Food

The New Hotel Grab n’ Go, Food Courts?

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Food courts are a whole new breed these days, even in airports. I just returned from Europe with flights through Rome’s Fiumicino and Lisbon’s International airports and, to my delight, found appealing options in the food courts . People like them – the variety, speedy service for our time pressed society, the ability to see exactly what you’re getting, and the modest price point.

Then there are the fancy ones, like the new Gourmet Experience at Madrid’s Corte Ingles which touts the 7 Michelin stars the chefs have in their food court, or the new food hall in Paris’ Galeries Lafayette with outposts of food purveyors from Petrossian to 5 Jotas Spanish ham. To be sure, Berlin’s Ka Da We department store led the way a number of years ago with their full floor of grazing options, a destination in its own right. But what is different is the rapid expansion of the concept in number of venues, kinds of places they’re landing, and the ever rising bar on standards, even at the lowest common denominator (airports).

Now, real estate developers are putting them into renovated buildings as an amenity, betting on companies’ desire to attract millennial workers who grew up on food courts. Example: the owners of the 41-story glassy former home to AIG on 180 Maiden Lane, as part of a $100 million upgrade are putting in a high end food court and a lobby with picnic tables.

What is next in hotel food and beverage trends? I predict that midrange and/or convention hotels will turn to food courts both as a point of difference and to not only lower food costs, but also, as a new profit center coming from leasing the spaces.

What do you think?

Foodie Crime

Cruffin

Cruffin

 

With the foodie craze on the consumer side commanding ever higher prices for restaurant meals especially in the form of tastings with wine pairings and on the other, the business side, opportunities for instant celebrity stardom, possible franchises or IPOs and the money that goes with it, foodie crime had to come.

And come it has. First, at Christmas 76 bottles of fine wine were stolen from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry restaurant north of San Francisco. The wine was valued at $300,000. And more recently all of the recipes were stolen from Mr.Holmes Bakery in San Francisco – recipes and nothing else. Why could this be? It turns out that Ry Stephen, a 28 year old pastry chef invented the cruffin, a muffin croissant hybrid that has created a frenzy in the city, much as the cronut did in New York. They sell out before the long line is gone. Selling at $4.50 each, the cruffin is said to take three days to make the ice cream cone shaped bakery item and comes filled with caramel, strawberry milkshake or Fluffernutter cream, among others.

Where will the foodie thieves strike next? Better put those recipes in a safe.

Photo courtesy of www.abc7news.com

Spirits Tourism

Kentucky Bourbon Road Trip

Kentucky Bourbon Road Trip

Wine tourism has been around for decades – tours of vineyards, wine hotels, and wine trails, from California and New York to New Zealand, Australia, Europe, the southern tier of South America and more. Of late, thanks to craft breweries we’re seeing a growing number of craft beer festivals and museum like brewery tours. The newest link in the chain, not surprising given the celebrity status of mixologists and interest in new beverage taste sensations, is spirits (as in liquor) tourism. Spirits tourism is following what is a major growth in spirits revenue nationwide. Excluding wine and beer it has doubled to over $50 billion from 2000. Its appeal is also based on an interest in local products and history and, similar to craft beers, the boom in craft liquors. A recent google search revealed a surprising number of states – Delaware, Washington, Oregon, New York, that have gotten on the bandwagon with spirits trails, sometimes combining them with wineries and breweries.

Not only distillers, but also state and local governments see this as a new source of tax revenue and jobs, as well as a new tourism niche. Kentucky, in particular, is getting in on the act, enjoying a special upswing from bourbon, with new distilleries being built, complete with a tasting room for sipping bourbon and looking at the local scenery. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a collection of distilleries on a scenic route, attracts thousands of visitors annually. Distilleries offer behind the scenes tours where one can watch vats of yeast bubbling and workmen rolling barrels of whiskey as they’ve done for decades. In downtown Louisville, Whiskey Row is being revived with a new distillery for Old Forester, the country’s first bottled bourbon. Another producer, Wild Turkey, has paid double in taxes this year, twice what it paid in 2010 thanks to robust sales. For hotels and restaurants, craft spirits are a new avenue for public relations, with the media devoting more space to everything from drink recipes and signature cocktails to star mixologists. One of the more clever outtakes is the bar at the new Traymore restaurant at the Metropolitan by COMO. It has a gin bar boasting 40 different kinds of gin and the Apotheker at the Shelbourne Wyndham Grand South Beach, a riff on bar as pharmacy.

