I know I’m just a dumb F&B guy, but … Part 2

My second rant about annoying things unrelated to F&B concerns – this time, it’s bathrobes and lighting (read the first one here). 

Bathrobes: Please would all the executive housekeepers of hotels that still make their bathrobes look pretty by tying them up in a “decorative but impossible to undo” knot, stand naked in a bathroom and time how long it takes them to unravel said knot and climb into the bathrobe while room service is pounding on the door with breakfast. My current record is about 4.5 minutes. I can hear them all sniggering at me… “Gotcha!”

Lighting: Before any lighting designer finalizes the design of any guest room and bathroom, please would they sleep in the room (with their partner) and get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. There is a recent trend to have the bathroom either open to the bedroom or behind glass (I assume to allow your partner the opportunity to laugh at you as you attempt to figure out which of the tiny bottles in the shower is the shampoo!).

When staying in one of these trendy rooms recently, the designer had very kindly labeled the light switches going into the bathroom. However, as a first-time user and not being able to read the switches in the dark, I hit the nearest one only to light up the entire bedroom and bathroom like a football stadium. For some reason my wife did not see the funny side of this. Lighting designers would have been punching the air!


Be known for something!

I had lunch recently at L’Amico in New York City, a restaurant created by Laurent Tourondel. The server recommended the pizza which, she said, was outstanding. As you walk past two enormous, copper-clad, wood-burning pizza ovens to get to your table, there was good reason for her recommendation.

Indeed, the pizza is exceptional and without doubt the best I have had since my lunch at Marta (a restaurant, also in New York City, created by Danny Meyer that serves amazing pizza as well). I could see pizzas flying out to every table around me and the reaction was similar to mine.

L'Amico's pizza

There are many other fantastic things on the menu but the pizza was SO good that I would return to this restaurant simply because of it. Chef Tourondel was inspired by the cooking of his Italian grandmother and he spent five years perfecting the pizza dough.

In Toronto there is an Italian restaurant called Terroni. Attached to it is a small Italian coffee shop and bar called Bar Centrale. The espresso is SO good that I have been many times for lunch just because of the espresso. Their barista, a Japanese lady named Ai, explained to me with great passion that the coffee beans, which are from La Colombe, are a blend from four regions: Brazil, Colombia, the Congo and Nicaragua. It is a single, very intense shot of perfect espresso that I crave.

So often I find hotel restaurants are merely just good at what they do. They are not “known” for anything exceptional. Investing in people who are passionate and investing in the right equipment and ingredients, and creating a reputation for doing something better than anyone else will give you that distinguishing edge. 


Size really doesn’t matter!

I continue to be amazed at how many old-fashioned, unprofitable wine lists are still in use.

I have a client who is losing a huge amount of money in F&B. I met their sommelier, who was very excited and proud of his restaurant wine list. He has a total of 530 labels with over 5,000 bottles in the cellar valued at nearly $250K. There were 170 labels on the wine list, and the remaining 360 were being held in reserve and were available to their wine society, of which there are only 180 members.

They do five wine dinners a year (you know how I feel about wine dinners!). I asked how often he turned over his inventory and of course he didn’t have a clue. So I analyzed their sales. 

They have a restaurant that impressively serves nearly 450 covers per day, mostly lunch and dinner. In the five-month period I studied, they sold 2,517 bottles of wine, of which 71% was served from their By The Glass list. That left only 734 bottles from their main list, or approximately five bottles a day!

Like most old-fashioned restaurants, the wines by the glass are listed on the main wine list, which comes in a classic faux leather book that is ceremoniously presented to the host or the wealthiest-looking man at the table! This itself is an archaic practice. If you have a great wine program, everyone should see it, as it acts as a great advertisement for your restaurant. I love to see a wine list on the back of the food menu.

In contrast, Cafe Boulud in Toronto has a great wine program. Wine Director Drew Walker has a total of 62 wines on this list, which is part of the lunch and dinner menu. There are 20 wines available by the glass and carafe and 6 super-premium wines available from the Coravin program. There is a reserve list of 160 wines for the big spenders. Inventory is less than C$120,000. Beverage to food ratio is 44%, of which 83% is wine sales. On an average Saturday night, he sells 75 bottles of wine, 40 from the main or reserve list and 35 from the BTG  program. 

The simple moral of the story is this: Just because you have a huge wine list doesn’t mean you have an interesting or profitable wine program.

