A whole other ball game

Two conference calls today — one with Jakarta, the other with London. The restaurant business certainly seems to be booming around the world. Healthier economies have given way to prosperous travelers looking to spend their dollars on hotel stays and dining experiences, and to developers and property owners who feel the intensity of the customers’ demand for luxury and novel experiences.

Plus, mega-chains are flourishing. In the United States in the 1960s and 70s, the whole concept of chains really emerged with the advent of shopping centers. When shopping centers moved to the suburbs, people needed a place to eat after a hard day of shopping. Enter the reproducible restaurant: at first they were coffee shops, then they were dressed-up theme restaurants and, finally, destination dining establishments sitting out on pads of shopping-center parking lots.

Today the shopping-center expansion still moves on, but what has changed is that hotels really have become the vehicle for the expansion of the upscale restaurant — and this expansion is international.

In the beginning there was Trader Vic’s, but now there’s Nobu, Hakkasan, Bice and so on and so on. The demand for branded restaurants has become so great, and their outfitting so expensive, that hotels have become the natural landing place for their expansion.

Who would have guessed there would be Nobu hotels, or years ago that Hard Rock hotels would exist? The fact is, over the last 50 years restaurants and restaurant personalities have slowly — like glaciers — carved out a place in virtually every culture in the world. Who doesn’t know Wolfgang by now and the screamer Gordon Ramsay? By the way, when was the last time any of these people were behind the stoves of even a few of their outlets?

Good food is expected, but the show must go on.