Monday, 4 July 2011

If Restaurateurs Knew What Hoteliers Know

ron leischman illustrations
I've spent a lot of my life working in the kitchens, dishrooms and dining rooms of some pretty fine establishments, and the restaurant biz remains my first love.  I'm naturally drawn to it, to write about it, and to relive it in rose coloured hindsight.  I've also had a hell of a good time in the hotel side of the hospitality industry, and I've discovered a whole new world right next door.

If restaurant managers had the first clue what hotel managers do, there'd be a revolution.

Hotel Managers have a great deal of autonomy.  They take it upon themselves to see that the guest is truly satisfied.  Maybe that's because they have them overnight, while restaurant managers only have them for a couple of hours at best.  It changes the way you think about someone when they're spending the night, or several days.  The restaurant manager just doesn't have as many tricks up his sleeve, and he certainly doesn't think long term.  You treat a customer differently when they're not going anywhere anytime soon.  Where the hotel can upgrade a guest to a nicer room, or send an amenity, the restaurant just doesn't have that inventory to work with.  Or do they?  Is there a way to "upgrade" a favoured client, perhaps with premium booths, reserved parking some other sort of premium service or product?

Hotel Managers focus on every aspect of the guest's needs.  They see the guest holistically, so to speak.  The guest is more than a just customer with an appetite, which is all a restaurateur might see.  He's also tired, or stressed, or far from home for a long period of time.  She needs to feel safe, he needs a place to work out and to relax...they don't just arrive in a hotel with only one need.  Can a restaurant look beyond the obvious and offer the unexpected?  Free wi-fi, free use of an I-Pad, a newspaper from any home town in the world (it can be done).

Concierge service in a restaurant?  Why not?  Wouldn't it be cool if the restaurant host or Manager knew where the hottest bar was, or what movies were playing, or the best place for a decent breakfast tomorrow morning just the same way the hotel concierge is expected to?  What if you could order theatre or concert tickets right from your table?  The concierge will arrange it in any decent hotel.  Isn't it time we combined the role of Maitre D' and Concierge?

Proactive vs. Reactive  Hotel Managers proactively plan for every guest, and are better equipped to handle the unexpected because of it.  The hotelier is always thinking at least 12 hours ahead, and in reality is looking days, weeks and even months into the future.  The restaurateur is usually trying to take care of the business directly in front of her at the moment.  Sure, the average restaurant guest does not make reservations 30 days in advance, but planning is about more than that.  Revenue managers in the hotel industry release inventory to third party wholesalers in slow periods - what if restaurants did the same?  Forecast out and based on trends and known local events, offer packages or specific deals on line?  What if instead of forecasting a downward trend in sales and shrugging your shoulders, one translated that to be a downward trend of, for example, 20 customers a night and began a dedicated effort to capture exactly 20 more customers through available channels and creative means?

We're always chasing money like it walks in the door by itself.  It doesn't.  There's a person attached.  Maybe we could focus a little less on the money, and more on the person.

Hotels know that when a hotel room goes empty, it's spoiled inventory since tonight will pass by and never happen again.  Restaurants understand spoilage in the kitchen, but I don't know many restaurateurs who look at empty tables in the restaurant and shake their heads at the "spoiled inventory" right in the dining room.  What if they applied themselves to the task of ensuring that every table is filled, every night, several times over.  It's called "turnover" and that's a word used to describe historical activity.  Do we even have a phrase like "projected occupancy" that we apply to our planning model in a restaurant?

Hotels have dedicated sales people to bring in group business, or entice individual corporate travelers.  I think most restaurants, even the larger ones, would consider that to be a luxury, or a "fluff" position.  If only they knew about hotel sales people who bring in 10 to 100 times their salaries in sales.  How much could be accomplished if the restaurant viewed that as a real job, not just a project assigned to a junior manager.  Maybe a chain with two or three locations might see the value in having a sales person whose only job it is to make sure that the sports teams eat there, or the office parties are booked and serviced, or the wedding showers or rehearsal parties were planned and executed perfectly.  That's exactly what's happening in hotels while restaurants leave it to chance, and to word of mouth.  What if a national restaurant chain had a national sales team, not to look for franchisees, but for customers?

I compare these two different business models in the same industry because it's what I know.   But in the past when I worked two jobs to support my family, I applied the skills of car sales to bartending and achieved some very profitable results - so much so that I walked away from selling cars but still use those skills in hotel sales today.  Product knowledge, never sell on price alone, test translates into any industry, I'd wager.

What can we learn from someone who does what we do, in a different capacity or in a different industry?

No comments:

Post a Comment