Double the work problems
While the hospitality dynamic has the potential to increase revenue at all levels, it also increases the number of employee positions; if one side is understaffed, it often affects the other. And in a time when labor shortages have eclipsed nearly every other business concern, maintaining a full workforce is no small task.
The Wildset and the Ruse were able to open in July, but they still had empty places. Rather than compromise its level of service, the establishment decided not to serve weekend brunch until it had more employees. He also postponed special events like the Sunday Supper Club and seasonal dinners until the fall.
With just 34 rooms, The Wildset also has the advantage of being a smaller, more nimble company. Larger hotels, especially those that regularly host conferences, weddings and other large-scale events, had bigger gaps to fill.
In Fort Worth, Texas, the Drover Hotel has been struggling with work since day one. The Marriott Autograph property and its on-site restaurant 97 West Kitchen & Bar opened in February when COVID-19 cases were high and many consumers were still jittery.
At that time, one of the biggest challenges was predicting the flow of cases and therefore formulating an achievable budget. If business was slow and the hotel was full, the employees would have to be let go. On the other hand, if business was booming and the hotel was short of staff, it would have to scramble to recruit more workers.
“You put all of that aside – not knowing the activity levels, not knowing if people are travelling, if it will be a staycation – and then you add in the difficulties of finding staff. Staffing was therefore at the beginning and remains a huge problem,” says Grant Morgan, Executive Chef at the Drover Hotel. “I’ve done 20 to 30 restaurant openings and never anything like this.”
The hiring process was slow, but business was booming at the Drover Hotel. Even though Morgan says wages were at an all-time high ($16 to $23 an hour), the property was still understaffed at the end of the summer. Still, it was an improvement from the days when Morgan and his team routinely worked 80-100 hour weeks. The hotel side has also been understaffed.
Although these circumstances were not ideal, the property was able to cross-use resources, including staff. So if the restaurant was quiet the waiters could help clean the rooms and on the other hand the hotel staff could help tidy up the restaurant while the front desk was slow. Morgan even remembers vendors working at carving stations to help out with special events.
“It created a great team; it became a team effort,” he says, adding that it was a successful effort. Despite the occasional complaint about not offering room service or breakfast service initially, Morgan says guests generally haven’t noticed anything wrong. “They would say their experience was seamless, that’s what you want. If you can control the chaos behind the scenes and the guest thinks everything is grand and wonderful, then you’ve done your job for the day” , he adds.
Even though the Drover Hotel is only 45 minutes from Dallas and 10 minutes from downtown Fort Worth, it can, like The Wildset in St. Michaels, be a tourist destination. Located in the historic Stockyards district, the area is now home to restaurants, shops and other businesses, although it still hosts daily cattle drives. 97 West plays up its Lone Star roots with dishes like chicken-fried Texas oysters, Cowboy Cobb salad, slow-smoked ribs with Texas honey BBQ sauce, and tres leches cake.
Foreigners staying at the Drover Hotel will likely dine at 97 West, just as locals wandering around for lunch or dinner might decide to return to the property for a staycation.
“He has a huge playground in the back yard; there are trails, there is music, there are games and there is a huge swimming pool. It feels very private and secluded,” Morgan says. “So I think when people come in and have dinner… they see this and are like, ‘Oh my God, we have to come here for a weekend. I have seen many.
take some time
Hotels and restaurants do not need to share the same property to mutually benefit from each other’s presence. For this, Angevin & Cie maintains its flexible commercial strategy. In addition to The Frenchmen and other potential deals in New Orleans, Thompson is developing a new restaurant, Three Saints Revival, for an existing hotel in Denver, where he lived for about two decades.
“The owner of Hotel Indigo contacted me and asked me to make a restaurant [so] I am opening a restaurant whose hotel does not belong to me; I have a lease with the hotel,” he says. “What a hotel needs is what a great restaurateur can provide, especially a local one. What they need is to be able to attract that local customer as well. Hotels have to feel like beehives to really work, whether staffed by travelers or locals, no one cares; it just feels good.
Just as local know-how can go a long way in winning customers in hotel restaurants, so can brand recognition. Grill Concepts, which includes three brands – Daily Grill, The Grill on the Alley and Public House – across 14 locations, has made hospitality a pillar of its growth strategy. In fact, half of its units are located in hotels, including the Hyatt, Westin, Marriott, and Sheraton.
Under normal circumstances, restaurants and hotels would grow from each other, but at the height of the pandemic, they needed to learn from each other instead. When a number of hotels temporarily closed, Grill Concepts followed suit with its on-site locations. As for hotels that have remained open, restaurants have shifted to third-party delivery as in-person dining, room service and private dining have had to be curtailed.
“Hotels and restaurants are really trying to help each other. Hotels have started ordering meals for their employees through our restaurant to help us increase our sales, as well as an employee incentive; they get a free hot meal while they work,” says Tamra Scroggins, Culinary Director at Grill Concepts.
She says resuming business has little to do with hotel versus restaurant or even hotel restaurant versus standalone restaurant. Instead, it comes down to location. For example, the Daily Grill and the Marriott that hosts it in Burbank, California, have benefited from an influx of travelers through Burbank Airport. Located near the airport and Warner Bros. Studios, the property has hosted “American Idol” contestants, Scroggins said. By contrast, the Hyatt hotel in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, which also has a Daily Grill, was still running at about 20% capacity at the end of the summer.
This disparity illustrates how uneven and unbalanced the recovery will be for hotel restaurants, especially at a time when neither the delta variant nor the labor shortage have a clear end in sight. And as with the larger restaurant industry, the new “normal” of hotel catering is still largely unrecognized.
“I think it’s going to be a while for hotel restaurants to come back,” Scroggins says. “I was talking to the folks at Marriott and they were saying 2023 is when they predict things will go back to normal, but I don’t even know what normal will be.”