Art, science of restaurant repositioning, part 2

In the second installment of our three-part series on restaurant repositioning tactics, we look at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle, Washington, which as long as five years ago embarked upon a journey to reconceptualize the Georgian, the hotel’s premier dining venue that had been a go-to destination since the hotel opened in 1924.

Contributed by Jeanette Hurt

For hotel GM Sunny Joseph, finding a designer who fit the property’s vision was key to the entire project. The restaurant was a very special place amongst locals, so the management team needed to make sure the community would buy in to whatever was done.

“We had multiple designers come over, and we gave them the instructions that we don’t want to move away from the past too much, we don’t want to be too fancy, and we cannot suddenly make this the hip-hop restaurant. The community has to buy in,” Joseph said.

Dining room at The George inside the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, Seattle

Joseph said some designers took a very bold approach, while others took the old restaurant and just enhanced it a little bit. “The designers we selected made an entirely different proposal, and it appealed to everyone at the decision-making table.”

The repositioning of the restaurant was part of a US$25 million renovation project, but at the heart of it was what would become The George. “The Georgian was a special occasion restaurant, and we wanted to make it more approachable so that it would not be a once or twice a year restaurant,” Joseph said. “We didn’t want this (new restaurant) to be just another hotel restaurant. It’s a restaurant inside the hotel, but we wanted to give it its own identity.”

To that end, they created a new entrance so that diners could go straight into the restaurant without walking into the hotel. But the main challenge was to preserve the history yet create a new restaurant that would be popular for years to come.

The hotel selected Spanish design studio Lázaro Rosa-Violán to undertake the redesign. Two enormous, antique chandeliers were the focal point in the old restaurant, but they didn’t fit the new concept. Instead of just tearing them out, they painstakingly removed them, crystal by crystal, and after cleaning them, they re-installed them in the hotel ballroom.

Bar at The George

Often, when a hotel restaurant is redesigned, many people in the community complain. “A lot of times, when hotels renovate, guest will say things like how the place was destroyed,” Joseph said. “That didn’t happen at all with The George. The most common comment is that people say that they feel like it’s always been here. It fits in seamlessly.”

One thing the hotel did to preserve the past was to create a history wall, just above the lobby level. “We don’t want to shrug off the past,” Joseph said, adding that the hotel’s social media followers doubled within the first two weeks of The George’s opening.

With the pandemic and supply chain issues, the renovation took longer than expected. Originally, when construction began in late 2019, it was estimated to last six months but getting supplies from overseas were delayed. The lobby, with its new bar, reopened in April 2021, and the last piece was The George. “We wanted to be sure that we were launching when the market was ready,” Joseph added.

Historically, the hotel was a gathering place for the locals, and that’s become true again. “We are busy on Monday, and busy on a Tuesday,” Joseph said. “We are very optimistic about the future, and the community reaction has been great.”