Hotels Go Casual

Gone are the days of hotels courting white-tablecloth restaurants and fancy service. Now, casual is in and hotels are favoring a simpler approach while still maintaining sophistication and refinery in cooking.

Hotel restaurants throughout the country are realizing the trend and changing things up to cater to the needs and wants of guests before they even know it.

“Dining in San Francisco has, overall, become more casual and approachable,” says Steve Holt, spokesperson for The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco’s restaurant Parallel 37.

“The prior restaurant in The Ritz-Carlton was formal and more of a special occasion restaurant with a separate restaurant and bar area. We combined the two spaces together and completely transformed the restaurant into a lively bar, lounge, communal tables, and dining area.”

It’s the same story for The Four Seasons, Chicago, and its restaurant Allium, whose more relaxed bar was increasingly becoming the place where guests chose to dine.

Converting this space into the main restaurant therefore seemed like the logical choice, says a spokesperson for the restaurant.

There is a trend of hotel bars being more popular than their restaurant counterparts, and it’s due to a number of reasons ranging from economics to social shifts and convenience.

“Hotels are doing well with bar menus, which keep people in the bar, and caters to the snacking trend,” says Ron Paul, president and CEO of Chicago-based food service consulting firm, Technomic, Inc.

“W hotels, which are particularly contemporary, are doing a really great job, attracting the younger, hipper guest at the bar,” he adds.

Time is also a factor in a world where people are seeing more convenience, even if they don’t know it. And time-saving can be chic and modern.

The previous restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, focused on a tasting menu concept, a three-hour-plus dining experience,” Holt says.

“Now with the à la carte menu, guests perceive it as a more modern, trendy restaurant in San Francisco.”

Casual dining also attracts local guests and puts hotel restaurants on a par with other restaurants in the area.

“Guests were looking for a more casual, approachable dining experience,” Holt says. “Entrees now are under $30 which attracts local and hotel guests. We are seeing more frequent, repeat diners. It is introducing a new neighborhood guest to Parallel 37.”

To put it all in one word, competition is what is driving this trend, Paul says.

“Hotels need to keep people there when they can and to do that they are keeping things casual,” he explains. “Increase traffic, increase quality to compete with the local chains and restaurants.”

The Four Seasons, Chicago, has seen varied clientele since the simplification and casualization of its restaurant.

And Allium is seeing a younger ‘foodie’ clientele, although long-time diners are still happy, the Allium spokesperson points out.

Restaurants are simplifying, but the food remains sophisticated and innovative, but casual and approachable at the same time. For example, Allium serves a house-made hot dog, taking an everyday item and elevating it to a new level by preparing everything in-house, including the condiments. It’s the most popular item on the menu.

At Parallel 37, “the Kampachi sashimi is amazing,” Holt says. “Simple, with a yuzu sauce, pepper and soy salt.”

The bottom line is that hotel restaurants need to recognize that they want new customers, Paul says.

“From the Starwoods to Hilton, major chains are examining what they can do to increase food and beverage sales,” he explains.

“They know that customers don’t have to stay in the hotel to have a good meal. The U.S. has gone very casual with very few restaurants now requiring a tie or jacket. Casualization is a long-term trend that’s here to stay.”

By Amy Sung

News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by WTWH Media LLC.