Photo courtesy of NationalGeographic.com

Culinary Tourism Trends: What’s In and Out

Eat With ; Hummus Brunch with Naama Shefi & Noam Bonnie ; Photo By: Eilon Paz

Make no mistake about it, culinary tourism is booming. It’s now a mature special interest category which brings with it higher expectations for novelty, creativity, and innovative offerings. Cooking and mixology classes, food and wine pairings, and food festivals seem so, well, yesterday. Here’s a look at what was and what’s now.

 

THEN NOW
Cooking classes Behind the scenes with the chef
Wine tastings Hot sauce or other specialty food tastings
Eating local Eating with locals in their homes or outside venues (e.g. mama cooks, eat with a local)
Group food tours Personalized dining itineraries based on food preferences, traveling configurations, budget
World’s Fair with Food Courts Food themed world’s fair (Milan Expo 2015)
Chef driven menus Crowd sourced menus
Dining as party Dining and conversation (“silence is the new luxury”)

 

And in the category of dining trends, it’s important to not leave out gluten free. Any major restaurant has to cater to the needs of gluten free diners. Not only is it expected, but the absence of sensitivity to these special needs loses business and also makes a statement about service.

It’s interesting that in two restaurant visits in Miami in the past 45 days, one to a multi million dollar upscale restaurant operated by an international group, there were only two items on a multi page menu for gluten free. I was with a group of 8 and the diner walked out. In another case, another high-end restaurant, the waiter and kitchen staff had obviously not been trained about this special needs group. Take note!

Photo courtesy of Travel and Leisure

 

Bread and Marketing

Bread and marketing? Yes. Bread has served not only as a mark of a restaurant’s quality, but also as a generator of press coverage. For many years in New York the bread to have at the best restaurants was Tom Cat’s sourdough. Peter Lugar’s onion rolls are legendary, and most recently in Miami, bread by Zak is the one that gets a mention on menus.  And when the bread is really good, don’t you find yourself mentioning that to friends? Butter, too, gets noticed by foodies —peel off butter packets, others you unwrap on the low end ,and  the top of the line being soft, unsalted tub butter from France.  And speaking about generating press, one of the selling points of a new restaurant, art gallery and lounge opening early next year in Wynwood, Miami will be their baguette oven imported from Strasbourg.

Given all this, I find it  short sighted to charge for bread. One could make an argument to diners for serving bread only on request which some restaurants are doing — that it saves waste and eliminates temptation for those on a diet.  But charging, especially if a lunch of broiled salmon, baby vegetables and a glass of wine with tip is $50 a person? That was my experience at a recent lunch at an upscale food hall in New York City.  It’s a buzzy, exciting place and the food is quite good but to charge for a piece of baguette and butter? Time to relook that policy.

Restaurant Trends: Experiences

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The golden word in the travel and hospitality industry these days is “experience” with hotels, tour operators and travel agents touting their special offerings.  Why the interest in “experiences”? Because they evoke powerful sentiments – the stuff that memories are made from, landmark celebrations, and, most importantly, the promise of involvement.

Experiences in the form of  interactivity are hitting the restaurant industry in a big way in innovative directions.  Many of these have the added benefit of more social interaction and the promise of making new friends. Underground dining, where a chef cooks a gourmet meal in his or her home or unusual venue for a prix fixe has been around for a number of years. Here in Miami several prominent foodies started a club where you sign up for a pricey mystery dinner at an undisclosed location and it is often oversubscribed.  Then there’s an extension of the cooking class with not only a market tour to choose ingredients for the class, but also, foraging in fields and streams for special herbs, vegetables or fish.

The latest twist is Dinner Lab which operates popup restaurants across the US.  Emerging chefs prepare a high end prix fixe dinner ($50 to $80  a meal, drinks and tips included) for members who rate each dish’s creativity and taste and each drink pairing as well as whether the course was “restaurant worthy”. Communal tables, guests talking about the dinner as they fill out the rating forms, family style service, and chefs chatting up diners all contribute to the social interaction.

