Running a restaurant in a hotel can be a win-win: the hotel has a place to send guests looking for a special occasion dinner or a quick breakfast bite before sightseeing, and the restaurant has access to a steady flow of potential diners. But what happens when the two businesses are separate?
New York’s award-winning Altamarea Group, led by esteemed chef Michael White, leases the space for their restaurant Ai Fiori from Manhattan’s Langham Place hotel. Ai Fiori is influenced by the intersection of France and Italy at the Mediterranean, with staple dishes such as bouillabaisse, and squid ink pasta with a Ligurian crustacean ragu. The restaurant serves three meals a day, as well as the destination lounge Bar Fiori — and both are located on the second floor of the building, adding another challenge. Since ownership differs between the two spaces, both parties have to work together to ensure that the guest experience is seamless from the hotel to the bar and restaurant.
This set-up isn’t unique, especially in New York City, so we asked Ai Fiori’s General Manager David Schneider to share his tips for success.
Think about the individual guest. Ai Fiori and Langham Place share information about guests between the businesses to serve each person better. “We want to be able to quickly uncover facts to begin to tailor their experience accordingly,” says Schneider. If his team knows that a guest is arriving at the restaurant after a day of flight delays, they can roll out the red carpet and pamper them accordingly with complimentary glasses of bubbly. They also keep guest notes to track preferences for restaurant and hotel regulars.
Collaborate to create unique experiences for guests. Using the restaurant and hotel as a starting point, think about how you can create larger experiences. Schneider and his team recently partnered with Uber to orchestrate a night on the town including a Broadway show, dinner at Ai Fiori, and a stay at Langham Place. “It’s fun to take advantage of amazing offerings beyond the restaurant and hotel,” he says.
Direct guests to other restaurants in the group. Ai Fiori isn’t the only restaurant that benefits from Altamarea’s relationship with Langham Place. “It’s easy to get on the phone or shoot and email and connect a Langham guest who’s expressed interest in AMG restaurants,” says Schneider. If guests are heading to the Upper East Side for the day or looking for another Michelin-level dining experience, he has a direct line to the teams at Marea and Vaucluse.
Make friends with the hotel concierge (and doormen)! Schneider’s team invites the Langham Place concierge into the restaurant regularly to experience new seasonal menus and get comfortable with the team and space, so that they are able to describe the experience to guests accurately. Plus — especially since the restaurant is located on the second floor instead of at street level — he’s developed strong relationships with the hotel doorman. “I want them to be aware of us and informed, so that if a guest were to stop and ask for a recommendation for lunch or dinner, they would know where to direct them and help our cause.”
Incentivize hotel guests. Bar Fiori offers happy hour seven days a week, along with a late-night offer for wine lovers that discounts bottles by 25% after 9 p.m. That helps them entice hotel guests who don’t feel like venturing out for a drink or haven’t made dinner plans ahead of time.
Connect with other hotels, too. Just because Ai Fiori is in Langham Place doesn’t mean other hotel concierges are off limits. “We’re always aggressively working on concierge outreach,” says Schneider, adding that many of their restaurant guests are referred through other hotels in the city.
Keep communication open and honest. The restaurant management team meets at the beginning of every month with hotel managers and executives so that everyone can get on the same page, look at what’s ahead, and reflect on what has recently transpired. The most important thing, says Schneider, is “the relationship you foster.” He adds, “When I arrived here at the top of my priority list was to get to know the Langham players and their goals and aspirations, and what we’re doing well and where we need to improve. Don’t be afraid to be criticized and make the necessary changes or improvements — there’s got to be accountability.”