Is there a future for restaurants in mid-market city hotels?

Not so many years ago it was expected that every hotel of a certain standard offered not only accommodation & breakfast but also lunch and dinner. Certainly even a mid-market hotel was expected to have a “dining room”; no doubt with starched white linen, formal menu structures, a service staff hierarchy and cuisine which had its heritage in classical cooking. The experience in restaurants on overseas holidays and in the many new restaurants opening in cities and towns resulted in customers becoming very knowledgeable of the high standard and experience that restaurants could offer and they were not finding it in many mid-market hotels. Traditional dining rooms in hotels declined in popularity which resulted in hotels meeting the change by reinventing their dining room as a hotel restaurant. Now even well run restaurants in many city hotels struggle to be profitable. Such restaurant’s days are numbered with the result that restaurant service in mid-market city hotels will decline.

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La Dolce Vita…in recessionary times

The achievement of first class, memorable customer service is a target for all service businesses, especially hotels &amp; restaurants. Achieve it and you can set yourself apart from the competition, miss it and you just become another business in the market segment that you operate in. We’re in the midst of what many commentators say is the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. Consumer spending is under stress and unnecessary or non-essential spending is being reduced. Restaurants everywhere are struggling and it’s not uncommon to find empty tables in restaurants where reservations many days in advance were required to secure a table.<!–more–>In times like this it is vital that restaurants ensure that the “value” perception in the customer’s eyes is maximised, no matter what the actual selling price is on the menu. Give great value, great food and most important of all, great customer service and customers will beat a path to your restaurant door….even in the midst of reduced consumer spending. I would argue that spending on a good meal in a restaurant is a “luxury” which can be maintained in recessionary times, but only when the customer leaves totally satisfied with the whole experience…..welcome, atmosphere, food, service, value….everything.

I have an example of a restaurant which just got everything right and there’s no doubt to me that on the evening that I visited, close to 100 customers must have left delighted and totally satisfied, ready to tell others what a great evening they had and ready to return again. This is not a Michelin starred restaurant for which first class customer service and food is essential. This is not a restaurant with hushed tones and the clink of crystal. This is not a restaurant with deep pile carpet and starched linen or a restaurant which is generally talked about as being in the Top 10 of the city. This is a bustling restaurant within a large hotel. It is the Cucina Restaurant of the Missoni Hotel in Edinburgh. It’s an Italian restaurant which serves simple, fresh, Italian food prepared by xxxx and is managed by a restaurant service team who certainly know how to give great service. The food is wonderful and memorable however I certainly do feel comfortable writing about technical food issues in the style of a food critic but I can say that it’s the best Italian food that I’ve tasted in Edinburgh, probably in Scotland. I can comment with some authority and knowledge on the quality of the service received.

You want to feel welcomed when you visit a restaurant and so arriving at the entrance to the restaurant and finding the host desk unoccupied always gives you a few seconds of irritation as you wait. However, we were noticed by the host from the other side of the restaurant, visually acknowledged and then the host briskly (visibly!) moved to us, smiled, apologised that we were left waiting (it was only seconds), welcomed us, checked our reservation, addressed me by name and said she would show us to a very nice table….and it was. A great start.

Our server introduced himself to us, offered us an aperitif and left us with menus and a wine list. A minute later he returned with a basket of bread and a bottle of olive oil. The variety of breads was explained and the olive oil from Sicily was introduced and poured. The restaurant manager came to our table and welcomed us back (we’d been before). These little extras were being noticed.

As we read the menus, we were asked if we needed anything explained on the menu. Never shy to engage with the restaurant team, brief menu questions were answered with confidence and accuracy.

The wine list at Cucina is vast and with an understandable bias to Italian wines, is perhaps not so familiar to many. It has a range of wines from mid £20s to north of £100. The dedicated sommelier was offering genuine help if required so what better way to allow his knowledge and skill to shine than to ask him to select a bottle of wine for us. We told him what we were eating, that we preferred red wine and that our budget was around £35.00. A bottle of Sangovese was selected which was both under the budget given and tasted superb. 10 out of 10 for wine service.

And so this excellent service continued throughout the meal. Dishes were explained as they were brought, wine and water was topped up at just the right time and never more than half a glass of wine was poured….the sign of a restaurant which understands wine. Time between courses was spot on. Service was just there when you needed it. It was invisible attentiveness.

By the end of the evening we had enjoyed a simply delicious meal which was served with a passion for customer care. We paid the bill, left a tip which recognised the service received and were thanked for coming by the restaurant manager as we left. I can honestly say that the service could not be faulted in any way and that every member of the team without exception gave exceptional customer care. I left thinking that I need to achieve these standards in my own restaurants.

Times may be tough and consumer spending may be being cut-back and some restaurants may be struggling or even going out of business but those who serve great food combined with memorable service will be remembered and stand out from the rest. Their restaurant diaries will be busy and their customers will be their advocates. The price paid will be less important than the value received.

Forget the economic challenges and spend a few hours enjoying La Dolce Vita with great food and wine at Cucina Restaurant.

The transparency of customer service and quality

Remember when you used to discuss at your team meetings how a guest who has a positive experience in your hotel tells 5 people but a guest who has a negative experience tells 20 people and how as a result everyone had to concentrate on giving great service? If only that were still the case; now the potential PR damage of poor service or poor quality can be much worse…..much, much worse. Continue reading

Raise a glass to Cocktails and Champagne

Saturday in Edinburgh was a day when cocktails and Champagne seemed to be flowing freely in at least two bars and restaurants which I found myself in. Perhaps the economic news this week which announced that Great Britain had emerged from almost 2 years of recession, with a quarter’s growth rate of 0.1% (!), was a reason to celebrate. Perhaps not.

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