Food and Beverage and the Local Community
By Laurence Bernstein Managing Partner, Protean Strategies | August 23, 2015
There are two truths about hotels and the food they serve: hotels – hostelries, inns – have always been closely aligned with food and drink; and hotels, as we know them today, have constantly battled to build business from the local community.
Going out from the assumption that many hotels are anxious to maximize their revenue by attracting diners and drinkers form the local community, this article discusses the four underlying factors that determine the success or otherwise of these ventures. But first, in order to understand the reasoning, we need to review the history and the context of hotel food and beverage. Briefly.
Hotels started as places that provided food and shelter for travelers – and this is the basic model that exists today, with some variation, of course. But the fundamental thought that a weary traveler away from home needs a safe, warm bed and a tasty, nourishing meal really defines our business.
Two separate needs led to the idea of hotel providing food and drink to local residents. The first was the basic logic: the local inn was making food and serving drink to travelers, it was only logical that it would be the place for locals to get a meal and a drink (actually mostly a drink, as the dining out trend only came later). Free standing restaurants were not even thought of, and bars were in hotels; what did they think would happen? It became such a singular relationship that in many places when it became apparent that the selling of drink was a better economic proposition than the renting of beds, the license to sell drink was dependent on having rooms – only inns were allowed to sell beer and wine, hence the taverns and saloons of the nineteenth century. Clubs aside, in most of the European world, if you wanted a drink you would have it at a place that also rented rooms (this continued until the makers of drink – breweries mostly – figured they could displace the middle man by selling their beer directly to drinkers in pubs).
As hotels became grander and started catering to richer and more sophisticated travelers, so their food and drink offerings became increasingly more elaborate. As did the buildings and the restaurants and bars themselves. And as this progressed, so the hotel became the centre of social activity, and the restaurant became the go-to venue to see and be seen. This virtuous circle led to bigger and more beautiful hotels offering better and more exciting restaurants with more interesting and sophisticated menus. In the absence of any other public equivalents (private clubs catered to elite groups, but by definition did not allow for the intermingling of people that make communities thrive), the hotel restaurant played an integral and vital part in the community.
Some remnants of this exist today in Grand hotels throughout the world: The Plaza New York (Palm court), The Bristol, Paris (Epicure), Savoy Grill (London), etc. And equally as exciting are watering holes such as Bemelamn's (Carlyle, New York), le Bar (Four Seasons George V, Paris).