Do celebrity starred chefs make a difference for luxury hotels ?

Most luxury hoteliers present at last week’s Hotel Investment Conference and ITB Tourism Fair (largest of its kind worlwide) which took place in Berlin have expressed an upbeat mood regarding the come back of corporate travel in major luxury hospitality markets internationally. While state of the art technology (especially the usage of IPAD’s) and cutting edge marketing campaigns were on the lips of most hospitality professionals, I could not help but ”uncover” another sensitive subject, related to Michelin starred chefs taking over more and more restaurants at luxury hotels as well as organic foods in F&B, in restaurants and mini bars.

Do Michelin celebrity starred restaurants provide the key ingredient of competitive advantage for luxury hotels ? IIt seems, most luxury hotel restaurants are nowadays divided in two categories: chefs such as Alain Ducasse (Dorchester, London; Plaza Athenee, Paris, St Regis New York, St Regis Washington), Yannick Alleno (Royal Mansour, Marrakech; Le Meurice, Paris; One & Only The Palm, Dubai) Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Trump Tower Hotel, New York; Aria, Las Vegas; The Mark, New York), Daniel Bouloud (Mandarin Oriental, London; JW Marriott, Miami), who lend their name and provide the training of staff, yet rarely spending time in the kitchens themselves.

Whether on business or leisure, wouldn’t you be more likely to rather have breakfast, order room service or take a bite from the mini-bar rather than booking a lavish dinner at the celebrity Michelin starred restaurant of the hotel? And it is not only the recession that has been making all of us more pay more attention to our expenses and think twice whether our expenditures not only make sense but also have an investment sense ? That is why, some of you might find more sense in spending extra on a quiet room, ideally with a view and the best possible bed, rather than splashing out at the hotel’s celebrity chef restaurant.

Also, on some of my recent stays especially at newly opened (or re-opened) luxury hotels, I observed that more than half of those dining in the haute cuisine restaurants are outside guests, that is, customers not staying in the hotels. I also enquired on several occasions at concierge desks and they did confirm my observation. From a business point of view, developing these restaurants within the major luxury hotels, does seem like a very sensible decision, hotels broadening their customer base and, at the same time, generating valuable PR followings.

But what happens when all the restaurants in a hotel are ‘’haute cuisine’’? This must have provided food for thought for Four Seasons when they planned the strategic re-opening of their London Park Lane property. Instead, the Four Seasons have designed a very elegant restaurant, with the most elegant décor and exquisite finishes, which they called Amarante and have made it all-day dining, with customers being able to order almost any type of meal at any time, without feeling inappropriately dressed or having to respect a certain etiquette. The luxurious hotel bar which boasts an impressive assortment of fine wines and spirits on two of its walls is called, guess how, Amarante, and it does not only have the same name but it is also openly connected with the restaurant and the lateral lounge areas which provide a more relaxed ambiance. This apparent easy flow has the huge advantage of guests walking through and selecting their ideal dining spot, depending on their mood. Should the restaurant feel too crowded or be fully booked, they can always order the same menu in an identical environment, in the lounges or even the bar. This ‘’natural’’ selection is also ideal for outside customers who can easily walk through and make a choice based on their preference. Mention should also be made that, although he is well known, Massimo Ricciolli, Amarante’s Chef is not THE celebrity chef of the restaurant.

It is probably too early to asses whether  this option could prove to be less profitable in the long run, comparing to a hotel with a celebrity chef restaurant, however, one thing is certain: both restaurant types are likely to attract a similar PR following.

Oliver Petcu