Q: In your opinion, are hotel restaurants dead? More and more restaurants and takeaways are opening around my hotel, and less and less of my customers are eating in my restaurant. What should I do?
A: In my opinion, the answer to this question is both yes, and no. I appreciate that sounds like a cop out, however I promise you it isn’t. Traditional hotel restaurants are dead in my opinion, yes; these are the restaurants which simply exist to service customers, ensuring that your restaurant space isn’t just used for guest breakfasts, but generates an income throughout the day. Unless a hotel is in a remote location, with limited access to restaurant and eatery amenities, then takings will be meagre and this type of restaurant is unlikely to survive. In your case, the competition is helping to put your restaurant out of business, so yes, I would suggest it is probably dead in its current guise.
Destination hotel restaurants on the other hand, are definitely not dead and there is money to be made establishing your restaurant in its own right. For example, I read recently that the in-house Radisson restaurants run by Edwardian Hotels gross close to £28m a year, independent of their hotel business, servicing hotel guests as well as tourists and locals.
So, this leaves you with a decision between two options. Financially and commercially, do you want to and can you afford to put the effort and money into establishing your restaurant in its own right, potentially reaping long-term rewards, but ones which are not guaranteed? Or alternatively, will it be better in the long-term for you to close the restaurant down, reducing your overheads and enabling you to do something else with the space?
Relaunching your restaurant
If you plan to establish an independent restaurant, which just happens to be based in your hotel, and which will service your guests but also attract locals and regional tourists, then it makes sense to create a level of independence from the hotel. An independent brand, preferably a separate entrance (if logistically possible) and destination décor, along with an exemplary chef and a sought-after menu, supported by a separate marketing campaign will all be necessary to underpin your new restaurant.
Think of the Ramsay makeovers; strip out carpets, luxury drapes, put in trendy chairs and introduce a vibrant colour scheme and then think of a theme and your aspirations for the food. Survey everyone you know; clients, staff and local shopkeepers and see what they think is missing in the area. A client of ours did this not so long ago and found almost everyone told him you couldn’t get a good roast anywhere locally, apart from on a Sunday – the carvery was brought back and updated and the restaurant is really busy seven days a week. They have now added a roast takeaway and are offering it in a sandwich a bap or in a tub. There are also vegetarian and vegan options gaining a regular following.
If at all possible, learn from what the big chains are doing; take yourself and your chef on a gastronomic journey and see who is busy when and watch what is being sold. Chat to people about why they go there do your research and then get your offering together, do an invited launch and then a general launch and plan your marketing roll out with a calendar of events and products you can promote.
Closing it down
If you don’t want to put the effort into establishing the restaurant independently, then you need to think about how you will close yours and what service you will offer your guests instead. Will the restaurant space still offer breakfast or bar snacks, or are you doing away with it altogether. For dinner, can you tie in with local takeaways and restaurants so that your guests receive a discount if they produce a voucher/business card from you, and can you create a ‘guest recommendations’ book so that guests can see feedback from other guests.
If you opt to shut the restaurant, then this needs to be clearly communicated to your guests, so that they don’t have expectation of a late dinner if they arrive at 9.30pm. You don’t have to shove it in their face, but you do need to ensure that your website and marketing materials are not misleading.
In my opinion
Personally, I would always choose to fight to establish a thriving restaurant than close it down, because not only will it establish a reputation with your guests, but it will also prove additional revenues for your business too.