Art, science of restaurant repositioning, part 3

Sometimes a global restaurant brand can be the natural choice to reposition a hotel restaurant, and such was the case at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, where the first overwater Zuma restaurant recently made its debut.

Contributed by Jeanette Hurt

“It is important to remain open to different concepts and learn from what other restaurants are doing,” said Etienne Dalançon, general manager of Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, who added that it is crucial for hoteliers to remain very aware of F&B trends.

This sophisticated twist on the traditional Japanese Izakaya style of eating and drinking replaced the resort’s more traditional Japanese restaurant, Shimizu. “[Global restaurant brand] Zuma was a natural choice, as it offers an enhanced experience and quality fine dining in line with what we aim to offer our guests,” Dalançon said. “We are confident that Zuma, with its consistency in providing quality service and experiences, will help us raise the bar.”

Arial view of the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi

Japanese Izakaya typically hosts a casual environment for after-work drinks and food, and Izakaya (restaurants) often have multiple and different types of seating areas form low tables, tatami mats to bar seats, according to Rainer Beck, creator and co-founder of Zuma. “The food at Zuma is authentic, but not traditional,” Beck said. “We wanted to bring Japanese food to a wider audience, so the flavors are perhaps more robust than those found in Japan. The atmosphere at Zuma is informal and fun, and the design and architecture are sophisticated and elegant, but the atmosphere remains relaxed and vibrant.”

Japanese cuisine, Beck said, remains popular among diners, so that was one reason they decided to convert the restaurant. “While the cuisine is very sought after, it is also very difficult to get right with the precision, authenticity and creativity required,” he said. “This is also what made us decide upon Zuma for this project.”

The entire process to reconceptualize the restaurant took a little more than a year, Dalançon said. “We all rallied behind the same goal: bringing a new specialty culinary signature to the island and to the Maldives,” he said.

The biggest challenge for this restaurant redo was to figure out how to adapt this internationally known restaurant concept to such a different setting. “As part of our discussions and thinking processes, one of the challenges we faced was how to adapt Zuma to an island environment,” Dalançon said. “We were able to overcome this obstacle fairly quickly through efficient planning and organization from both Zuma and the resort team.”

Zuma at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi features a Japanese Izakaya-style menu

Beck said there also were some delays. Nonetheless the year-long transformation still was rather quick, “With Zuma Maldives, our biggest challenge was the logistics, as we experienced some significant delays with shipping,” he said. “However, we approached it in a calm manner, and as it was outside of everyone’s control, we just waited it out.”

In explaining the move to bring in Zuma, Dalacon said luxury hotels and resorts must have a good F&B strategy, but they also need to continually elevate and change their offerings. “It is also important to remain open to different concepts and learn from what other restaurants are doing,” he said. “When things don’t work out, I believe that one should always stop, rethink the problems, make the necessary changes, and then try again – also known as trial-and-error problem solving.”

Dalacon said when management was deciding on which restaurant to add, they knew that Japanese food was not only popular, as proven and seen on the island, but a must-offer. “As such, the more important decision was who could execute this best, who could we rely on to enrich our guests’ culinary experience, and Zuma was the best fit.”

Dalançon said excitement has been building for the new restaurant as guests awaiting the summertime opening. “We have already received numerous messages from guests across different channels, from Instagram to email to telephone,” he said.