Food and beverage role play: Reversing front and back of house

Food and beverage role play: Reversing front and back of house

When your reputation as one of the finest properties in the world is at stake, the need for continuous re-invention is not just a concept, but a necessity. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to experience exceptional service and a top-quality product. But what stood out most at the Montage Beverly Hills are several unique aspects of the food and beverage operation. 

For those who have never visited this operation, the primary restaurant is an outpost of the Scarpetta franchise. With outlets in Las Vegas, Toronto and several other centers, this eatery offers modern, chic Italian food at prices that make your average local joint seem like fast food. No question, the service, food, décor and ambiance were absolutely flawless. As the guidebooks would say, this restaurant is worth an extra visit. 

But what is perhaps most intriguing about this restaurant is the kitchen. Designed not only for efficiency, this is truly a case where the back of house takes center stage. Stainless-steel counters are replaced with exceptional-quality granite or marble surfaces with chrome inserts. With large picture windows, the kitchen looks out onto a busy local street at ground level. Chefs, sous-chefs, sauciers and others all work in symphonic concert under the watchful eyes of not only the executive chef, but also customers who choose to eat at a kitchen counter. And this is not just some “chef’s table” in the corner of a large commercial kitchen. Rather, diners are positioned in the center of the action. In effect, the Montage has turned the world of food preparation into the forefront of guest entertainment. From what I could tell, the staff seemed to enjoy being in the limelight. It was truly impressive.

Not to be outdone, the bar has taken its role as a front-of-house draw and moved to back-of-house speakeasy status. The Montage’s latest rendition is a throwback to the Prohibition Era. Named £10 — after the distillery engraving on the back of a Scott banknote of that denomination — there is no instantly recognizable signage. Key access required, the bar’s decor is a virtual sea of Lalique crystal and features an incredible range of exotic Scotch single malts, many from the Macallan Distillery. By moving a seemingly accessible product to the realm of inaccessibility, the Montage further differentiates itself from other competitors. Not to be outdone by the restaurant, personal service goes beyond the expected, with the bartender/mixologist/Scotch guru bringing the selected spirit directly to the table to pour and complete the order.

There is no question that Montage needed to take these proactive steps to differentiate itself. Competition in the über-luxury segment from Four Seasons, Peninsula, the renewed Bel-Air and others is fierce. Customers accustomed to paying ADRs in the nosebleed range are fickle. Local “1%” diners are equally demanding. I wholly applaud Montage’s approach and innovative leadership. 

But new ideas in hotels need not be restricted to the top of the food chain. All hoteliers have the opportunity to be their own “Montage.” All it takes is the commitment to succeed and a good dose of creativity. What’s holding you back?