The coronavirus has forced luxury hotels to retool the guest stay, from check-in to checkout. But this doesn’t mean you should expect a lesser experience. As hotels begin to reopen all over the globe, they are discovering creative ways to adhere to health regulations while ensuring you have a good time. Their efforts especially shine in the food and beverage realm, where they have reimagined everything from happy hour to the hotel buffet.
This is the second in Forbes Travel Guide’s three-part series about how the luxury hotel experience has changed during COVID-19. We previously explored what it’s like when you check into a property, and tomorrow we’ll look at what you can expect when you visit hotel spas, gyms and golf courses.
Some properties are getting inventive with their culinary offerings amid the restrictions. In Napa, Carneros Resort and Spa added Plum wine dispensers to the rooms. The dispensers preserve, chill and serve by-the-glass wines from nearby vineyards. To learn more about the selections, tune into a special TV channel for 10-minute virtual tastings with winemakers Steve Rogstad of Cuvaison and Chris Kajani of Bouchaine Vineyards.
Four Seasons Hotel Seattle still has its unique coffee concierge, who will run freshly made joe to your room for free in the morning. But instead of the usual Seattle-themed mug, now your coffee arrives in a to-go cup placed on a silver tray in front of your door.
Hotels have sought to supply pre-packaged in-room food to give guests additional options during COVID, but the Four Seasons injected Seattle flavor into the idea with a new Pike Place Market Favorites Box. Curated by local food tour operator Savor Seattle, the snack pack features nine different vendor bites (such as Seabear Smokehouse’s wild Alaskan sockeye smoked salmon and buttery Beecher’s Handmade Cheese crackers) and every box supports local small businesses. The box also makes a great Seattle souvenir, and the hotel can arrange to send it home for you.
Rhode Island’s grand Ocean House found an inspired and more personalized way to sate guests. It reimagined happy hour with a bold red cocktail cart that rolls door to door for each guest room from 5 to 7 p.m. It offers complimentary canapés, like smoked salmon, egg salad and dill on pumpernickel or prosciutto, fig jam and candied fennel on brioche, as well as wine, champagne and cocktails that can be mixed on the spot.
If you prefer an alfresco meal, Ocean House and its nearby sister property Weekapaug Inn have an on-demand picnic that limits contact with the staff. Peruse a menu of family-style platters, including starters like tomato panzanella salad or local charcuterie and cheese; entrées like barbecue-spiced pork tenderloin with smoked apple chutney or braised beef short ribs with red wine reduction; and desserts like key lime pie and tiramisu. Next, pick a time and destination on the grounds — anywhere from the lawn to a beach cabana. Show up at the designated time and your table and meal will be waiting for you.
For those who miss going to the movies, The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa has come up with a way to allow for proper distancing with the romantic Dinner & A Movie Date Night series. The Houston hotel converted its 400-capacity Forest Ballroom into a theater for 26 couples with two-seat tables appropriately spaced out. Attendees will be asked to wear masks when not eating or drinking.
The Houstonian chose films involving food (Big Night) and hotels (The Grand Budapest Hotel) or that had ties to the city (Rushmore; director Wes Anderson, actor Bill Murray and other celebrities stayed at the property during shooting in Houston).
For each movie, The Houstonian crafts a specially themed four-course menu with wine pairings. During the Big Night screening, the hotel’s TRIBUTE restaurant re-created the foodie flick’s Italian showstopper dish, il Timpano (a molded heap of pasta, meatballs, salami and ragu) and presented it to the couples at the same time it was served in the movie. The July 24 screening of Rushmore will feature Houston dishes popular in the ’90s (when the movie was shot), including smoked blue crabs, coffee-crusted filet and bananas Foster.
Properties have found various methods to adapt room service to the pandemic. The Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour, Miami switched to no-contact delivery and pickup as well as single-use packaging and products. In the accommodations, the menu is accessible via a QR code that you can scan with your phone. Choose among entrées like fennel-pollen-crusted corvina and skirt steak churrasco. If you prefer not to have anyone come to your room, opt to order a meal and pick it up from the onsite Artisan Beach House restaurant.
Or don’t order at all. The Miami hotel is well-suited for bringing your own food — its 46 rooms carry a small fridge and 89 suites have a full-size refrigerator and kitchen.
Four Seasons Hotel Seattle affords guests two room service options. There’s the traditional in-room dining experience where a cart arrives at your door, which was tweaked to include social distancing but still provides upscale touches like tablecloths. Then there’s a knock-and-drop service, where the server raps on the door, stands six feet away and lets you to pick up your meal, which is in single-use packaging.
The Four Seasons also has modified its room service menu to fit with the times. It added items that are easier to procure and eliminated many of the family-style dishes in favor of single portions. According to hotel manager Ryan Grande, the favorites are the comfort foods: the burger draped with local Beecher’s cheese, smoked onion marmalade and aioli, along with pasta dishes like the rigatoni with lamb ragú, mint and parmigiano-reggiano.
While COVID has meant the demise of the hotel buffet, some properties are adapting the tradition to keep it alive. Wynn Las Vegas resurrected its famed buffet when it reopened in June, but the nearly 90 dishes (ranging from Alaskan crab legs to prime rib) are now served tableside. The Grand America Hotel is taking a similar approach with its popular Sunday brunch buffet. Waitstaff at the Salt Lake City hotel bring a selection of dishes to the table for your perusal. Then it serves your order of bread pudding French toast and short rib hash.
If you plan on dining at the hotel restaurant, it’s best to book ahead. Four Seasons Seattle’s Goldfinch Tavern highly recommends reservations to ensure there’s no bottlenecking in the lobby, but it does take walk-ins. The waterfront restaurant specializing in Pacific Northwest flavors changed its entire floor plan, removing tables and barstools to allow more space between diners. At every table, there’s a QR code for the menu and a small bottle of Purell.
Five-Star restaurant The Inn at Little Washington decided not remove any seating in its Virginia dining room. Instead to provide ample space, chef Patrick O’Connell set the tables with well-dressed mannequins — females in dresses and wigs and men in suits and boater hats. They add a touch of whimsy during a time when it’s much needed.