint is actually edible, by the way, if hidden in a thick cream sauce).

Diners will be in a hurry to reheat these delights and return to American Idol reruns on TV.  So, you need several million-watt microwaves capable of reducing random parts of the Special of the Day to smoking cinders in 10 seconds or less.  This ensures that, when mixed with the still-cold parts of the portion, your hungry guest will have a satisfyingly lukewarm entrée.  Make sure each table has an assortment of mismatched spoons, cartoon-figure salt and pepper shakers, and half a roll of paper towels.

From there, let your own experience be your guide.  Think cookie jars with flaccid ginger snaps, ice cream eaten directly from the container, maybe a blackened banana or two.  The only staff you will need, really, is one elderly lady to yell at people to rinse their plates and spoons and put them in the dishwasher.

Your guests will feel right at home.

Larry Mundy works for a hotel company in Dallas.  His views are his own, and may differ considerably from those of a sane person."

Larry Mundy
[email protected]

Also See: Guest Privacy – It’s Not Just a Door Tag Anymore / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
The Future of Hotel Reservations / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
Soon Every Town in America Will Have an Unused Convention Center / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
Hotel Pool Safety 101 / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
Where Not To Build a Hotel / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / May 2006
“Exterior Corridors” – Disappearing, Because They Never Existed / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy
My Top Ten Worst Hotel Inventions / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / April 2006
Bed Tech / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / April 2006
A Sense of Arrival / Room With a View - a Column by Larry Mundy / April 2006

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