Meals are also presented as a performance, with each getting a name from the chef. And even the setting is different from the usual – dinners are held in large open spaces like the roofop of a parking garage or at a motorcycle dealership.

Dinner Lab’s plan is to operate in 40 cities including international ones and to sell the data at events for anyone looking to overhaul or create a menu.

Photo courtesy of www.forbes.com

Food Extremism

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It seems extremism has hit the food and restaurant industries. I happened to watch the new show on Showtime, the “Seven Deadly Sins”  episode on gluttony and learned about the Heart Attack Grill. The medically themed restaurant’s goal is to offer everything that’s as unhealthy as possible. Think hamburgers named for four levels of bypass surgery with the most intense, the quadruple bypass weighing in at close to 10,000 calories. It can be accompanied by lard fried French fries and jello shots with vodka. And how about some unfiltered cigarettes? If you weigh more than 350 pounds they give you a burger on the house. Two people died in the restaurant.  I can’t help but wonder what percentage of the diners are of moderate weight, just trying this for the experience, and how many are obese, this just a step further in the way they usually eat.

And then there are the Paleos whose diet mimics that of the cavemen — eat only meats, fish, nuts, vegetables and seeds. There are Pinterest boards interesting to look at that feature Paleo snacks and entertaining. (There’s also a group of Paleos that eschew soap and shampoo and still others that smear bacteria on their body). So you hoteliers out there — don’t see Paleo hotels as a niche concept for a dedicated hotel,  but maybe for a themed weekend getaway? It’d certainly generate a lot of press coverage!

In between the extremes are all of the dietary restrictions that are now expected to be addressed in restaurant menus, from peanut and lactose allergies to gluten free, vegetarian and VEGAN (have I missed some?). Oh yes, organic is desirable. Not easy being a restauranteur these days.

 

4 Trends in the Business of Restaurants

kwe blog le locamerchant-1Not much has happened in the business of restaurants in recent years. I’m talking about innovations other than in the cooking itself or culinary approach, to increase revenues. With the tremendous competition now and rising rents and food costs, we’re finally beginning to see some new, creative ideas that are worth noting. Expect to see a lot more in coming months, especially with Priceline’s recent purchase of OpenTable.  Here are several restaurant trends that have a lot of promise:

!.How to increase covers in the downtimes of 5:30 to 6:30/7? Fine restaurants are trying to make diners feel as if they’re special, going out of their way with attention and service. Restaurants realize they need to overcome the traditional stigma of diners feeling like second class citizens, part of an “early bird special” group.  In addition, all matters of special incentives are being offered, from smaller portions (and prices) of signature dishes and a small bites menu to unique menus such as New York’s Le Cirque offering what they call a heritage menu with items like Dover sole and wild Burgundy Escargots. Read more in “No Shame in a Table at 5:30” in the Wall Street Journal.

2.As the top 1% get richer and the stock market continues on an upward trajectory, demand at the top restaurants in peak hours has been off the charts. New apps have sprung up like Zurvu and Resy that cooperate with restaurants sharing revenue for the most in demand dining times  and access to prime tables (a “commission” from $10 a person to $50 a table).

3.Restaurants hosting a visiting chef from out of town or out of country has been around for a long time. But now there’s a new twist – a visiting local chef.  Harry’s Pizzeria owned by star Miami chef Michael Schwartz hosted a series of themed dinners with Miami colleagues. We’re also seeing several chefs team up to do special dinners at a colleague’s restaurant. The idea? Copromotion which makes a lot of sense.

4.Reservation websites are providing incentives for early bookings. Members of Opentable get more points for booking early time slots and another app. leloca, gives last minute discounts at participating restaurants to users (like the restaurant counterpart to Hotel Tonight).

New Twist on “Grab and Go” Hotel F & B

grab and go

Vending machine at Mondrian Hotel South Beach

“Grab and go” luxury products? You got it right. A pioneer in this was the Mondrian Hotel in South Beach which opened with a full wall of the lobby taken up by a Semi-Automatic, purple vending machine that helped put it on the hipsters’ map. Some go-to items: a feather vest ($400), a $28 T-shirt emblazoned with the word recession, and even 24-karat-gold handcuffs ($350). You could even buy a nearby condo, or rent a 1953 Cadillac DeVille convertible. Prices ranged from $10 to $1.2 million.

