Hotel restaurants "are lagging behind"

The post-recession leisure consumer is savvier, better connected and expects more from their hotel and restaurant experience, according to a panel of experts


Gone are the days when white-glove service and a beautiful building were enough to allow a hotel or restaurant to make a name for itself. The consumer wants and expects a full experience, and it is up to hotels and restaurants to deliver it.

ONS data has shown that while general spending may have fallen during the recession, leisure spending has increased. The domestic tourism market has been a major beneficiary of the financial downturn. And though people may be spending more on their free time, they are also spending more wisely, the panel agreed. They were speaking as part of a series of seminars at the Hotel & Catering Show in Bournemouth on Tuesday this week.

“We’re seeing a second revolution,” said Jeremy Rata, director of Bovey Castle. The onset of package holidays in the fifties and sixties changed people’s expectations, and now the internet has allowed consumers to better understand what is available to them.

“People are no longer accepting second best.”

Coping with technology became an unofficial overarching theme of the day. A later talk focused on how hoteliers can harness the inevitable power of consumer review site Trip Advisor and a last minute change to the schedule diverted the focus of the Chefs Panel to discuss the headline grabbing issue of amateur food photography.

Today’s consumer has “changed his habits” said Robin Sheppard, chairman of Bespoke Hotels. Social media, price comparison websites, online travel agents and consumer review sites have given leisure seekers the facilities to make an informed decision.

The leisure consumer is much more “price savvy”, says Sheppard “and he wants to go away now”.

And, understanding what your customer wants and expects from their experience can be the key to carving a place for yourself and your brand in such a competitive market, the panel said.

Food can be an important part of that experience, says Rata. But he thinks hotels still have a long way to come before they can live up to the standard set by British restaurateurs.

“Everything from service, to the lighting, atmosphere, the people that are there and the music works together completely harmoniously. That is where hotel restaurants are lagging behind.”

Speaking after the talk to Foodservice Consultant, Rata heralded the ability of hotel brands like four-strong chain The Pig, the expansion of which has continued unhindered by recession, to offer a first-class, distinctive food provision, delivering what he referred to as a “differentiated food story”.

And it is food that is the defining feature of The Pig’s brand, said director of the hotel brand Lora Strizic, adding, “We are really just a restaurant with rooms.” Speaking after the event, she described how her focus on simplicity, provenance and quality has helped her create a food experience that can inspire and excite her guests.

“The food offering has to be simple and true and it has to be something people understand.”

This emphasis on quality and consistency of the product is something today’s consumers demand, said Sheppard.

“Twenty years ago if I went out to eat I would hope to have a good meal with reasonable service. Now I expect a good meal with good service. To the point where if that does not happen, I will take exception to it.”

For hoteliers and restaurateurs to keep today’s discerning customers coming back through their doors, they have to deliver a consistently high quality product.

This is a sentiment shared by Tom Aikens, Michelin star winning chef. Speaking after a chef’s panel at the conference, he said, “There are two types of customers – customers who come for a once in a lifetime experience, and those who will keep coming back. The returning customers are your bread and butter.”

Identifying these customers and hooking them in is dependent on a restaurant’s ability to deliver a brilliant product, time and time again, he said.

Ellie Clayton