Working at a hotel restaurant isn’t like working at a stand-alone restaurant. They have different customers, at different times, with different needs. But while in the past it may have been hard to attract diners beyond hotel guests, many are increasingly gaining reputations as places to dine in their own right.
“I think the main difference working at a hotel is you do sometimes have to cater more toward hotel guests’ needs and preferences,” says Tyson Gee, who is chef de cuisine at radii restaurant and bar at Park Hyatt Melbourne. “At the same time, I treat the restaurant as a restaurant within a hotel, not a hotel restaurant.”
Gee says from Monday to Thursday 60 per cent of customers are hotel guests and 40 per cent external, while from Friday to Saturday that changes to 70 per cent external and 30 per cent in-house.
“Having long-staying guests pushes you to constantly evolve the menu and try new ideas,” he says. “Having three meal services always keeps you busy. I believe it also helps diversify and heightens one’s palate, as you are constantly trying new dishes. Sometimes it can be difficult to sell them, as some guests are business travellers and prefer a simple meal of ‘meat and potatoes’.”
With so many good restaurants in the area, Gee admits it can be tough to attract external guests. “Hotel restaurants have a certain stigma associated to them that sometimes drive away guests and it’s sometimes difficult to help people shy away from that,” he says.
Gee believes the best way to attract customers to the 90-seat restaurant is by providing a point of difference. “You want the restaurant to have its own identity and not be overshadowed by the hotel name,” he says. “You have to believe in what you are putting on the plate. Stand behind your food and make sure everything is tasty and delicious. Have integrity in what you do. If you serve honest, good food, people will notice and they will come. We work very closely with all our producers to source the best produce and ensure we get a great product.”
Simone Porter, who is events and reservations coordinator at glass brasserie in Hilton Sydney Hotel, says the 220-seat restaurant is constantly busy with conference attendees, hotel guests and other diners.
“Depending on the time of week, we see different kinds of restaurant patrons,” she says. “Mid-week lunch times bring our corporate guests, on weeknights we see more hotel guests and local diners and over the weekend the restaurant is filled with travellers and locals celebrating special occasions. glass is run by celebrity chef and restaurateur Luke Mangan. As part of the menu, we offer his signature dishes, which feature in his 19 restaurants around the world, which attracts many international guests.”
Porter believes the biggest difference between glass and a stand-alone hotel can be seen in its bar menu. “Due to our long operating hours, in the wine bar we offer daily lunch specials, an afternoon tapas menu, evening bar food, cheese platters and dessert until late,” she says.
As well as overseeing the 90-seat Gowings Bar & Grill at the QT Sydney, executive chef Julien Pouteau is in charge of conference and event catering in the function room, two cafes and room service. “Multi-tasking is key in a diverse environment,” he says. “It is essentially a bigger service time range, which can affect how I manage the schedule, cleaning rotation, production… But I like the diversity of the day-to-day operation, managing the team across the different outlets and being able to give a taste of Sydney to our international hotel guests.”
Plouteau says Gowings has gained a reputation for its great food and fantastic service in a special environment. “I guess reputation for greatness and consistency is the way to attract people in your restaurant,” he says. “Our standout at Gowings is the quality of our produce – sourcing the best and freshness is our priority. A great feature is our whole yellow fin tuna displayed in front of the customers; it is as fresh as it can get and can be cooked in five different ways on our menu. We also offer breakfast but at restaurant quality standard. That is something our customers really love.”
Clinton Jackson, who is executive chef at InterContinental Melbourne the Rialto and its 120-seat restaurant Alluvial, says stand-alone restaurants have a very specific target market with an established style of service and operating times. “We have to cater for all meal periods including breakfast, lunch, high tea, dinner, overnight and room service all the while meeting the preferences of international and domestic guests and catering for groups as well,” he says.
In such an environment, Jackson says it’s important to be flexible and have the knowledge, confidence and ability to perform in all sections if needed. You also need to offer different styles and flavours across all outlets and have price points to match the internal and external market segment. The hotel attracts outside guests through offerings such as high tea.
Ricardo Ferreira, who is chef de cuisine at Altitude Restaurant in Shangri-La Sydney says being part of an international brand means you need to adhere to high standards. “As a stand-alone restaurant, you may have more freedom at times, whereas in a hotel restaurant we follow brand rules and standards,” he says. “We want our guests to leave feeling satisfied, and not only want them to return, but to turn them into a lifelong guest – a part of the Shangri-La family. Wanting to impress thousands of diners and guests can add pressure in a fine dining restaurant, but being passionate about offering a memorable experience is how we overcome the challenge.”
Ferreira says around 30 per cent of Altitude customers are hotel guests, with the other 70 per cent made up of business-people and couples sharing a romantic dinner overlooking Sydney Harbour. “We serve guests from various backgrounds, which is as rewarding as it is challenging,” he says.