Consultant Lori Hon judges restaurants with her ears.
Though he studied to be a lawyer, Dino Michael’s work is more befitting for a trained anthropologist. As the senior director of food and beverage concepts for Hilton, he spends about half of the year traveling the globe, absorbing cities and their cultural trends to inform the megabrand’s local food concepts: Should the hotel restaurant be a franchise? An original? Or a partnership with an established company?
When he and his team researched the concept for the Waldorf Astoria’s Amsterdam location, Michael spent two weeks in the city visiting shops, restaurants and competing hotels. He discovered that the Dutch like dining in relaxed environments and that the concept of coziness and togetherness is at the heart of their culture. This influenced the build-out of the hotel’s intimate, low-ceilinged bar, which lacks the traditional barrier separating bartender and patrons: “It’s just a talented individual making a drink,” Michael says.
Bartenders, he adds, “are always a great source of information: They always know what’s hot and what’s not.” For example, he learned from Berlin’s Soho House bartender that the local bar scene was as important as its restaurant scene in understanding Berlin and its culture.
Michael got his start carrying menus at Planet Hollywood while he was studying to be a lawyer; law school didn’t take, but the hospitality industry did. Today, he juggles three to four projects a week. “I think the pendulum is swinging back in our favor,” he says of hotel dining. “For a long time, people rejected hotels because the industry had lost its way completely. But now there’s such choice, such diversity.”