Hotels' food offerings targeting locals too

The restaurant scene has evolved so much over the years that even the way hotels decide what food and beverage concepts to introduce has changed to suit the times.

Mr Martin Jones, 51, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide's vice-president of food and beverage, Asia Pacific, says that gone are the days when the hotel group would build hotel restaurants that included the usual fine-dining restaurant, a coffee house and a lobby lounge.

"Our competitors now are free-standing restaurants, not just hotels anymore," he says. "We are not building hotel-restaurants these days. We are building restaurants that happen to be in hotels."

What is key when considering what restaurant concepts to implement, he adds, are factors such as originality, authenticity, good value and a great overall dining experience.

The Australian bachelor, who has been in the hotel food and beverage industry for more than 30 years, says Starwood has about 50 different food and beverage concepts for its nine hotel brands which include Four Points, Sheraton, The St. Regis and W Hotel.

The group's latest hotel here is The Westin Singapore, which opened at Asia Square Tower 2 in Marina View last month.

It has four food and beverage outlets, including Seasonal Tastes, its signature interactive dining restaurant that includes a buffet; Cook & Brew, a gastro pub with local and international offerings, as well as sharing plates; Daily Treats, a deli; and Lobby Lounge, which offers drinks and snacks.

Mr Jones, who is based in Kuala Lumpur, says that while the group has standard food concepts that are rolled out across the hotels - some are bespoke and others cater to specific hotel brands - they are by no means "cookie-cutter".

For instance, although restaurants centre on a similar function and concept such as an open kitchen, they differ in design and menu offerings to suit relevant markets.

On why local food has been included at some of the eateries at The Westin here, he says: "I think foreigners like local food. Who doesn't like to try the local food of a country?"

As such, Seasonal Tastes, a contemporary restaurant, offers international cuisine that ranges from Western favourites to Thai and Singapore hawker delights such as laksa.

But food offerings in hotels are not just targeted at guests, including corporate travellers, in the case of The Westin Singapore, which is located in the financial district. Food offerings are also targeted at locals, he says.

In fact, many diners here may be familiar with The Westin brand. The Westin Plaza and Westin Stamford hotels were in Singapore from 1986 to 2001, and were well-known for restaurants that included Compass Rose.

Mr Jones, who lived here from 1998 to 2001 when he was director of operations for food and beverage at the Westin hotels, says the restaurant scene in Singapore has become a lot more competitive over the years.

He says: "Back then, people ate in hotels and there were fewer stand-alone restaurants. People are now very educated and very aware about food, and not just local food."

He adds that in Asia, people eat out more than ever before, and are also more experimental and knowledgable when it comes to food.

His job not only entails creating and refining food concepts, but also spotting food trends and understanding markets.

For instance, he says, molecular gastronomy and fusion cuisine are no longer trendy.

These days, restaurateurs and chefs are harking back to the origins of food and focusing on the seasonality and quality of produce, he adds.

"It is a lot about going back to the basics," he says, citing examples such as a well-done mashed potato or fish noodles cooked to perfection.

One trend that has been translated into Starwood's food offerings is that of small and sharing plates of food, paired with craft beers and wines by the glass, which is available at Cook & Brew.

"Small plates, sharing and trying a little bit of everything" is a trend that is moving forward, he says.

"I wouldn't be so arrogant as to say that a gastropub should offer only British food just because traditionally, it comes from Britain. Now, people don't eat one cuisine anymore."

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