The era of formal hotel dining rooms will hasten closer to obsolescence over the next few months as Ritz-Carlton, the former master of the genre, opens upscale-casual, celeb-chef-driven restaurants at two more of its high-profile properties.
On Aug. 15, Dean Fearing, a Southwestern cuisine pioneer who held court at Rosewood Hotels' grand Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas for two decades, moves 1 mile away to the new 217-room Ritz-Carlton Dallas. There, he'll preside over five eclectic indoor and outdoor dining areas at the $6 million Fearing's Restaurant and serve "elevated American cuisine celebrating farm-to-market."
And this fall, Michelin three-star chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin in New York will launch Westend: A Bistro by Eric Ripert at the Ritz-Carlton on 22nd Street in Washington, D.C., which will feature casual French-American fare.
They're among more than a dozen similar projects scheduled to open across the country during the next two years as more luxury hotel companies outsource their dining venues to popular chefs and/or brand-name restaurant concepts. The trend, which blossomed in Las Vegas' casino hotels during the past decade, continues to spread around the world: Ritz-Carlton just opened Jeroboam restaurant with Michelin three-star chef Heinz Winkler at its Moscow property and is working with Gordon Ramsay on a restaurant for Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt near Dublin.
Although ornate dining rooms staffed by tuxedoed waiters still are popular at top hotels in European capitals, diners in America have shunned those types of places in recent years in favor of more stylish and relaxed eateries run by star chefs. Now, hotels are adopting that model in a bid to keep their guests on-site and attract locals more frequently.
"The customer has changed, the pace of life has changed, so our offerings need to change," says Paul Westbrook, senior vice president for product and brand management for Ritz-Carlton. "It's less about formality, less about the special occasion and more about the social interaction. It's a lighter experience than what we've done in the past 15 or 20 years."
Adds Fearing: "I can see it across the country - no one wants to get dressed up, no one wants to make a reservation until 2 in the afternoon, and no one knows what they want to eat in advance. So let's break rules. If you want to dress down, that's good. Just don't forget your wallet."
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