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You are here: Home  July 2008  Comment A new breed of hotel restaurant manager

A new breed of hotel restaurant manager

Mark-Moffatt_large.jpg
By Mark Moffatt
Restaurant manager and sommelier,
Chez Victor, Hotel Le Germain, Toronto

In the past ten years, hotel restaurants have made major gains in market share in key demographic areas of the United States, most notably in New York City.  Why then have we been so slow in embracing them in Canada? In a brief survey of local Torontonians, these are some of the answers I’ve heard.

“Hotel restaurants are stale and boring.”

“Lack of passion in food and wine program.”

“Overpriced.”

“Staff have a laissez-faire  attitude.”

“Lack of ambiance.”

These answers, while justified ten years ago, show how much work hotels must do in order to promote their restaurants in a very competitive marketplace.  In Toronto, there are a few hotels that are leading the way in turning around those misconceptions with success.
 
Sara D’Amato, sommelier at Truffles at the Four Seasons Hotel, has done a masterful job  transforming the restaurant into a prime destination, by revolutionizing what was once considered to be an overpriced and pretentious wine list. Head to Truffles these days, and you’ll find a well thought-out, well-planned and affordably priced list that complements the food of chef Rob Bartlett perfectly.  A wine-by-the-glass program is so attractive, that it makes me wonder why people opt for a “known name restaurant” in Yorkville when everything they are looking for is right there at the Four Seasons.

My restaurant, Chez Victor at Hotel Le Germain is also turning heads. Executive chef David Chrystian is sourcing the freshest, local ingredients, and works closely with me to find the ideal wine foil to complement the two. There is a commitment to Canada and the VQA that is not found in many restaurants, and needs to be embraced by the local market. The wine list rivals any in the city, and has something for everyone.

Neither of these two restaurants can be considered old or stale.  The hoteliers have searched and found people with passion and entrepreneurial spirit to compete with their peers, and are doing so with success.  Truffles has a refined beauty, with clean lines and a unique personality that complements Yorkville. Chez Victor, is a clean, urban chic restaurant, with a lively atmosphere that adds refinement and energy to the Entertainment District.

The Overpriced Argument: In a recent cost comparison, both Truffles and Chez Victor are in line with Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar, Splendido, Lee and Scaramouche. All of these restaurants are considered to be icons in Toronto with a flair for food and service. Why then do we continue to ignore the hotel restaurants? Is it that we feel they are less likely to “coddle” us because they’re in a hotel?  Before making such assumptions, we need to all dine at these establishments to make new and updated arguments for and against hotel restaurants.

While I agree that many hotels have done a poor job in educating their employees on new food trends, they tend to be in the minority.  In recent tours of hotels, restaurant managers have actively sought out employees with flair, personality and a willingness to exceed their guests’ expectations. In order to push the hotel restaurant to the forefront, employees on the front line need to stand up and speak proudly in social settings about where they work in order to generate buzz. They should also be encouraged to attend trade shows, wine shows and eat in local establishments to see and be seen, in order to move their restaurants forward.

The biggest way to increase traffic to the hotel restaurant is to have visible signage and an off street entrance. People are more apt to enter a restaurant that they feel is a separate entity and if they do not have to walk through a hotel lobby. Senses, Chez Victor and Benihana are all examples of restaurants whose business has been positively impacted by a separate entrance.

One mistake that hoteliers keep making is sourcing out their food and beverage  to a name brand. While this is a quick fix, there is never a guarantee that the “brand’s” vision will work with the hotel long term, and thus may negatively impact both parties’ reputations. Hoteliers must continue to support their restaurants; it is in this way that we will see consistency, growth and positive feedback from the local community.

The new breed of hotel restaurant managers are tenacious entrepreneurs that are building the business one guest at a time. We will continue to see these restaurants grow and thrive as long as the hoteliers provide the support and commitment to ride through the battles of breaking down the aforementioned preconceived notions. We have fantastic restaurants in Toronto, and more than a few happen to be in our local hotels.

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