When Christopher Cramer took over as executive chef at the Sonesta Bayfront in the Coconut Grove area of Miami, the restaurant was a cookie-cutter dining venue geared to hotel guests. A menu of standard-issue steaks, burgers and salads didn’t do much to excite local residents and workers.
“I wanted to offer more of a ‘social menu’ to attract locals,” the chef explains. So he expanded the appetizer/small plate section, focusing on classic and contemporary Peruvian specialties, such as tiraditos, ceviches, conchitas (scallops) and camarones (shrimp) enlivened with aji (peppers), choclo (giant corn) and other authentic ingredients. Cramer had traveled and studied in Peru and trained with some of the country’s top chefs, so the re-concepting made a lot of sense. The cocktail/wine list was also tweaked and beefed up to encourage social gatherings.
The plan is working. Groups of locals from the business community now frequent the renamed Panorama Restaurant & Sky Lounge and happy customers often return with dates, spouses and friends. “We deliberately sacrificed pricing in hopes of driving more covers and beverage sales,” Cramer contends. The Peruvian “tapas” run $10 to $15 and some can be shared; drinks average $10. “Even though the average check is lower, our covers have increased between 700 and 800 from a year ago and beverage sales are $11,000 higher since 2010, so profitability is up,” he adds. There are also more revisits; previously this was a “one and done” kind of place. “Sonesta Favorites”—including a club sandwich, steak, burger and other mainstream items—remain on the menu for the less adventurous.
Kimpton has gotten local appeal down pat. “We create restaurants that are designed to first appeal to locals,” states Niki Leondakis, president and COO of Kimpton Hotels and restaurants. As an example, she cites chef Thomas Dunklin at B&O Brasserie in Baltimore, who introduced a new small plates menu that focuses on Maryland crab as the star ingredient, which screams to local residents. And at Kimpton’s Fifth Floor restaurant in San Francisco, a “Burger, Bourbon, Beer” menu in the bar reminds locals that the Fifth Floor isn't just a spot for special occasions; it's also a great place to go for burgers with friends. “At each restaurant we have an opportunity to connect with our community through creative menus, strong community ties, partnerships and chef-led events. The key is in knowing the community, understanding what is right for each market and creating an experience that is unique and that locals want to be a part of," says Leondakis.