When you are already a success, why change?

(Before we get underway, as this is Remembrance Day, please take a moment to reflect and pay respect to those who have given their lives to protect our way of life.)

Anyone who has read more than one pop economics or management textbook will tell you that nothing stays the same. While in this industry we pride ourselves on our hospitality traditions, we must nevertheless continue to try new features, adapt and implement fascinating new services if we are to stay afloat. In this particular case where the grass is already a shimmering verdant green, you must anticipate the need for change as a means to stave off the inevitable.

Todd Orlich
Todd Orlich

This was the situation facing Todd Orlich, general manager of the Montage Beverly Hills in Los Angeles. The property’s flagship restaurant, Scarpetta, was delivering record revenue in 2015 and throughout the first quarter of 2016. Catering to hotel guests but also with a strong cachet amongst the locals, the eatery perennially enjoyed a spot in the 90th percentile or above on TripAdvisor, Yelp and OpenTable.

While the feedback for Scarpetta was excellent, the venue did not fully meet all guests’ needs as its format and style were conducive to dinner. It wasn’t even open for breakfast or lunch, meaning that customers were being underserviced and the space itself was being underutilized. Moreover, the perception was one of special occasions only. Taken together, Orlich saw this as a lurking problem that had to be addressed before the tide shifted and the revenues dried up

Montage Beverly Hills needed more versatility while also maintaining its top-tier reputation for culinary excellence. As such, the hotel entered into a partnership with Chef Geoffrey Zakarian and launched Georgie to replace Scarpetta back in early June 2016. Already renowned for several East Coast outlets, a cooking studio, several TV shows on The Food Network and Iron Chef America, this was Chef Zakarian’s first Californian venture.

Not having a proverbial gun to their heads in the form of a panicked, profit-seeking rush allowed all senior executives involved in the conversion to fully plan out every step in the process. Only after consulting the owners, managers and staff over the course of a full year did they break drywall. As a result, the hotel was only without a restaurant for 38 days.

Making this fast turnover work necessitated quite a few special considerations. To keep everyone happy, contracts were drawn with neighboring restaurants to ensure that hotel guests could charge meals to their rooms. Next, with construction work proceeding around the clock, a “bubble” of out-of-service rooms was created to keep as many guests away from noise as possible. Third, management and senior kitchen staff were retained, albeit with a request to use their vacation time, but were retained to ensure continuity.

While the Montage Beverly Hills might have gotten another decade of healthy returns from Scarpetta, conversions such as this indicate the need for pre-emptive action as a means for growing revenues. Beyond adding breakfast and lunch as necessary steps to this end, the atmosphere at Georgie is more attuned with the millennial-dominated trend of sharing plates and upscale yet casual dining.

Alas, this article is hardly just a restaurant review. Rather, it is a call to action for all hoteliers to re-evaluate their cash cows and look for ways to get even more milk. Here is a quick checklist to get you started.

1. Don’t rest on your laurels. Just because your restaurant (or lobby bar, spa, event space or any other hotel feature) is performing well does not mean that you cannot do better. Importantly, just because it is doing well now does not mean these returns will last forever.

2. Involve everyone in your plans. Owners, chefs, residents and select guests will all have unique insights worth incorporating into your approach. Be honest with them about your need for change and they will be motivated to help.

3. Look beyond local. Inspiration comes from everywhere, and often you can drive new demand by coalescing ideas from different parts of the globe then transforming them into your own thing. As a senior executive or owner, you should always be taking photos of menus, décor and dishes to build your knowledge base. Learning will pay off.

4. Recruit contractors with previous experience on property. Where possible, reach out to the same people who completed the original build. They may be more expensive but at least they’ll know what’s behind the walls! This will save you time, which is often a more significant contributor to maintaining consumer satisfaction than minimizing your capex.

5. Follow a construction schedule and stick to it. This underlines the importance of ensuring effective coordination between the general contractor and all sub-contractors. Falling behind on construction, although almost always inevitable, will have profound ripple effects throughout all of your operations.

6. A restaurant business is a family. Trust neighboring restaurants to help you as you would help them in their times of need. Even though they may be your direct competitors, be respectful and amicable because you never know when the situation calls for collaboration.

7. Don’t penny pitch by furloughing your team. The investment made in healthy preopening salaries will pay off, as any staff carried over from the old restaurant will act a ‘touch point’ with your guests and help them become accustomed to the new concept.