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Do hotels really need full-service restaurants?

by Rajul on September 27, 2010

Base2stay Kensington’s management does not believe that guests want or need a full-service hotel restaurant

London hotels have contrasting views on this particular topic.

Flagship hotel restaurants are often seen as a selling point.  This especially applies to luxury hotels, with Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester and Gordon Ramsay at Art Deco gem Claridge’s notable examples, along with Galvin at Windows (Hilton on Park Lane) and Apsley’s at the Lanesborough.

One London hotel which takes this to an extreme is the boutique-style Andaz in Liverpool Street with its excellent 1901 restaurant.  The Andaz has 5 restaurants to turn the establishment into a hotel with “buzz” even on weekdays (they’re a popular stopover for nearby City workers).

Check rates at the Andaz Hotel

The Andaz takes the opposite tack to Base2stay and is “restaurant central” with five bars and restaurants including sushi joint Miyako

But given the costs involved and the fickle nature of hotel guests  – particularly in London where you’re spoilt for choice with dining options – does it really make sense to run a full-service hotel restaurant?

At the budget end (albeit “budget luxury”) it seems that Base2stay in Kensington has decided not to bother.  Base2stay encourages you to eat out with its mini-kitchens for takeaways and discounts at local restaurants.

Check rates at Base2stay

Base2stay offsets the lack of a hotel restaurant with its in-room mini kitchens

Base2stay founder Robert Nadler told London Hotels Insight that he saw this policy as a core component of the hotel’s value proposition:

“At Base2stay, we don’t believe in providing a full service restaurant for a wide variety of reasons:

  • Most guests in smaller city-centre hotels don’t use them, so these facilities become a cost for the hotel to carry and push up room rates.
  • Few hoteliers are also good restaurateurs, and therefore offer a mediocre facility: there are dozens of better value, better run establishments within yards of most city centre hotels.
  • We prefer to offer flexible options by arranging discounts at local restaurants and by providing mini-kitchens in every room and a directory listing local restaurants, stores and take-away/delivery services so that guests can order what they want without any mark-up.

This has advantages for guests in offering choice, value and independence and for local businesses too in sending them customers.”

And I can see his point, even though it could be argued that high-end hotels somehow “must” maintain a restaurant because guests (especially time-pressed business travellers) expect it.  Some hotel classification systems may also insist that you have a restaurant to qualify as “5 star”.

The latter point was challenged recently when I visited the current TripAdvisor number 1 hotel – Hotel 41.  I met the MD of Red Carnation Hotels (and reigning Hotelier of the Year) who told me that guests at this luxury boutique hotel don’t miss the lack of a formal restaurant because food is just one more element of the hotel’s “as you want it” philosophy.

Check rates at Hotel 41

Luxurious boutique-style Hotel 41 will serve you food to order and pantry snacks in its lounge rather than impose the hassle of sitting down at a full-blown restaurant

Even by Red Carnation standards, they take this to an extreme: the chef will cook anything (within reason) that might take your fancy!  They also provide an extensive lounge menu as well as free “raid the pantry” snacks.

In the case of Hotel 41, the lack of a restaurant has simply been turned on its head as a further guest benefit.  But unlike Base2stay’s “pure” policy (where not even breakfast is served) Hotel 41 has instead created a value-added custom chef + pantry service – a creative approach which allows it to be one of the few London hotels serving kippers at breakfast.

This innovative approach is hard to argue with as we are after all talking about the current number 1 hotel on TripAdvisor being run by a group which probably manages the best boutique hotels in London.

Check rates at Hotel 41

I personally prefer the Hotel 41 approach since I believe that every hotel should offer a good breakfast: it is surely as much a part of the core hotel experience as a comfy bed, a hot shower and free hotel WiFi.  But on the other hand, Base2stay Kensington is cheaper to stay in so perhaps the cost argument carries more weight for some types of traveller.

At the Hoxton Hotel – a place famous for its frequent £1 sales – you are given a complimentary “Lite Pret Breakfast” bag with yoghurt, fresh orange juice and a banana (the founder of the Hoxton also owns the Pret a Manger sandwich chain which you’ll see all over the capital).  But the Hoxton also has a restaurant where you can order something more substantial.

Check rates at the Hoxton Hotel

The Hoxton includes a yummy free Pret a Manger breakfast bag in its room rate (Image credit below)

Perhaps the compromise of a cheap “breakfast option” rather than a full-blown breakfast service will become increasingly prevalent – but I expect it to occur predominantly in the mid-price and cheap hotel sector.

In the meantime, I expect hotel restaurants in London and all over the world to continue to confound and delight us in equal measure.

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Photo credits: Hotel 41 (Red Carnation Hotels Collection), Base2stay Kensington, Rob Enslin’s photostream.

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November 2, 2010 at 11:55 am

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