I haven't stumbled upon anything new by bringing up the notion of hotels offering in-house cooking classes, courses or an entire culinary teaching school. It's a well-established facet of our industry, but one that is mostly in the realm of esteemed five-star jaunts or bucolic inns with Michelin-rated restaurants. So, what I ponder is why more hotels don't engage in this practice. Is it exclusive to luxury providers, or is it something that any hotel could get up and running, even at the one-off, ad hoc level? Yes or no, make up your mind once we've reviewed five key advantages of this practice.
- One more point of differentiation. These days, consumers do a substantial amount of research prior to booking a room. Your location is static and your prices are tightly controlled, so the two other arenas to compete in are guest services and onsite features. Whether prospective guests find out that you offer cooking courses through a third-party listing or by viewing your own brand.com, it's all about potential. They might use the state-of-the-art fitness facilities, they might use the spa or they might partake in a cooking class, but it's always good to know that the options are available. As well, on the group side of business, having a cooking demonstration or participatory option can become a real sales tool.
- Builds an emotional connection with patrons. The more often a guest or diner interacts with your brand, the more likely they are to remember it. Additionally, cooking classes are indeed fun, educational and not too long, meaning that they can be enjoyed on a whim if a guest or couple is bored. It's one more item on the agenda to round out the hotel narrative for past guests to talk about with their friends and family.
- A chance for menu input. Suppose instead of having one of your chefs use an everyday dish as their teaching tool, he or she shepherded the assembled class through the preparation of one of the culinary creations on the current restaurant menu. Not only is this great advertising for the showcased dish, but it affords the chef an opportunity to hear some firsthand feedback on how the food tastes and its presentation. This is assuming that the chef is open to receiving feedback. Every chef should be open to this, as cooking classes are not only a good way to extract input but also to improve his or her standing with the public.
- Lever a sense of community. Nowadays, a hotel should act as much a place of business as a community center. We do this by hosting events for locals and serving up delicious food at our restaurants, to mention two. In-house cooking classes wouldn't be just for resident travelers, but also for your local compatriots to help cement the endearing bond you have with them. If anything, reinforcing these neighborly connections is great for website SEO.
- Improves reputation of your restaurant and by extension the hotel. Building on all the previous points, cooking classes can add some major esteem to your restaurant by allowing patrons to see it in a different light while also giving them a chance to express themselves when it comes to constructive criticism. You must also keep in mind that many guests do not separate the restaurant from the property- it's all part of the overall hospitality experience. Hence, any efforts you put towards improving the dining experience will in turn reflect kindly on the hotel.
With those five reasons, it all may seem too good an opportunity to pass up. But I have to acknowledge that there are some serious impediments to implementing such a program. Free space for one - your kitchen might not be suitable nor is will there be enough forecasted revenues after renovations. Then throw in chef availability, startup costs, promotions and it isn't so cut and dry.
Even with these drawbacks, many hotels are already primed to accommodate these types of programs. As a conciliation prize, consider hosting an afternoon reception tasting, which can now take many forms such as the alcoholic varieties (wine and cheese, beer and cheese, whiskey) or I've even seen olive oil tastings and heirloom tomato tastings.
(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in eHotelier on November 13, 2013)