This January, Scott Conant, a frequent judge on the Food Network show "Chopped" who in 2009 opened his Scarpetta restaurant at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, doubled down in South Florida by debuting Corsair by Scott Conant at the Turnberry Isle Miami resort.
This spring, San Diego's Fairmont Grand del Mar, whose Addison restaurant has been helmed by Relais & Chateaux grand chef William Bradley since its 2006 opening, debuted a guest chef program, in which high-profile regional chefs work one night with Bradley to create seasonal dinners. Bradley debuted the program in April by bringing in Los Angeles-based, Michelin Star-winning chef Josiah Citrin to work with him, and he is planning to continue the guest-chef program indefinitely.
In June, La Posada de Santa Fe, which operates under Starwood Hotels' Luxury Collection, brought aboard Hall, who combines the national acclaim of two James Beard Awards with a hotel-restaurant resume that dates to 1984 at Dallas' Loews (now Hilton) Anatole.
And by the end of summer, Commune Hotels & Resorts' Joie de Vivre division will debut on the East Coast with a Miami hotel called the Hall, which will feature a restaurant helmed by Spike Mendelsohn, who has appeared on both Bravo's "Top Chef" and the Food Network's "Iron Chef America."
That trend was also slated to gain steam in Washington next year, when the Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C. was set to open with two restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs. As of mid-July, those plans had been scuttled, when Jose Andres, who has appeared on "Iron Chef America" among other TV shows and frequent "Chopped" judge Geoffrey Zakarian backed out of their agreements with the hotel operator in response to disparaging remarks hotel namesake Donald Trump made about Mexicans and illegal immigrants during the announcement of his presidential candidacy.
Granted, with the Food Network and Bravo featuring shows like "Chopped," "Iron Chef America" and "Top Chef," much of this trend is mirroring the restaurant industry, in which chefs have gained exposure and are brands unto themselves.
Spike Mendelsohn is slated to open the restaurant at Miami’s the Hall hotel in late summer.
"Any town with a decent restaurant market has a celebrity-chef restaurant or two," said Mary Chapman, senior director at the Chicago-based food-service consultant Technomic. "They have their local following, and some national exposure goes a long way."
Still, the combination of greater media exposure among chefs and a more sophisticated dining approach among travelers is pushing some hoteliers to abandon the traditionally conservative approach of hotel restaurants and trust chefs with more ambitious food programs.
"The industry is responding to an audience that not only desires but expects a culinary approach that's unique," said Lana Trevison, who will oversee the Hall and its partnership with Mendelsohn as director of operations of Commune Hotels & Resorts' East Coast region. "Travelers are becoming more selective about their experience."
As a result, hoteliers in more cities are partnering with high-profile chefs in order to address food and beverage programs that to many have been a bane to their operations. Hotel restaurants have long had the stigma of being loss leaders and necessary evils that existed to ensure guests had an on-site option for morning or off-hours dining, and the statistics bear out that reputation.
According to a PKF Hospitality Research study of more than 1,600 full-service U.S. hotels, annual revenue generated by those hotels' restaurants fell 5.2% per year between 2007 and 2014, lagging the 0.6% average annual increase in total hotel revenue during the same time period. And hotel restaurants continue to lag other departments as travel spending has recovered. Last year, hotel-restaurant revenue was up 1.9%, again lagging the 6.2% total revenue increase for hotels, according to PKF.
"Hotel restaurants are one of the hardest things to open, because the stigma is that hotel restaurants suck," said Hall. He emphasized the importance of appealing to the local population by estimating that 50% of his restaurant's guests come from outside of the hotel during the weekends and 75% during the week. "You can have 100% occupancy in a 400-room hotel, and the restaurant may only have 20 guests."