How César Ritz elevated the hotel restaurant
When checking into a hotel after a long day, people are inclined to do one of three things for dinner: 1. head out somewhere to a nice restaurant; 2. collapse in front of the tv and order room service; or 3. head to the hotel restaurant.
If you’re like me, the appeal of option three will largely depend on the quality of the restaurant. While the guarantee of an excellent meal is essential, the atmosphere must also attract — whether it’s a lively space for dining, or a more subdued area for quiet conversation or contemplation.
We can thank César Ritz, a Swiss businessperson who founded the Ritz and Carlton Hotels in London and the Hôtel Ritz in Paris at the turn into the 20th Century, for elevating the importance of the hotel restaurant.
Working his way up from assistant waiter to restaurant manager to hotelier, Ritz emphasized principles such as “the customer is always right” and has been quoted as saying: “If a diner complains about a dish or the wine, immediately remove it and replace it, no questions asked.”
It is no surprise that these high standards and emphasis on elegance gave birth to the term “ritzy.”
When invited to revitalize the Hotel Savoy, Ritz knew that a successful makeover would require opening the best hotel restaurant in London. So, he recruited highly talented chef Auguste Escoffier — who would soon gain fame by introducing his English customers to French haute cuisine and inventing new dishes (peach melba, anyone?) to seduce them for decades to come. Together, Ritz and Escoffier created one of the leading hotel restaurants in the world.
Today, the prestige and economics of a luxury hotel is no less dependent on the quality of its restaurant. Whether it’s Michelin-starred Cantonese dining at Summer Pavilion inside the Ritz Carlton in Singapore, modern British dining at Marcus in The Berkeley in London, Italian cuisine at Danny Meyer’s Maialino inside the Gramercy Park Hotel in NYC, or so many others, the top hotels depend on their in-house restaurants to retain customer loyalty, extend luxury brand credibility, and maintain their five-star ratings.
Like the institutions that house them, hotel restaurants were by no means immune from pandemic lockdowns, loss of business and vacation travelers, and a precipitous drop in food and beverage revenue. However, some were able to repurpose themselves as “ghost kitchens” to generate revenue from unused or underutilized space — allowing them to conduct gourmet meal deliveries and while keeping overhead costs low.
As we gradually move beyond COVID-19 restrictions and travel and leisure resume, many, if not most, luxury hotels and their restaurants can expect to regain their place in our hearts and bellies. In so doing, they will hopefully also pay homage to César Ritz’s commitment to hygiene and cleanliness.
Hoteliers take note: If Ritz were alive today, he would ensure that the reopening of grand hotel restaurants were accompanied by an opulent setting, top-flight service, eye-catching floral arrangements, an award-winning menu, and much fanfare. I might also offer decorated bottles of the highest-quality hand sanitizer and velvet N95 face masks.
And with that, “your table is ready.”
Danilo Diazgranados is an investor, collector, and lover of fine wines and a member of the prestigious Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a fraternity of Burgundy wine enthusiasts.