Appetizers 1/15: Restaurants Are Creatively Using Empty Hotel Rooms as Private Dining Spaces

Urban Farmer's hotel room set-up | Credit: From the Hip Photo and Sage Restaurant Concepts

Welcome to Appetizers, OpenTable’s column that aims to uplift and motivate with a taste of the most inspiring food-world news of the moment. Discover the things that are making us laugh, cry, think, and just plain hungry for more.

Making Us … Impressed

The creativity of restaurants through the stress of the pandemic continues to amaze. In one example, restaurants across the United States and Canada are teaming up with hotels to turn empty rooms into private dining spaces, finding an innovative way to serve diners while still following strict city restrictions. At Urban Farmer in Denver, it’s advertising these experiences as “steakcations,” when up to six people can rent a bedless hotel room for $100 and a $200 food and beverage minimum.

“The original idea actually came from one of our bartenders as the restaurant team brainstormed on creative ways to pivot during the pandemic,” Sage Restaurant Concept’s vice president of marketing and brand integrity Heather Dratler says. “We’ve had a really positive reception from our guests, who appreciate the chance for a safe, intimate restaurant experience made even more special by the setting in the historic Oxford Hotel.” Other restaurants offering similar hotel experiences include Boston’s Uni; Le Cavelier in Wilmington, Delaware; Maggie Oakes in Montreal; and Tullibee in Minneapolis.

Other restaurants are teaming up to make it through. When nearby taqueria Otto’s Tacos closed, New York City barbecue hit Mighty Quinn’s offered to accept Otto’s takeout orders and prepare its dishes in Mighty Quinn’s kitchens. Now, Otto’s can still live on while Mighty Quinn’s has an additional revenue stream. “We wanted to figure out a way to both utilize the kitchen capacity that we had within our own restaurants and also bring back these amazing street tacos that Otto brought to the city. Both of these missions clicked into the idea of doing digital only,” Mighty Quinn’s owner Micha Magid told AdWeek.

Finally, with less suburban diners making the treks into nearby cities for dining, some restaurants are bringing the experience to them, like at Reata in Fort Worth, Texas. The Southwest restaurant worked with a suburban city councilman to create a drive-through pickup spot for orders at a nearby church parking lot. High-profile restaurants around the country are figuring out similar options, such as Chicago’s famed Lettuce Entertain You group.

Making Us … Hopeful

The new year has brought some financial hope for restaurants, specifically through the revived Paycheck Protection Program, which is officially open for applications. There are also several private funds available, such as the James Beard Foundation’s Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans, accepting applications through January 22. Several restaurants around the country have been given lifelines by the Barstool Fund, including San Francisco’s historic Tadich Grill, and celebrities like Steph and Ayesha Curry have made generous donations to local restaurants. There are even funds set up specifically for restaurant workers, such as ROAR in New York City, which has already raised more than $2 million to support 2,426 laid-off restaurant workers and their families.

Making Us … Prepare

Previous Appetizers

December 16: Restaurateurs Push Back on Dining Restrictions

November 13: Restaurant Holiday Takeout Is Next-Level This Year

October 20: SF Icon House of Prime Rib Reopens to 3,000 Reservations in One Day

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