Over the past year, there has been a flurry of developments in the dining sphere in the hotel industry. The most noteworthy development comes from Raffles Hotel Singapore, which reopened last month after an extensive two-year restoration process.
Out of the 10 F&B establishments by the 132-year-old heritage hotel, four of them are new-to-market. Of these four, three of the restaurants are set up in partnership with prolific chefs. They include BBR By Alain Ducasse, a Mediterranean tapas concept by the eponymous French chef. Ducasse runs two three-MICHELIN-starred restaurants: Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée in Paris and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London. BBR By Alain Ducasse is slated to open on 13 September.
Last month, MICHELIN-listed Fairmont Singapore refurbished its 32-year-old Italian restaurant Prego to include a deli, antipasti station, island bar and an open kitchen fitted with brick-wall ovens. Its sister hotel, Swissotel The Stamford, which houses the one-MICHELIN-starred JAAN By Kirk Westaway, has introduced four new F&B concepts. These include a contemporary grill restaurant, a bar, a brasserie and an all-day buffet restaurant.
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Out of the 38 MICHELIN-starred restaurants in the MICHELIN Guide Singapore 2018 Section, about one-third of them are located in hotels and integrated resorts. They include two-MICHELIN-starred Shisen Hanten in Mandarin Orchard, one-MICHELIN-starred Jiang-Nan Chun in Four Seasons Singapore and two-MICHELIN-starred Waku Ghin in Marina Bay Sands, which is currently closed for extensive renovations after operating for close to a decade.
More hotels are realising that luxurious interiors, plush furnishings and amenities do not cut it for increasingly discerning guests. With growing appetites, hotels are seeing the potential and value of positioning themselves as dining destinations for both in-house and walk-in guests.
Hotels say that raising the bar in their F&B offerings allows them to stand out in Singapore’s competitive hospitality industry.
This competition is buoyed by a robust growth in tourist arrivals. Last year, 18.5 million people visited Singapore, which marks a 6.2% year-on-year increase, according to figures by CBRE Research. The slew of hotel openings this year hasn’t tapered off too. Newcomers to the hotel industry this year include Six Senses Maxwell, The Outpost Hotel, The Barracks Hotel and Village Hotel Sentosa — the latter three are run by Far East Hospitality Group.
Outside of Singapore, one-MICHELIN-starred modern Australian barbecue restaurant Burnt Ends has chosen to open its debut overseas outpost in the Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi two months ago.
At Raffles Hotel Singapore, the dining mix of stalwart establishments and new restaurants has been deftly balanced. Over the past few months, the hotel has been making headlines for housing the debut Asian outposts of prolific chefs such as Ducasse and Pic. The series of restaurant openings in the hotel will culminate in the opening of grill restaurant, Butcher’s Block, that will feature fine cuts of meat cooked over a wood fire.
However, the hotel has also breathed new life into old timers: Long Bar updated its renowned Singapore Sling cocktail recipe, while the century-old Indian restaurant Tiffin Room has expanded its menu to cover dishes in all major Northern Indian regions. Besides hotel-run establishments, the hotel also has four F&B tenants, including Oshino, a sushi restaurant that is run by the same people behind the one-MICHELIN-starred Shinji by Kanesaka and the second outlet of Burger & Lobster here.
Frederic Serol, executive assistant manager of Food & Beverage at Raffles Hotel Singapore, says: “The buzz created by our F&B offerings has contributed positively to the overall holistic luxurious experience for our guests, who also visit our retail concepts and spa during their stay.” About 70% of customers at the hotel’s restaurants and bars, which have a combined seating capacity of 1,000 people, are walk-in guests.
Raffles Hotel’s emphasis on a solid F&B line-up is etched in the iconic hotel’s time-honoured heritage, which has been one of its key selling points. Serol points out the hotel has held some of Singapore’s culinary milestones: It was the first hotel in Singapore to hire a French chef in 1899 and the hotel was also the birthplace of the iconic Singapore Sling cocktail that was concocted by Hainanese bartender Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915.
Much of the buzz surrounding the Raffles Hotel’s new restaurant concepts revolves around its chef-partners. Beyond their successes, Serol believes that the personalities of the chefs play an integral part. He explains: “Anne-Sophie Pic is feminine, elegant and graceful which complements the hotel and La Dame de Pic, while Alain Ducasse, who is known for his dynamism and creative energy, is a perfect fit for the Bar and Billiards Room with its storied heritage and lively social space.”
