NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Make this vow for better travels in 2015: I will never eat in a hotel restaurant. Say it loud, mean it and you will be rewarded with better meals, lower prices and richer travel experiences.
Aren’t there exceptions? A few. If you are staying at Trump Central Park and you don’t eat at Jean Georges, you missed a good meal. Ditto if you are staying at the Fairmont Princess in Scottsdale and you don’t eat at Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak. In Las Vegas, frankly, much of the good eats in the town happen in hotels.
But for every exception - and, always, these are celebrity chef operations where the “name” is known to be hands on - there are literally thousands of bland, boring hotel restaurants that are better skipped. The only reasons to eat in a hotel restaurant is if you are lazy and, guilty as charged, I have done it myself more times than I wish to remember. Of course, it is also why I know there are much, much better choices in most towns.
Need convincing? Reason 1 to boycott hotel restaurants: “They are generally too expensive,” said frequent traveler Ian Aronovich, CEO of website GovernmentAuctions.org. That is true. A charcuterie board that costs $22 at a downtown Phoenix hotel costs $14 at lively Postino wine bar in Phoenix’s Central Avenue corridor. There honestly is no fathoming food and drink prices at most hotels, except to believe that the management thinks it has a captive audience and can price accordingly.
Travel writer Chris Backe, who blogs at One Weird Globe, weighed in similarly: “They're overpriced as all hell. F&B [hotel shorthand for Food and Beverage] is not only a revenue-driver, it's a money maker. More often than not, you can find the same or similar offerings outside the hotel for one-third the price - and with far less pretentiousness.”
Reason 2: “Locals never eat at a hotel restaurant - so if you're planning to get some of the local culture, neither should you,” said Wilko van de Kamp, a self-described professional traveler. Ask yourself this: if the people who live within walking distance of a particular hotel restaurant never eat there, what does that say?
Reason 3: Hotel restaurants put the accent on predictable, often bland food that will be eaten by those seeking safe meals in new locations. Said frequent traveler Stephen Richey, they “tend to stick to very middle of the road items that aren't going to scare off tourists, so it's become a matter of finding the same bland repetitious sandwiches, pizza, pasta and maybe a steak or pork chop. I don't mean this the way it may sound, but the feeling I get in most places, especially those like the Caribbean islands frequented by cruise ships full of American tourists, is that local culture and cuisine is often pushed aside in favor of the ‘tastes of home.’”
Elaborated Dena Roche, who blogs at The TravelDiet, “In general, travelers should get out of the hotel to dine, because hotel restaurants cater to the common denominator. In an effort to please everyone, they sacrifice originality and a sense of place.”
Reason 4: “Service is bad,” said Adi Bittan, CEO of customer feedback company OwnerListens. Complaints about service in fact are common with hotel restaurants, according to OwnerListens data. They are second only to grumbles about high prices. Why? That’s a tough call. Maybe diners at hotel restaurants are cranky, maybe they perceive a disconnect between the high prices and less than stellar service. Nobody knows. But know that service is not a strong suit at most hotel restaurants.
Reason 5: When in Rome, eat like a Roman - and that means eating where they eat. Liz Dahl, founder of BoomerTravelPatrol.com, elaborated: “For me, the main reason to eat outside of the hotel is to be able to experience your surroundings and what the locals have to offer. If you don't explore, it is akin to staying on a cruise ship for all your meals while your ship is in port.”
You are what and where you eat. You do not know Manhattan until you have had pastrami at Katz’s. You don’t know San Francisco until you have had cioppino at an unpretentious joint in North Beach. You don’t know New Orleans until you have had a muffaletta at the Central Grocery. You don’t know Berlin until you have stood outside on a freezing day and eaten a currywurst from a stand in Friedrichshain. You will eat with locals, you will pay what locals pay, and you will know: this is how to experience the place.
-Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet