What can hotels learn from star Chefs?

Photo credit: Getty Images. Pictured: Dominique Crenn

There was a time—not too long ago, in fact—when excellent cuisine was associated with fancy tables and haughty waitstaff. Somewhere in the last decade or two, everything got flipped on its head. Instead of a self-assured master who turns out classic dishes, today’s star chef is more likely to be a fit, tatted-up millennial who combines traditional and modern cuisines in a ceaseless pursuit of creativity. Instead of a sky-high price point and luxurious flourishes, today’s trendy restaurant is more likely to have an accessible menu and a social atmosphere.

Since both restaurants and hotels fall under the broader category of “hospitality,” it stands to reason that selected insights from notable chefs could apply to any hotel wanting to rise above the mediocrity and position itself as relevant, progressive player in the local market.

On Hiring the Right People

Chef April Bloomfield’s restaurants and gastropubs have attracted Michelin stars and made her a star of the food world. Her advice on hiring? Look for people who have drive, motivation and focus. Kitchen work is extremely hands-on, and it’s important to have solid people.

Hotel managers and owners should take a fresh interest in the personalities they choose to bring in, especially today when rumour mills are instant and global. As Chef Bloomfield points out, a blend of confidence and malleability is desirable in good staff. A hard-working professional who is serious about doing a professional job but understands the demands of the job. And when you find good people who turn out results, show that you’re willing to invest in them. (If you are starting out, make sure you either interview everyone that will be representing you or at least have staff who understand exactly what you are looking for.)

On Creating an Experience

In a recent interview, Chef Shannon Bennett talks about the importance of having quality appliances in his Vue de Monde restaurant in Melbourne. But high-end ovens are not enough, he says. You need the best chickens to cook in those ovens.

What are the hotel equivalents of great ovens and great chickens? The most obvious candidates would have to be hotel designs and fittings—but it goes beyond that. Chef Bennett says a good plate of food should tell a story. Likewise, a hotel’s design and fittings should tell a story to the guest. Keywords might include functional, comfortable, work-friendly, local, economical or smart. Or they might include stately, exclusive, even decadent. The important thing is that your property, down to the smallest details, should make a distinct impression. There is no point trying to position yourself as a five star hotel and have a 3 star fit out or poor quality WiFi.

On the Endless Quest for Success

Dominique Crenn is the French-born chef behind Atelier Crenn, a restaurant with a lot of buzz in San Francisco. Dominique has not only recently been voted the world’s best female chef in 2016, she also has the distinction of being the first female chef in the US to earn 2 Michelin Stars. Understandably, she is in demandon the Ted Talk circuit, where she stresses that success is about evolution, not perfection. Importantly though, Dominique also considers success to include doing what she loves, engaging with colleagues and mentoring other chefs.

If you feel your property is just a place to crash, that’s one thing. But hotels that want to stand apart and invest in long-term success should always be challenging themselves to evolve and grow. You might become the toast of the town and win all the awards, but if you stop innovating, and stop engaging, success becomes a thing of the past.

Is This a Millennial Thing?

It may be a stretch to say that millennials have changed the face of the restaurant business, but you can’t say they aren’t having an impact. As Joe Keohane points out in his fascinating essay In Defense of the Hipster, today’s young talent have brought a refreshing sense of pride and craftsmanship to any number of professional spheres. Indeed the word “bespoke” has become valuable again with the advent of numerous artisan businesses ranging from tailoring to men’s hairdressing to baking.

When it comes to innovation and inspiration, hotels have arguably lagged behind the world of cuisine. Maybe that’s because renovating a hotel is a bit more difficult than renovating a menu. There are certainly lessons to be learned from innovative hoteliers and hotel brands. But sometimes looking for inspiration beyond your own field is the best way to shake things up.

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