Fancy hotel restaurants are having a good pandemic
Hotels were hit hard when tourists disappeared during the pandemic, but their high-end restaurants have flourished due to local customers and reputations for being virus-safe spots.
“This year’s sales at Akira Back rose 35 percent on year,” said a spokesperson for the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, referring to the hotel's modern Japanese restaurant. “Sales at Yu Yuan, a Chinese restaurant in the hotel, rose 15 percent on year.”
In general, restaurants throughout Korea have suffered from social distancing restrictions that limit the number of people and operating hours, and many have been forced to close. Fancy hotel restaurants seem to be the exception. High-end restaurants tend to have private rooms more fit for social distancing, allowing visitors to eat in intimate areas away from crowds. Many people believe hotel restaurants have stricter standards for cleaning and disinfecting.
The Four Seasons' Akira Back has six private rooms. They have been so popular that people who want to reserve a private room are advised to make a booking at least two weeks in advance, according to the hotel.
According to The Shilla Seoul, sales at its fine-dining restaurants in July and August rose between 10 to 25 percent on year. That includes Korean traditional restaurant La Yeon and Chinese restaurant Palsun.
“Only two people can eat together for dinner and four for lunch due to Level 4 social distancing measures,” said a spokesperson for The Shilla Seoul, "but the demand for fine-dining restaurants is on the rise as people consider hotels to be more safe.”
Other hotels report similar situations.
“It’s hard to reserve a seat at our restaurants such as Toh Rim, Momoyama and Mugunghwa unless you try two weeks ahead,” said a spokesperson for the Lotte Hotel Seoul.
Reserving a private room at The Westin Chosun Seoul’s Japanese restaurant Sushi Cho also needs to be done at least two weeks in advance. Even the regular parts of the restaurant are fully booked until the end of November.
Although high-end restaurants are doing well, the hotels' main business — renting rooms — is still far from recovering to pre-pandemic levels.
According to the Korea Hotel Association, local hotels had an average occupancy rate of 45.1 percent in the January-April period, compared to 71 percent in 2019, before the pandemic. Over 50 three and four-star hotels shut down last year.
Many hotels are taking inspiration from their restaurants' success and offering more food-related services.
“With not as many foreign tourists, hotels are trying to offer various products and services to compensate for falling profits,” said a spokesperson for one of the local hotels.
The Four Seasons Hotel Seoul started a food pick-up service offering lunch boxes, cakes and pastries starting last June. People can order a variety of food from the hotel's online website to pick-up at the hotel. Its Korean-style lunch boxes are so popular that they sell out almost every day, according to the hotel.
The Lotte Hotel is also accepting takeout orders from its restaurants and cafes including Momoyama, Pierre Gagnaire a Seoul and Delica Hans. The hotel started taking orders via well-known e-commerce websites to expand its reach. Starting in April, orders could be made through KakaoTalk Gift and, from Sept. 15, from Naver’s Smart Store.
BY LEE SOO-KI, LEE TAE-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]