Narrowing focus

Narrowing focus

A few weeks ago I commented on a review of a chain restaurant in San Francisco that was quite poorly reviewed by the local food guru, Michael Bauer. The restaurant, Morton’s, is in fact quite busy, and had recently expanded its facilities. I commented on how restaurants can be designed and operated either from a local market perspective or from a clientele perspective. This is particularly the case in urban areas, as there are two sets of customers: the ones that live there, and the ones that are visiting. A recent review of the Andaz hotel in the New York Times reminded me of this.  

The review, although ultimately complimentary, started off sounding negative, mostly in terms of the vibe of the style: chatty and not particularly attentive to commitments made to the guest, such as having rooms ready on time. In the end, the reviewer raved about the room and its amenities (mostly). So then I started to think that if there is one overarching trend of this decade, it is niche marketing, whether it be for rooms, restaurants or prescription drugs. In terms of hospitality, the niches are created around groups of people who don’t care about the traditional way of interacting with guests. Traditional hotel etiquette is geared towards the people with values that favor the comfort of knowing that everywhere, and every time, their experience will be the same. We all have our expectations, and for those with more experimental lifestyles, we generally want it our way.  

Hotels historically have tried to appeal to very large bandwidths of guests: leisure or business (high, medium and economy). What is changing is that this is all changing. Interestingly enough, even the old brands are jumping into the change, but can they do it? If some banks are too big to fail, are some hotel groups too big to change? Can Marriott’s Edition Hotel vie with W? Is W becoming so big that it is just another chain hotel and not unique enough? Is unique so unique that once it becomes organized, systemized and corporatized, it loses its luster? Will brands have to migrate through brands to stay with a much faster, ever-changing customer base? Will the old and tried chains face a recycling of concept that will keep the process going?

I tell clients frequently that the public is really the winner in all of this. In the race for “cool,” it generally does not cost any more for the consumer to have “new” as it does to have “yesterday’s new,” and so the migration continues, and change requirements happen ever faster.