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ISO: The perfect Hilton hotel restaurant

Two years ago, when Beth Scott became Hilton Worldwide’s vice president of Restaurant Concepts, she was inundated with calls from hotel operators who were trying to decide what type of restaurant to offer their guests.

She could understand why. Hotel restaurants had become staid, which she and others realized was a waste. “For a long time, people sort of gave up on them as an amenity,” Scott said.

Her philosophy: “The restaurant and the food and beverage is the true differentiation between hotels.”

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So she set out to help the operators revamp their food and beverage offerings. Her inspiration: A friend who was experimenting with a dating website.

The result is the “Matchmaking Wizard,” an internal website launched in February that matches hotel operators with restaurant concepts.

About 700 of the brand’s general managers and hotel owners have signed up to peruse 17 restaurant concepts.

It works somewhat like Match.com. The hotel operators check off what they’re looking for in terms of food type, atmosphere, demographics to serve, meal type (breakfast, lunch, dinner or all of the above), and more.

They then get their results for possible matches. For now, many are already established chain restaurants, but others are concepts unique to Hilton. Among the known restaurant brands: McCormick Schmick’s, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Michael Jordan Steakhouse and BGR the Burger Joint. An example of a Hilton concept: Flying Spoons, a casual spot that offers sandwiches, salads, desserts and Starbucks coffee.

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Scott is planning on incorporating more concepts, including those unique to Hilton. She will have to, given that over the next three years, Hilton will be redoing about 500 restaurants globally.

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A second phase of the Wizard involving an external website is in the works. If hotel operators don’t like the matches they get, they can click on a “Request for Concept” and restaurateurs who are signed up can make proposals. Scott likes to compare it to the classifieds.

Scott realizes that chain restaurants won’t be the best fit for every hotel. She points to the Hilton McLean in Tysons Corner an example of how hotel operators can create unique dining establishments that use locally sourced ingredients and cater to a geographic audience. Harth serves American comfort food and pizza from a wood-burning oven and targets business travelers as well as Tysons Corner diners looking for an alternative to mall dining.

Hilton has done a lot of research to determine what works in each city and/or country. In Panama, for example, sports bars are popular.

“There’s not one solution to everything,” Scott said. “It has to be relevant and market-driven.”

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