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restaurant revolution spaces-67.jpg Restaurant R’evolution—via Randy Schmidt

Sonesta Hotels build brand name recognition by partnering with popular restaurant groups

The Royal Sonesta Washington, D.C. Capitol Hill is partnering with Knead Hospitality and Design, and the New Orleans Sonesta leans on the fame of chef John Folse

In early 2023, Sonesta International Hotels began a marketing campaign to make its brand more of a household name. The campaign — “Famous Yet Nameless” — features actress Judy Greer, who consumers may recognize from “Arrested Development” and several romantic-comedies, but may not know her name.

Sonesta’s clever icebreaker to build brand recognition among potential guests runs parallel to the food and beverage strategy it is implementing at its hotels. The hotel company is partnering with local well known and celebrity restaurateurs to bump up brand awareness. For example, one of Sonesta’s newest properties, The Royal Sonesta Washington, D.C. Capitol Hill is partnering with Knead Hospitality and Design, a D.C.-based multi-unit and multi-concept restaurant company already well-known to the area.

“We’re still trying to get people to know who are as a company,” David Morgan, vice president of food and beverage strategy with Sonesta, said . “It’s important that what we do in F&B helps get the name out and gets positive feedback.”

Morgan previously worked at Omni Hotels & Resorts, where he used food and beverage as a strong force in helping the company develop from a lesser-known brand into a powerhouse by methodically vetting supplier partners to craft locally relevant menus in each of its new markets.

Sonesta Hotels, similarly, is a brand on the rise, but Morgan has harnessed a slightly different strategy: finding just the right local restaurant ringer with name recognition. Each partner has to have strong business sense and the ability to handle the demands of hotel F&B beyond serving guests at lunch and dinner, Morgan said.

Making introductions through high-profile partners

When The Royal Sonesta in Washington, D.C. Capitol Hill quietly opened in fall of 2023 with a grand opening in Jan. 2024, Morgan knew he found the right partners in Jason Berry and Michael Reginbogin, the duo behind Knead Hospitality and Design.

“As we opened this hotel, we needed an identity that wasn’t just a ‘hotel restaurant’ but a restaurant that happens to be in a hotel,” Morgan said.

The restaurant group opened a second location of Bistro Du Jour, which already had a successful location in D.C.’s District Wharf.  

Many hotels have run into issues with partnering with local chefs who soon find they don’t want to or can’t keep pace with breakfast and room service, but Morgan vets Sonesta’s partners with those skills in mind.

“The Knead guys are… fantastic and understand breakfast,” Morgan said. “And honestly, I think when you don’t try to be everything to everybody, and you say, ‘This is the food we serve,” and it’s restaurant quality food throughout, that’s a point of differentiation. We have a lot of conversations and cross our fingers.”

Not only is Bistro du Jour the hotel’s only breakfast venue, but it also produces the hotel’s in-room dining and banquet fare.

“The customer satisfaction is fantastic so far,” Morgan said. “The hotel customers love it, it’s reasonably priced, the hours are good, and it matches the vibe of the hotel, so you don’t need to go out. It checks all those boxes…. Dinner from outside customers is starting to grow—maybe a little slower than I had anticipated, but it’s picking up.”

Two key traits of restaurant partners

In addition to partnering with Knead in D.C., Sonesta scored a big win in the Big Easy.

New Orleans’ much-lauded Restaurant R’evolution is located in the Royal Sonesta Hotel. Owners and chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto parted ways in 2023, so Sonesta bought out Tramonto and purchased the name, entering an agreement with Folse. Though the restaurant had been in the hotel for years, the transition presented the right timing to relaunch and key in on the mega-celebrity of Folse.

“We spent $1.5 million to renovate it, and it’s now on track to make $8 million a year and getting some great press,” Morgan said.

He emphasized that it’s about more than just picking out a famous name, as he considers potential restaurant partners.

“If you go with a celebrity chef, you’re probably not going to find someone whose heart is in breakfast or banquets and catering,” Morgan said. “So, we really look for a partner who’s going to be a good business partner and has great quality but understands how to run a business. Second, what is the chemistry like? Do you get a good sense that they are in it to win it?”

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