Casual elegance

How do you go casual with a fine-dining experience at a high-end resort?

There has been a lot of talk recently about hotel and resort restaurants bringing in casual-dining spots to keep up with the growing demand of travelers who want a more informal atmosphere. I think of it as comfortable dining, and while it works beautifully in certain towns, it can be a challenge in others.

In Sedona, Arizona, the trend benefitted us because guests want to be casual — New York bankers don’t pack business suits when coming out West. Yet, for many years, I insisted on a “no jeans” policy in our signature restaurant because many guests celebrated special occasions there, and I felt this warranted nicer outfits. As I started listening to guests, I realized the dress code didn’t fit our clientele of high-end guests looking to unwind. After eliminating the dress code, our covers went up 30%, and I wish I had done it sooner! 

At our other resort in Virginia, the same idea didn’t work out so well. While we have guests of the marina who want to dine in shorts and topsiders, we also have the traditional Southern guest who enjoys dressing up for dinner. This prompted me to create two dining areas serving the same menu. One is come as you are; the other requires men to wear jackets, and the ladies dress up willingly. The casual side brings in 70% of the volume, but this way I can make all my guests happy.

The lesson in going casual is finding the right balance of “comfortable” that’s going to work with the culture of the resort and the guest profile. After allowing jeans in our Sedona signature restaurant, I took another step and dropped the starched white tablecloths. Revenue shot up again. 

Tastes will continue to change, and in five years we may be starching those tablecloths again, but for now our restaurants have the right vibe for their locales.