The vending machine phenomenon is accelerating, embracing even luxury food and beverage products. Here’s a rundown of some of the newest, latest and greatest brought to my attention by Chicago based Farmer’s Fridge which could have some interesting applications for the hotel industry with the burgeoning “Grab and Go” food and beverage concept:

Let’s Pizza .Let’s Pizza kneads the dough, forms a round, adds tomato sauce, layers toppings and then bakes it all in front of every customer in 3 minutes. Let’s Pizza is basically a mini-pizzeria that’s open 24 hours a day!

Moët & Chandon Champagne Vending Machine (UK): Located in the Selfridge’s department store in London, this Champagne vending machine holds 200 milliliter bottles for $29 each. Each bottle is decorated with Swarovski crystals and the machine uses robotic arms to deliver the Champagne safely to the customer.

Corner Chips (BE): Outside of Brussels, Belgium, this unique vending machine is a diet-breaker. For €2.50, hot fries are delivered in 95 seconds with your choice of condiment including ketchup and mayo. Built with high-tech technology such as remote-management that lets its operator know when it’s almost out of potatoes.

Beverly Hills Caviar (US): From $5 to $600, customers in Beverly Hills, CA now have access to the delicacy of caviar from a vending machine. The caviar is dispensed in a glass jar and has an expiration date of 365 days.

 

ABOUT FARMER’S FRIDGE

Farmer’s Fridge, a new healthy vending machine concept, delivers delicious gourmet salads and snacks to customers via automated kiosks around the Chicagoland area.  The idea to provide nutritious meals came from Founder Luke Saunders’ realization that health-conscious people were struggling to find nutritious meals and snacks that were easily accessible.  Building on that belief, Saunders drew on his background in manufacturing to create an automated kiosk that could dispense healthy food options.  Farmer’s Fridge offers people healthy, nutritious foods that are delicious and satisfying in a state-of-the art, innovative automated kiosk.  The salads and snacks are made from fresh ingredients available from local produce vendors.  Farmer’s Fridge salads and snacks are handcrafted each morning in a local Chicago kitchen and are stocked daily by 10 a.m.  The company also provides catering to businesses in downtown Chicago. For more information, please visit www.farmersfridge.com.

 

 

Entertainment Returns to Dining

kwe blog crepes suzette

In the 70’s I fondly remember restaurant tableside preparation of Caesar salad, guacamole, and flambes. The flambes always added elements of entertainment and glamour to a meal, so I lamented their passing from style. With the advent of Spain’s Ferran Adria, his molecular gastronomy and disciples, tableside food preparation came back into fashion, but it just didn’t seem the same.

Now, restaurants across the country are bringing back some of the traditional dishes and with them, tableside preparation sometime by the chef himself. It makes sense. It offers a culinary experience for the diner at a time when travelers and the affluent want new experiences. For the restaurant it  not only creates a buzz, but also, helps justify higher price points and adds value. The Wall Street Journal recently described what some of the more innovative restaurants are doing. Leading the pack is New York’s Eleven Madison Park which has made their signature entertainment, justifying the $225 prix fixe dinner. For instance, a raw carrot is put through a meat grinder clamped to a table. Voila, carrot tartare. Michael Lomonaco, chef and partner at Porter House New York has brought back the duck press. In the $110 roast duck dish for two, bones are crushed in the French press at the table. The duck comes out on a gueridon cart and disassembled at the table. Duck’s legs and thighs are served in a salad for the first course, and the breast with the juice from the crushed bones is second.

Other dishes that get the tableside entertainment treatment are a 40 oz, 14 in long rib eye carved before the diners’ eyes at Urban Farmer in Portland, tea smoked oysters at Desnuda ceviche bar in Brooklyn, and tableside cloud preparations for pasta or rabbit with a mist of truffles at Marc Forgione in New York. And then there are the traditional dishes of the 50’s and 60’s like steak au poivre, crepes suzettes and flambéed drinks. Brennan’s of Houston has even created a new job description: flambé chefs. Glad for the return of this nostalgic element of dining.

Blogpost by Karen Weiner Escalera