SS's recent, stimulating post - "Subtraction" - raises, in part directly and in part by implication, an important question about the general standard of hotel eating: why does its quality tend to be at best uneven, at worst woefully inadequate?
My point of departure is the recently opened Gilbert Scott Restaurant at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London Having almost literally drooled at the prospect of the opening of this establishment, with its impressive setting and stellar line-up of staff, I was disappointed to read today's review in The Financial Times, a paper and a reviewer (Nicholas Lander) that I respect. Lander's assessment is that "the menu, by turns, is difficult to read, overlong and twee" and his conclusion that "my strongest impression is of what The Gilbert Scott could have been - a great restaurant in a great setting....The Gilbert Scott is, sadly, a wasted opportunity. A trip to (Eleven Madison Park) New York for the senior management, with the phrase "less is more" impressed upon them, could change all that - not too expensively, and for everyone's benefit."
To Insiders: visit The Gilbert Scott with your critical antennae fully engaged.
To Marriott Intl: if there is something to the view that eating in hotels tends, more often than not, to be a disappointing and expensive experience, why is this the case? It might help by first establishing how generalisable an assessment this is; for example, does it apply more forcefully in the US and Western Europe than in Asia and Australasia? I suspect it does - but other Insiders might have different views. To what extent can the source of the problem be traced to Finance Directors who tend to see in Food and Beverage a cash cow grazing in an often captive marketplace - a set of relatively high margin activities the profits from which can cross subsidise lower margin areas of the P&L account. And, to what extent can blame be laid at the door of unimaginative, inflexible, "preferential" supply arrangements which often restrict the opportunities open to individual F&B managers, chefs and staff to create and deliver something genuinely imaginative and at a reasonable price. These are but two lines of argument; others may be both more accurate and appropriate. Be that as it may, the question remains: why do more hotels appear not to look upon F&B as a potent source of competitive advantage.
Dear Arkwright, how sad that such an historic hotel would suffer such a poor dining experience. I am reminded of those glory days when hotels had restaurants that hit the highest mark.
Have not been there in as few years but hopefully the Carvery at the London Strand Palace still is renown for culinary excellence. Or Munich's Four Seasons Kempinski with its VUE Maximilian.Hotel dining is a far cry from those old days--as are most things. In my view one US exception is Parcel 104, a Bradley Ogden-run place located within the Santa Clara Marriott in Silicon Valley CA.
Bottom line--hotel restaurants need to be exceptional even if they rely on in-house diners. Perhaps it is time for companies to redesign and rethink the term "fine dining" and either abandon it, or make it so.
I agree - that would appear the most likely development. In my darker moments, I tend to the view that, in the twenty-first century, the concept of "fine dining" is more a media creation than a business reality. I suppose that, from a business perspective, it would be possible (though difficult) to offer "quality" eating facilities on a franchise basis, but I'm not sure whether that falls within the Marriott corporate, or brand, ethos.
Thanks for your CA reference.
Ona amusing sidelight is that Thomas Keller, owner and chef at the very excellent French Laundry in Yountville CA finds his culinary muse at the very humble In'N'Out Burger chain here in the Golden State, citing their dedication to detail and freshness as one of the primary reasons.
As for fine dining, an acquaintance once described a meal he enjoyed at a local watering hole thus: "At many restaurants you eat, here you will dine."
I recall not long ago eating at the Cork Tree Restaurant in Palm Desert CA and eating three marvelous courses of expertly prepared food. After each course Chef Herve came to our table to inquire about how we enjoyed the preparation and presentation and answer any questions that we may have had about the food itself. A three hour dining experience that I will repeat soon, and hopefully equate with that former time.
It is not just the food, but the ambiance, the presentation and the love of cooking that make for a dining experience. Fine dining, a subjective thing, comes from all of the above plus a feeling that the table is yours for as long as you'd like, that no request goes unanswered and that your taste buds will be spoiled for all other meals for at least a week!
So well put!
I have never heard the "Eat/Dine" analogy, but it is so true. Likewsise, a chef once told me, "Good food deserves Champagne, bad food DEMANDS it!
Much the same with those who you dine with. I have seen great meals ruined by bad company, and have experience average dishes become memorable because of the people at the table.