We’ve all been there — arrived late at a hotel and had a choice of a Snickers from the minibar or heading to the on-site restaurant. But what about how to bring in people from off the street into said restaurant and grow a following among a clientele that is constantly changing in a packed F&B environment?
That was the question for the team at Chopps in Burlington, Massachusetts. With a hotel upgrade of some common spaces, including the steakhouse, it was the perfect recipe to bring in the business travelers who frequent the area and those who live locally.
“The goal of the open space and multifaceted layout is to provide both our hotel guests and the community with a welcoming space that is a sophisticated dining destination and also a relaxed and welcoming place,” says Mark Young, general manager.
A renovation made the setting more “millennial-friendly” with open spaces, couches and cushy chairs, roaring fireplaces, a busy open kitchen, and lots of big TVs near the bar. A more formal dining area — with skylights and expansive windows filled with trees in an area with lots of office parks — makes it seem like a bit of an escape for events like beer dinners and sit-down meals featuring locally sourced vegetables and meats.
Eschewing classic beers on draught in lieu of Massachusetts’ craft scene has also brought in a solid after-work crowd seeking out “niche” brews — especially Tuesday through Saturday when there’s live music or a DJ.
Even something even as simple as adding in a TV can really add to that “buzzy” feel, advises Amber Renberg, general manager of The Four Seasons Boston, whose Bristol Lounge has been known as “Boston’s living room” for 35 years. The cushy couches around the bar add to a laid-back feel for a brand that could easily throw people off for their reputation as a destination for solely luxury clientele. “You have even a tiny TV on the wall and you’re going to have a full bar and start really selling food. Our deviled eggs or Jamaican jerk chicken wings satisfy a lot of people who really (then) take a look at the menu.”
Round it out with a bar program that puts special emphasis on local distillers, such as Boston-born Bully Boy’s handcrafted rum, vodka, and whiskies, and there are lots of repeat local customers (Renberg estimates 40 to 50 percent of diners are not hotel guests).
Whereas the Bristol’s scenic spot right on Boston Common park appeals to a lot of passersby in sneakers, Sixteen’s magnificent views of Chicago are marketed in a different way, says General manager Adam Stark. “You can’t miss us. There’s the Sears Tower and then there’s us…. We have a brand that exudes this ‘destination’ idea, and visually standing out is a pretty big asset.”
With a higher price point and two-star Michelin chef, Sixteen’s dinner experience is more of a special occasion destination versus an after-work drive-by, but that exclusivity can also pay off when it comes to keeping up with the Joneses on social media. Plus, having the backing of a brand name for two feeds ramps up the excitement. “Chef Nick Dostal is coming up with new dishes every other day, and I’m constantly snapping pictures. But there are some other ways, too, like advertising your dishwashers or servers who have been there for years to promote the idea of longevity in the staff.”
His advice? While most dinner clients are an even mix of hotel guests and “suburban guests making it a special destination” for a $200 per person experience, offering up a bar burger to take in the view is a great way to keep all of the seats full, says Stark.
Other hotel restaurant how-to’s:
Capitalize on your environment with a “niche” experience.
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Palos Verdes, California, guests at Terranea can dine on dishes with locally harvested sea salt and participate in a harvesting class. Guest education also includes on-site chickens and oil, honey and product harvesting.
Try something outside the box.
Oak Bar in Nashville, at Hermitage Hotel, recently launched a reverse happy hour to attract late-night visitors after a show the nearby Ryman Auditorium or Tennessee Performing Arts Center, promoting one of the largest collections of whiskey in the state in its “Bourbon Library.” FireLake Grill House in downtown Minneapolis sees a lot of repeat clients in town for nearby performing arts events, which are promoted on social media.
Participate in community events.
Kansas City-based Hotel Phillips general manager Mark Krtek says local events, like the World Series of Barbecue, and hosting live music, help ramp up excitement for trying new places. FireLake runs Movember promotions during the month of November, celebrating mustaches and men’s health, and Galentine’s Day (from Parks and Recreation), for single ladies around Valentine’s Day.
Focus on what makes you unique.
Tavernonna Italian Kitchen at Hotel Phillips is a play on the Italian word for grandmother — nonna — and chef Bryant Wigger’s menu combines Kansas City flavors with those of his ancestral roots to tell diners a personalized story.