If your hotel offers a restaurant as one of its attractions, then you can’t afford to treat it like a “secondary” part of the business. Food is intrinsically linked to all the senses, which makes it one of the most memorable experiences a hotel can offer. If your food isn’t good, the rest of the business can get judged on it. Perhaps you delegate to a head chef to manage the hotel restaurant, but even if you do, the responsibility lies with you in the end. So, when you’re serving the guests, it’s best to know what it is they want to see.
You don’t have to boil your menu down entirely to the “tried and true” options. If you’re running a themed hotel or you cater to a market that expects the finer things, then you should feel free to include meals that your customers don’t get to try every day. But you have to be careful about the danger of having a menu that makes customers feel uncertain or uncomfortable about ordering. An important part of menu psychology is keeping customers comfortable, and you can do that by playing off recognizable options. Even if it’s just a few amongst your more out-of-the-ordinary meals. At least one broadly recognizable starter, main, and dessert is a safe move.
Let’s not forget that in most cases, your hotel is not a destination in its own right, but a stepping stone to a destination. When people visit, it’s because of where you’re situated. When catering to tourists, remember that they are coming, in part, for a local experience. Local cuisine may very well factor in that, as well. For that reason, it’s always a good idea to take advantage of local ingredients when possible. Even if it’s only for one dish on a menu, it makes for a great selling point. The conscientious traveler will feel doubly obliged to spend some cash on a meal that supports the local economy. What’s more, it can differentiate your hotel and offer you a niche to capitalize on.
One of the big benefits of offering local is that you get to offer the freshest foods, too. Where possible, fresh is always the direction to go. People do taste and notice the difference, after all. But what do you do if you want to offer dishes on the menu that don’t have a readily available local option? Thanks to services that offer options like fresh fish, lobster, crab, and oysters delivered directly to your business, it’s becoming a lot easier to offer a wide variety of fresh meals that take advantage of local foods but aren’t necessarily limited to only local foods. Of course, relying on fresh means that you have to account for the seasonality of food a lot more and it can raise the price of the meal, so consider the market you’re catering too.
If you do attract a more conscientious crowd, or you’ve spotted that demographic in your market and you want to start focusing on them, then you could join the growing trend of sustainable hotels. Many modern hotels use clever water recycling methods, reclaimed furnishings, recycled paper napkins and toilet paper, and much more. In the restaurant, many of these hotels are focusing on sustainable sources of food, as well. Following food trends can be risky. By the time you establish a new meal on the menu, the trend may very well have passed. But sustainable food is a trend that’s sticking around. It can prove a huge draw, driven by eco-friendly fishing, a focus on seasonality, more meatless dishes, and partnering with the right producers.
A quality taste must be a focus in any restaurant, that’s without question. But presentation should be just as important. Nowadays, you can bet as much as you would like that some of your guests are going to be taking pictures of your food and sharing them online, whether they love it or hate it. A hotel builds its reputation online all too easily and putting some presentation into your food can make a huge difference in whether that reputation is good or bad. Don’t get too unnecessary, crowding the plate with things that aren’t part of the meal. They might look good to you, but to a hungry guest, they just get in the way. There are a variety of different approaches you can take to making a gorgeous presentation using just the food that the guests are supposed to eat.
You might cater to a certain standard of the customer with a certain standard of budget, and that should always be kept in mind. However, bear in mind that people still need a little wiggle room in that budget. Otherwise, you will be turning away more guests than you should be. Price your food appropriately, based on the ingredients, the time spent making the meal, the seasonality of the components, and more. You don’t have to cater to the ups and downs of food prices week-by-week, but rather find the seasonal average of the more expensive ingredients while figuring out the food cost. Keep a few options for those who aren’t willing to spend as much as your average guest, too.
The details matter
It might not be the meal, but the actual design of the menu matters a lot, too. If you want to create a whole dining experience, then you have to go back to restaurant psychology. It depends on more than food, it depends on setting a mood and creating a consistent brand that meets it in every detail. With menu design, you want to avoid pretension, keeping it legible and sensibly organized above all else. You want visuals that complement the setting, but you don’t want them to be distracting. You want to describe dishes, but you shouldn’t write a short story for every item. Find the balance between appeal and function.
There’s a lot of flexibility in running a hotel restaurant. Accounting for taste, mood, and theme, there are thousands of directions you can go in. But when in doubt, turn to the staple features of a great menu as featured above.