Adding rooms to your restaurant is an excellent way of adding a revenue stream but, more importantly, it increases the distance your customers will travel to see you. Chandos Elletson went on his travels.
I visited five very different restaurants each with rooms and restaurants that ranged from one to three stars. I was very impressed with what I found because this trend demonstrates that chefs are increasingly switched on to revenue streams outside the kitchen and that's exciting.
First up was The Checkers Inn in Montgomery, Wales, which is home to The Frenchman and The Farmers Daughter’s. The Frenchman is the chef, Stéphane Borie, and The Farmer’s Daughters are his wife Sarah and her sister Katheryn Francis.
Stéphane has a star for the restaurant, Sarah doubles up as the pastry chef and front of house and Katheryn brings her skills as a trained nurse to complete a formidable trio, to whom service is paramount and the rooms have equal standing in the business.
I was given a very comfortable room with a large bed and a big bathroom with a deluxe shower. This ticked all my boxes. In the past if I had wanted to take my other half to have a meal at The Checkers we would have had to have found accommodation elsewhere and it would have been unlikely that we could have found anything nearly so comfortable.
But because we could stay at the restaurant meant that we could make a special journey and experience not just the food but also the room and this turned out to be the key to success.
"The rooms must complement the food and the restaurant," Katheryn explained. "Our guests are coming for a Michelin-starred meal. They quite rightly expect that to be excellent. It's the same with the room. This has to be beyond their expectation and everything has to be right."
In my room everything was perfect right down to the home-made biscuits beside the kettle and it was nice to be able to enjoy a good meal and then just walk upstairs to bed. Talking with Katheryn made me realise how much work goes into the rooms which cannot be the preserve of the chef. There needs to be a separate staff for this which is sometimes the wife or partner(s) of the chef or another team.
At The Walnut Tree, near Abergavenny in Wales, Shaun Hill has two cottages that are a short walk down a path from the restaurant which can be taken for a night or two. Each cottage has a couple of bedrooms, a sitting room and a kitchen. But no-one from the restaurant has responsibility for the rooms.
"I don't know anything about rooms," Shaun Hill told me when I visited. "I don't want to make beds or check fridges. I also don’t want to offer breakfast. So, I got a local hotel to service them for me. They are experts at housekeeping and this way I get to spend my time in the kitchen. We put basic food in the fridge and the guests look after themselves in the morning. It works very well.”
At The Star Inn in Harome, North Yorkshire, chef Andrew Pern has had rooms for a number of years in a separate building over the road from the pub. My room had a pool table in it and was amazingly appointed with a huge bed and a magnificent bath.
However, it wasn't until the next morning that I really saw how different The Star Inn was to the other places I visited. Breakfast was served in a huge room downstairs at an enormous round table with a splendid buffet all laid out. All the guests sat round together communally which was unusual and actually a great experience. Not far away was an open kitchen with stools where the chef was making the cooked breakfasts to order.
"We're in the middle of hunting and shooting country here and I wanted to create something that could be hired out as a whole or that was communal if guests just wanted a room,” said Andrew. “It's great because it’s self-contained meaning that for a shooting party I can go over there and cook for them. I love that because it means that we offer something unique."
At the three star The Waterside Inn, Alain Roux told me, "We've had rooms for nearly 25 years. But once we added them the business completely changed. It's now a non-stop operation. Guests arrive at 3pm and lunch guests can still be here at 6pm or even 7pm. Checkout is at midday and that's when our lunch guests start to arrive.
“We’ve added rooms gradually and we’ve never done anything other than a continental breakfast that comes on a tray. However, we do make all our Viennoiserie by hand every day. These have to have the same mark of excellence as our restaurant food.”