I know I’m just a dumb F&B guy, but…

When will manufacturers of those little bottles of shampoo and bath gel that you find in most hotel bathrooms wake up to the fact that we can’t read your labels!

According to the Vision Council of America over half of all women and 48% of all men wear glasses… but not in the shower.

I was recently in Bangkok, staying at the excellent Siam Kempinski hotel. I laughed out loud when, like thousands of fellow travelers every day, I made the stupid mistake of entering the shower without first checking which of the tiny bottles was the shampoo.

However, as hard as I strained my eyes, I simply couldn’t read the labels. What to do next? Throw caution to the wind and guess? Would it matter anyway? Or should I accept defeat and exit the shower soaking wet, partially dry off so as not to drip water everywhere, find my glasses and solve the puzzle. Makers of mini shampoo bottles around the world must have been rejoicing that yet another dumb hotel guest fell into their trap. 

Could they not put a large S on the back of the shampoo, a large C on the back of the conditioner and a large G on the back of the bath gel? Or is that too simple?


Fish where the fish are

It will come as no surprise to everyone that the burger is typically the most popular item ordered in most casual dining outlets. From cafés to pool-side menus to in-room dining menus, the burger rules! 

So if it’s your most popular item, it should be amazing and you should ensure you are making a handsome profit from it. Furthermore, you should have different versions of it that are more expensive that your guests can “buy up” to. 

While this all makes perfect sense, it continues to surprise me how few hotels follow this line of thinking. In the past few weeks, I experienced the good and the bad on this subject. Let’s start with the bad. 

The Bad

In the bar of a hotel in the U.S., I was served an 8-oz. burger that cost US$11. It represents 43% of the bar’s entrée sales. There are no additional burgers on the menu. No great effort was made with the presentation. 

Burger 1.jpg

The Good

At my local pub here in Toronto, I typically choose the “Local Burger.” It’s a 7oz. patty with half as many fries. It's a lot better-looking and a lot better-tasting than the “hotel” burger above. As the burger is by far the most popular item at the pub, there are six different versions ranging from C$8.25 to C$16.25 (see the menu below).

Burger 2.jpg
Burger menu.jpg

The Conclusion

There’s no question in my mind which of the two burgers is more profitable. And shouldn’t apply only to burgers. If the margarita is the No. 1 seller at your pool bar, offer three or four versions, including one with premium tequila. 

As they say, fish where the fish are!


Ducks don’t get drunk… Or do they?

While visiting the English Lake District last January, I came across a pub whose name alone made me want to visit. It’s called The Drunken Duck Inn, and I thought anyone who calls a pub by that name must have a sense of humour and by association must run a great pub. The logic of course is ridiculous but still I went, and on this occasion the pub was amazing in every sense: design, atmosphere, food and yes, so was the beer!   

You can read the story of where the name comes from on the website, but it got me thinking about the impact of a great name. 

Naming a restaurant or bar is one of the most difficult and contentious things to do. Everyone has a pre-conceived idea about a word or words. The worst thing you can do is to let your ego get ahead of you and take ownership of a name expecting everyone to applaud your sense of style and creativity. Quite the opposite, in fact, as people dig their heels in insisting THEIR name is the best.

So my advice is to always use a professional creative firm to do this for you. They will research all the different meanings of the word(s) you choose. They will connect the names they propose with a relevant story so that there’s a reason for the name. They will conduct the all-important title search to ensure that no one else has registered the name and protect you from copyright infringement. They will propose a logo to accompany the name. And because they are experts at this, their suggestions will carry more weight than yours.

As GM of Four Seasons Vancouver, I oversaw the creation of a new restaurant and bar in the hotel called YEW. Up until a day before the printer’s deadline, the restaurant was supposed to be called Cedar due to the popularity of this tree in the area and the use of the wood in the design. However, we made a huge mistake and forgot to do a title search. At the last minute, our director of finance rushed into my office to tell me we could not use this name as it had been registered recently by another company.

I had no time to engage a creative company. That night, I spent hours searching for a new name and eventually landed on the name YEW. It was another tree that was indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. I loved how edgy it was and how easy it was to remember. But I also knew that if I tried to take credit for the name it would be shot down immediately. So the following morning I called Jennifer Johanson, CEO of the design firm who had created the magnificent interiors, and asked her to take ownership of the name. It worked, and everyone embraced the name YEW, not wishing to contradict a great designer!

But I don’t recommend this as a course of action. Hire a great creative company!

Drunken duck.jpg