FE&S caught up with Guy Rigby, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts' vice president of food and beverage for the Americas for his take on a trend affecting hotels worldwide: the swapping of fine-dining, continental cuisine restaurants to concept-driven, standalone spots.
FE&S: Fine dining at the Four Seasons has long been an institution of sorts. Why the switch?
GR: Hotels recognize the classic fine-dining room is not relevant anymore. Gone are the good old days when restaurants were designed as a way to target hotel guests only. Slowly but surely, hotels recognized that if they were going to be profitable, they needed to rethink their concepts to target the local market rather than the hotel guest. The thought behind that is hotel guests want to eat where the locals eat. So if you get the local market right, you automatically bring in the hotel guests.
FE&S: How has the concept and menu changed as a result of this move to more approachable dining?
GR: Hoteliers recognize the hotel dining room of the past had no concept. It was primarily continental cuisine and designed by hotel staff rather than by specialty restaurant designers. The Four Seasons has been making this strategic shift to put restaurants with a very strong concept into their hotels rather than going with the generic, three-meal restaurant with no concept. In some cases we will bring in a celebrity chef, but only if we feel it's necessary or will make it special.
FE&S: How do you develop the restaurants according to their particular market?
GR: Depending on where you go, you have to look at market dynamics and what is relevant in that city. I think you also have to be very well aware of what kind of concept is going to stand the test of time. When we put in a restaurant, we expect a shelf life of 8 to 10 years, not 3 to 4 years. That might mean we'll put in a steak or Italian concept, but one with very modern appeal while still appealing to a fairly broad demographic.
FE&S: Who designs the restaurant space?
GR: We work with a very long list of independent and
acclaimed restaurant designers. The selection of the designer is very much a decision made by owner of the hotel with guidance from the operator, which is us. We will present three to four designers that we find fit for the job, but we feel it's important that the chosen person has a good relationship with all parties, and that the owner feels the designer understands their vision for the property.
FE&S: Do these restaurant concepts have separate or shared kitchens with banquet and room service operations?
GR: Typically there are two different kitchens — a separate banquet kitchen and the restaurant concept kitchen, which will execute room service. In hotel foodservice there is always a desire among some guests for simple food. That's the challenge with these concept restaurants: there is always a need in a hotel for people to order a simple salad or a burger or a bowl of pasta, but at the same time you have to stick with your concept.
FE&S: What about price point at these concept restaurants?
GR: In our research, we find people probably eat out more often at a lower price point than they did in the old days when they used to save up and spend more at a fine-dining restaurant. This has been another main driver behind the switch from fine-dining to concept restaurants.