Besides working with brand-name chefs, the hotel has also invested in specialised training for its staff. La Dame de Pic’s Chef de Cuisine Kevin Gatin travels regularly to Valence to work with Pic on recipe development, and the hotel’s sommeliers have visited vineyards and wineries to get an in-depth understanding of the wines.
Keeping Abreast Of The Competition
For Swissotel The Stamford and Fairmont Singapore, food and beverage is a core part of the hotels’ business. The two hotels, which are under the same management, have 14 restaurants and bars, with a combined seating capacity of close to 2,200. As part of a 2½-year property-wide revamp programme, some of its restaurants were also given a new lease of life through new branding exercises and renovation works.
Emmanuel Benardos, general manager of Food & Beverage at Swissotel The Stamford and Fairmont Singapore, says: “We believe that F&B offerings are increasingly becoming one of the most important elements in ensuring a hotel’s success and they are one of the integral reasons why guests visit us. As guests become more discerning, they look beyond a good product offering to consider an entire experience that a hotel can offer.”
With the hotels located in the Central Business District, where competition among restaurants is rife, Benardos adds that there is a need to “stay relevant to evolving preferences by bringing guests refreshed or new and progressive F&B concepts.”
On planning the F&B mix in the hotel, Benardos says: “Besides looking at diners’ preferences, we also look at other factors such as the brands and the chefs' stories for new and existing concepts and determine how we can build on them.”
The two hotels, which have more than 2,000 rooms and suites between them, see close to 85% of their guests visit their restaurants and bars. He adds that regardless of their profiles and reasons for staying at a hotel, guests go to restaurants for an exciting dining experience with food that is not commonly eaten in an everyday setting.
At MICHELIN-listed Shangri-La Hotel, the 48-year-old hotel underwent a revamp of its dining offerings recently. With the rise of the restaurant-cum-bar concept, the hotel introduced Origin Grill & Bar, which offers inventive provenance-driven seafood and meat dishes with Singapore-inspired cocktails. It also opened NAMI Japanese restaurant and refreshed The Lobby Lounge and ShopHouse bakery.
The hotel’s MICHELIN Plate Cantonese restaurant Shang Palace, which also turns 48 this year, is helmed by acclaimed chef Mok Kit Keung, who headed the two-MICHELIN-starred Shang Palace in Kowloon Shangri-La, Hong Kong. Mok joined Shang Palace in Singapore in October 2017. The 792-room hotel’s nine restaurants and bars can seat about 1,100 people.
Tyler Hendrie, Shangri-La Group’s Director of Commercial Marketing (Food & Beverage) says: “Dining is an integral part of the Shangri-La experience. It is not focused on luxury per se, but it is more about demonstrating the hotel’s understanding of guests’ preferences and delivering high standards and quality.”
Hotels are observing that more guests are factoring F&B offerings when deciding between which hotels to stay in. Hendrie says: “Convenience plays a part as many guests prefer to ‘bundle’ a great room experience with F&B options, but a larger factor is that the bar has been raised and now F&B outlets in hotels have become destinations on their own.”
He stresses that hotels have to meet the needs and interests of both in-house and walk-in guests. “Our F&B offerings comprise a comprehensive mix of dining concepts across different cuisines, which enables us to cater to different demographics or consumer preferences,” he says. “It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse, but be mindful that some trends come and go, and deliver a memorable experience never goes out of style.”
Positive Dining Experiences Lead To Room Stays
Besides dining experiences contributing greatly to a hotel’s positioning, they also contribute in driving interest and revenue through hotel’ room sales. Hendrie of The Shangri-La Group points out that F&B-to-room-stay conversion is tough to measure as there are many factors affecting room occupancy. However, he adds: “Based on guests’ feedback, we can confidently say that F&B is one of those main drivers for guests who choose to stay at The Shangri-La.”
Bolstering the F&B line-up in hotels is also an effective way of building brand loyalty, which may yield return visits to the hotel. Shangri-La’s loyalty programme Golden Circle has a website dedicated to dining deals and points can be redeemable at all F&B outlets in hotels in Singapore that are run by the Shangri-La group.
Benardos of Swissotel The Stamford and Fairmont Singapore says: “We have seen an uplift in interest in our hotel’s accommodation due to our restaurants and bars offerings, and more so whenever we introduce a refreshed concept.”
Sometimes, positive dining experiences can translate to some walk-in diners returning as hotel guests after they have been impressed by the hotel experience through their meal dining session.
“If the restaurant has a strong concept, along with great ambience, food and service, guests will naturally share their positive experiences and come back again,” he says. “There might be a possibility that guests might request for an integrated dining and accommodation experience.”