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Hotels and restaurants must be flexible friends

09 October 2008

Last week Gordon Ramsay opened his first hotel operation, the York & Albany in Camden, north London, where chef-patron Angela Hartnett is in charge of the food and beverage offer.

In an interview ahead of the launch, Ramsay gave some insight into his split with Hartnett's previous base, the Connaught. The fiery chef didn't hold back when it came to describing the "anally retentive" management at the Maybourne Group-owned property, and even went as far as claiming that the opening of his own hotel was a "two fingers" up at them.

His outburst can, of course, be viewed as a naked attempt to raise the profile of his own latest venture, but it does reflect the fact that operating an independent restaurant in a hotel can be difficult. Relationships aren't always easy to maintain, and being housed within the premises of another operation can bring challenges a stand-alone restaurant doesn't have to face.

Drawbacks

Theo Randall, chef-patron of his eponymous restaurant at London's InterContinental Park Lane, said that many such hotel-based restaurants had one major drawback.

"The main difference is that often you don't have a separate entrance, and that can be a real disadvantage," he said. "Also, being set within a five-star hotel can bring with it a preconception that the restaurant will have a stuffy atmosphere."

This latter point was echoed by Chris Galvin, chef-patron of Galvin at Windows at the London Hilton on Park Lane. "The hotel brand can work for or against you as a restaurant," he said. "And while there needs to be a good balance between the two, it is important that as a restaurant you retain your own identity, which can be hard when you don't have a separate entrance."

However, while being its own entity, a destination restaurant needs to complement the hotel, and the relationship between the two must be set out right from the start, according to Achille Checuz, food and beverage operations manager at London's Metropolitan hotel, home to the Michelin-starred Nobu.

"Everything from the uniforms to the menu offering needs to be agreed on," he said. "If a restaurant suddenly changes its branding, it might no longer work within the hotel, so there needs to be communication at any level of change."

Randall agreed and added that, while 90% of his diners came from outside the hotel, it's important for his restaurant to appeal to the hotel guests, too. "Guests can come to the restaurant on their own and have a quick glass of wine and a meal at the bar, or they can have a five-course dining experience," he said. "It's important to have a flexible offer."

Flexibility is key, but not just in terms of the dining offer, according to David Herbert, marketing and operations director of the London Fine Dining Group, which last week launched its first hotel-based restaurant, Aubergine at the Compleat Angler in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.

"The most important thing is that you maintain a good relationship with the hotel," he said, "and while that is ultimately achieved through good communication, being flexible with each other is also crucial. You have to make everyone in the hotel your best friend to run a successful operation."

Checuz said that regular meetings are key when it comes to maintaining relationships. "It is vital that you put a structure in place and stick to it, and make sure you are constantly communicating with each other," he said. "Everything from shared storage space, deliveries and other crossovers between the two businesses needs to be clearly set out."

Checuz added that a hotel restaurant's biggest advantage is the pool of resources it can tap into. "The support a hotel environment offers simply isn't something a stand-alone restaurant can ever have," he said.

Maintenance

Andrew Fairlie, chef-patron at his eponymous two-Michelin-starred restaurant at Gleneagles in Perthshire, concurred. "When something breaks down, we have access to the hotel's maintenance system," he said. "We never have to wait days for a plumber or electrician to come round."

Staffing is also easier when you are part of a bigger group, according to Galvin. "The hotel has a much bigger recruitment net than we would have as a stand-alone restaurant," he said, "and many of the people working at Windows have been with the hotel for many years."

There are clearly pros and cons to running a restaurant in a hotel, but it seems that a breakdown in relationships, such as that illustrated by Ramsay's rant about the Connaught, can be avoided by keeping lines of communication open at all times.

Want to read more?

Recent hotel restaurant openings

  • Aubergine at the Compleat Angler, Marlow, Buckinghamshire
  • Avista, Millennium Hotel London Mayfair
  • Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, London
  • Min Jiang, Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, London
  • Brasserie Roux, Sofitel London Heathrow

E-mail your comments to Kerstin Kühn here.

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