There was a time when I would check into a hotel and, assuming it was around meal time, immediately leave in order to find a good restaurant.
Well, those days have changed. Now hotel restaurants have begun to pay attention to ways to keep their guests on their property. And if my recent experiences have anything to say about it, it’s working.
Experience number one: We were flying in specifically for a meeting at a conference center near the airport. To regroup and review, we met first at a Hyatt where they had a restaurant called Fresh 1800. Surprise, surprise, it was pretty eye-opening, all the way from their display of mega-cupcakes to the ability to choose your ingredients and have a salad or a pasta dish made up while you watch. The food was seasoned beautifully and changed the topic of our conversation from business to pleasure in no time.
Experience number two: Granted, it’s a J.W. Marriott, which is already pretty upscale. But even there, they have revamped and put new thought into pleasing the customer. Quench Bar & Grill offers a poolside view while you select from a variety of innovative signature cocktails, imported beers, house wines, and food that proves definitively that better bar food is here to stay. (See our Top Ten Trends of the Decade: Restaurant Trends).
We started with the Seasonal Fresh Fruit Plate, with a side of Key Lime Yogurt. It came wrapped in brown parchment paper in a bamboo steamer basket, beautifully presented and made more tasty just by its appearance. What bar offers fresh fruit as one of its appetizers?
We moved to the sandwiches, thanks to the recommendation of our server who tipped us off to the homemade, griddled bunsâ€”much better than toasting. The Blackened Grouper, the Fresh Angus Beef Burger with smoked bacon and cheddar cheese, and the Grilled Chicken BLT with, of all things, provolone cheese and tomato jam, all delivered as promised. It didn’t hurt that their French fries were hot and delicious.
We got a little Ranch dressing on the side, only to find out from one taste that it, too, was out of the ordinary. In a conversation later with Manager Geoff Giordano, we found that they make their own dressingsâ€”and that the element of surprise in the Ranch was a touch of thyme and red pepper. He told us, â€˜The one complaint we get is when people are used to the store stuff, especially on the Caesar. We use real anchovies and that isn’t what they are used to.â€™
In fact, Giordano told us that they had been â€˜tweaking the little thingsâ€™ to scale things up a bit. â€˜We found that shredding the chicken in the quesadilla helped it spread more evenly and gave customers a better experience,â€™ he said. â€˜We get the grouper in fresh every day. We make everything here on a daily basis.â€™
The drinks were pretty spectacular, too, and Giordano said the popular ones include the Poolside Paradise, made with Bacardi Coco, Midori, Captain Morgan, pineapple juice, and a floating island of pina colada. It’s served half frozen and half on the rocks in what he called a â€˜layered drink, so it really catches your eye.â€™ Same for the Swinging in a Hammock, made with Bacardi Limon, Chambord, Peach Schnapps, pineapple juice all floating on an island of Mango daiquiri.
â€˜A lot of the drinks are from my time as a bartender,â€™ said Giordano. â€˜We just like to give a different look and experience.â€™
He added, â€˜It’s always been about quality.â€™ Not incidentally, that quality extends to their emphasis on â€˜green,â€™ with cups made out of corn and appetizer plates made from recycled materials.
The big resorts are, as always, setting the standard. They are slightly edgy, spending money where they need to in order to offer the latest and best amenities, including food.
_Ready for breakfast, too? See the blog at entitled, Don’t Messs With My Breakfast.