Hotels and fine dining have long been a near-perfect pairing but in today’s food conscious culture, the addition of an acclaimed chef at the kitchen helm can really put it on the foodie trail.
It’s no longer just the small number of household names, like Gordon Ramsay who set up shop at Claridge’s for 12 years, who draw in foodie fans.
In Europe, smaller, boutique hotels are leading the way, adding “quirky, interesting and exciting chefs” to the gastronomic mix, says Richard Moulds, director of Foodservice Consulting at JLL.
“There’s been a trend away from the white tablecloth celebrity chef,” he says. “Less well-known but highly capable chefs who have worked below bigger names are now offering hotel operators the chance to revamp their dining – and perhaps at a comparatively lower cost.”
Hotels such as London’s The Curtain in Shoreditch have taken on chefs bringing a new freshness and creativity to dishes, with Marcus Samuelsson opening Red Rooster last year. Across town, Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge has been cooking for guests of the Corinthia since September.
“There’s an undoubtable culinary pull when an up-and-coming chef moves in,” Moulds says. “Offering a smaller menu and doing a few dishes really well is by no means purely in the hands of the celebrity.”
For diners, an element of discovery is also key, says Moulds: “It’s about creating something for foodies to hunt down and find,” he says.
Food good enough to share
Social media – and Instagram in particular – has a big role to play in promoting high-end hotel dining. Short-term, pop-up residencies of one to two months for chefs are proving popular among Instagrammers, says Moulds.
“There’s a definite social media spike on offer for hotel restaurants capable of rotating chefs,” he adds. “It’s not unlike the way galleries will rotate exhibitions or a nightclub will run a DJ residency.”
In the Maldives, luxury resort operator Soneva has used pop-up food residencies as a way to enhance its profile and provide guests with a memorable experience – and perhaps even a reason to visit in the first place. Michelin-starred chef Kenji Gyoten appared at its flagship resort for a two-week post, while in Muscat, the Shangri-La Al Husn Resort & Spa hosted Danish chef and Noma co-founder Mads Refslund for four days in January.
“While a short-term residency may not be reason enough for someone to plan their holiday around, it can offer the cult, rock star effect and even raise interest from a chef’s fans,” says Moulds. “For hotels in locations off-the-beaten track, the benefit for diners of being able to simply climb the stairs to bed after dinner cannot be underestimated.
“Some UK country home resorts have made the most of this benefit – with diners becoming a captive audience.”
Playing the rating game
As hotels note the benefits of offering stand-out food and drink – spending on food and beverage at hotels rose by almost five percent in 2017 – getting high quality chefs and providing a first-class experience are key.
Reminders of a chef’s background are typical, Moulds says, and central to dining decision-making.
“The archetypal food review will read along the lines of “you may not know this chef, but he or she worked with this famous chef at this well-known restaurant” – it’s this association that brings in diners who are keen to be on-trend.”
The challenge for hotels, says Moulds, is when a chef packs up their saucepans – something Berlin’s Regent Hotel experienced last year when Christian Lohse, the German capital’s longest-serving two-star chef and a TV celebrity, left Fischer’s Fritz after 13 years. A change of concept by the hotel was swiftly announced.
“Concepts and tastes are in constant flux,” says Moulds. “But there’s absolutely no doubting the appeal of a chef who can offer something special on the plate to complement a hotel’s surroundings.”
Appetite for an experience when dining is sturdy, Moulds says. In the case of London’s Mondrian hotel opening in 2014, award-winning U.S. chef Seamus Mullen worked closely with the establishment’s restaurant designers.
“Diners today want a fully-immersive experience,” he says. “It’s about much more than just the off-chance that the chef swings by their table for a complimentary brandy and selfie.”
With competition for both high-spending diners and highly skilled chefs continuing to heat up, hotels know that good food doesn’t just give them an edge, it can make them a must-visit destination.