Hotels have been hit hard as tourists disappeared during the pandemic, but their high-end restaurants have thrived on local customers and a reputation for being virus-safe places.
“Sales this year at Akira Back are up 35% year-on-year,” a Four Seasons Hotel Seoul spokesperson said, referring to the hotel’s modern Japanese restaurant. “Sales of Yu Yuan, a Chinese restaurant in the hotel, increased by 15% year-on-year.”
In general, restaurants across Korea have suffered from social distancing restrictions that limit the number of people and opening hours, and many have been forced to close. Fancy hotel restaurants seem to be the exception. High-end restaurants tend to have private rooms more suited to social distancing, allowing visitors to eat in intimate areas away from crowds. Many people believe that hotel restaurants have higher standards for cleaning and disinfection.
The Akira Back at the Four Seasons has six private rooms. They have been so popular that people who want to book a private room are advised to book at least two weeks in advance, according to the hotel.
According to The Shilla Seoul, sales at its fine dining restaurants in July and August were up 10-25% year-on-year. This includes the traditional Korean restaurant La Yeon and the Chinese restaurant Palsun.
“Only two people can eat together for dinner and four for lunch due to Level 4 social distancing measures,” said a spokesperson for The Shilla Seoul, “but the demand for fine-dining restaurants is increasing as people people consider hotels to be safer.”
Other hotels are reporting similar situations.
“It is difficult to reserve a seat in our restaurants such as Toh Rim, Momoyama and Mugunghwa unless you try two weeks in advance,” said a spokesperson for Lotte Hotel Seoul.
Reservations for a private room at the Japanese restaurant Sushi Cho at the Westin Chosun Seoul must also be made at least two weeks in advance. Even the regular parts of the restaurant are fully booked until the end of November.
Although high-end restaurants are doing well, the main business of hotels – renting rooms – is still far from having recovered to its pre-pandemic level.
According to the Korea Hotel Association, local hotels had an average occupancy rate of 45.1% in the January-April period, compared to 71% in 2019, before the pandemic. More than 50 three and four star hotels closed last year.
Many hotels are building on the success of their restaurants and offering more restaurant-related services.
“With fewer foreign tourists, hotels are trying to offer various products and services to compensate for lower profits,” said a spokesperson for one of the local hotels.
The Four Seasons Hotel Seoul launched a food pick-up service offering packed lunches, cakes and pastries from last June. Guests can order a variety of dishes from the hotel’s online website and pick them up at the hotel. Its Korean-style lunch boxes are so popular that they sell out almost daily, according to the hotel.
The Lotte Hotel is also accepting take-out orders from its restaurants and cafes, including Momoyama, Pierre Gagnaire in Seoul, and Delica Hans. The hotel started taking orders through well-known e-commerce sites to expand its reach. From April, orders can be placed through KakaoTalk Gift and, from September 15, from Naver’s Smart Store.
BY LEE SOO-KI, LEE TAE-HEE [[email protected]]