The Allure of the Celebrity Chef

For a number of years now, top hotels and cruise lines have been forming partnerships with celebrity chefs to boost their culinary offerings. They’ve developed these alliances as a way to turn their hospitality products into true destinations for food lovers, as well as to drive revenues and increase rates.

In a straw poll of hospitality providers, we’ve found that the celebrity chef is alive and well, as hotels and cruise lines continue to partner with them. The reason is they still see value in such partnerships, both to their hospitality products and their customers.

Value of the Celebrity Chef
Tom Kaplan, senior managing partner of Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, which has restaurants at a number of top hotels around the world, including at MGM Resorts in Las Vegas, Walt Disney World and Dorchester Group properties, says that after 28 years of partnering with hotels, he’s found it does improve the guest experience to have a celebrity chef or even a well-known local chef heading up a restaurant.

“The added value is sometimes quantifiable and sometimes not quantifiable, but it definitely enhances the property and it brings in people from the local community,” Kaplan says. “But it doesn’t necessarily have to be a celebrity chef…just someone known to the community.”

Luc Delafosse, managing director for the new Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, who is launching his hotel in June with celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, says that in a market like Beverly Hills, there is incredible value in promoting a “new” culinary experience offered by a celebrity chef. “A [celebrity chef’s] proven track record gives confidence and guarantees a certain level of service at the same time,” he says.

Julia Record, director of communications for Dorchester Collection, which has 10 luxury hotels in England, Italy, Switzerland and the U.S., says Dorchester is renowned for partnering with celebrity chefs, including Alain Ducasse and Wolfgang Puck.

“Our strategy is to work with like-minded, trusted brands that share our brand values. Our research shows that by offering an extraordinary dining offering, it adds a memorable experience. Celebrity chefs are part of our Dorchester Collection narrative,” Record says.

A Successful Partnership
From the chef’s perspective, the most important things to consider before making a final decision on collaborating with a hotel or resort is trust and compatibility, according to celebrity chef Andrew Fairlie, whose marquee restaurant has been located at Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland since 2001.

Fairlie says he looked at whether Gleneagles’ ambitions were the same as his, whether the support promised was realistic, and whether the hotel’s guests were the people he needed in his restaurant in order to make his business a success. “When I sat down and considered all of the above, Fairlie says, “I felt very comfortable in signing a partnership deal.”

According to Kaplan, there are two parts to successful partnership between a hotel and a celebrity chef: The first is delivering a great culinary experience and making sure that the restaurant brand translates seamlessly into the hotel space. The second is having the restaurant understand the hotel guest’s needs.
“When they walk into the lobby and they see a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, it has to be about their experience and their satisfaction,” Kaplan says. “We need to have synergistic goals and standards between the [hotel and the celebrity chef restaurant].”

Differentiating the Experience
Delafosse says having Jean-Georges at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills will offer guests a new and different culinary experience. There are no other Jean-Georges restaurants in Los Angeles area or even California so the chef will immediately help differentiate the hotel with his unique cuisine.

For Record, a celebrity chef also is key to differentiating the hotel experience at Dorchester’s hotels. “One of our key differentiators is the individuality of our hotels,” she says. “Our hotels have been and remain the cornerstone of their local communities reflecting the local destination and culture.”

Fairlie says he knew Gleneagles needed a unique selling point from other golfing resorts in Europe to differentiate itself, and an intimate fine dining experience became the solution. “Gleneagles expected me to deliver a one Michelin star restaurant and I was confident I could deliver them a two-star restaurant.”

Creating a Destination
Delafosse says Jean-Georges is a strong partner for the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, overseeing the entire food and beverage aspect of the hotel and he will play a critical part in the future success of the hotel, creating “the” place to be in Beverly Hills for guests and outside customers alike.

Greg Nacco, a veteran travel advisor who also has a specialty in food and wine through his Food & Wine Trails, says having a “destination” restaurant is an important part of any overall culinary and marketing strategy. While he focuses on winemakers, he says celebrity chefs are similar. “We visit world-renowned wineries and restaurants in the most desirable wine and travel destinations,” he says. “It would be similar for restaurants and chefs.”

Fairlie says he insisted from the very beginning that he wanted to be 100 percent independent from the hotel so he did all his own PR and marketing to turn his dining venue to a destination restaurant known as one of the best in Scotland.

“At the beginning, it was only through favorable reviews and making a concerted effort at increasing my own profile that we gained recognition further afield,” Fairlie says. “It’s only now that we both feed off each other to our mutual advantage.”

Driving Revenues
Record says the destination culinary experiences in their hotels leads to greater desirability and enhanced room revenues. “As well as seducing our guests in house, it helps us attract new guests through the food and beverage experience initially who are then curious to experience the wider environment of the hotel,” she says.

Nacco agrees that celebrity chefs drive room and tour revenue. He charges more than what the consumer could normally buy his wine and food tours for, because his programs have a very highly perceived value with added tours, paired meals and tastings from top winemakers and chefs.

Strategy for the Future
Fairlie says more and more hotel companies are using celebrity chefs as a unique selling point in their properties. “I think it’s becoming very difficult to market rooms, spas, services with a difference,” he says. “So selling [culinary] personalities and great food matched with faultless service is becoming more and more sought after.”

Record says the key is to work closely with Dorchester’s celebrity chefs to continue to evolve the gastronomic experience. “We are fortunate that by starting with the same brand values we are able to move forward together to offer an unsurpassed culinary offering,” she says.

Kaplan believes the relationship between hotels and celebrity chefs will continue to evolve. “Some hotel brands have started to do their own restaurants, but they just don’t get the traction that a name brand chef will get.” Kaplan believes hotels will continue to partner with celebrity chefs, but there will also be an increase in local or regional chefs due to the limited number of celebrity chefs.

Based on these comments, it would appear that celebrity chefs continue to add value to high-end hotels. And it appears the trend in partnering with such chefs will continue for the foreseeable future.

As always I welcome your feedback on what’s changing in the luxury market today. I look forward to getting your comments. Let’s keep the conversation going!