For as long as he can remember, Robert Polacek wanted to be an architect. His fascination with creating things began early. Many childhood afternoons were spent with his grandfather, a carpenter and a chef, in the backyard woodshop and then in the kitchen to prepare dinner. This blend of construction and cuisine seems more than a coincidental foreshadowing of the position he currently occupies as Vice-President of Creative Direction for the Puccini Group, which specializes in creating destination restaurants at top hotels through bases in San Francisco, Madrid, and Moscow. As a creative director, Polacek oversees every project that the Puccini Group takes on, and he has some valuable insights for all hoteliers looking to add or augment restaurants at their properties.
Q: How have you seen the purpose of the hotel restaurant evolving?
A: In the past, most operators viewed the guestroom as most profitable centre of the hotel. The restaurant was just something they had to have to serve breakfast or for room service. We’re definitely seeing that change. Some of the best new restaurants out there in the world today have been developed within hotels, and we’re happy to see more and more hotels do that because
it gives us work! What we like to teach hoteliers is to look at their restaurant not just as an F&B outlet but as a way of bringing the hotel into the community itself, connecting it to the locality, and how that makes it authentic. The restaurant should never be there just to serve the hotel guests, it should be something that serves the community around it.
Q: How do hoteliers need to change their views about the potential of their F&B venues?
A: The approach with the rest of the hotel is that ‘we have to spend money to make money, and we have to provide a special guest experience’. I’d like hoteliers to look at the restaurant in the same way. You have to have these elements to make a guest experience memorable. The restaurant must not just be a ‘food and beverage outlet.’ Actually, we should all stop talking about ‘a food and beverage outlet’ and start calling it a restaurant. The restaurant is as important as the room in which your guest stays. I sometimes think restaurants get overlooked or they are secondary, a necessary evil. We love showing clients that they can make some money if they look at the space and not ignore it.
Q: How would you describe your ideal client?
A: The ideal client for us is someone who comes to us and says, “Look, I have this problem”, and Puccini knows how to solve it with the best solution. Design is funny because there’s never necessarily a right or wrong, it’s always this grey in-between. We do our best to make sure we’re giving the client the best product that’s necessary for them to make money. At the end of the day, that’s what
they’re there for.
Q: In your opinion, what are the most important design objectives for a restaurant or bar?
A: First of all, I think design is about creating a feeling that is the result of a visual stimulus. So the real test of creativity is to create an environment that achieves that goal with finishes and case goods that support it. I think if you look at that as the definition of what needs to happen in a restaurant, you’re pretty safe.
Q: What are your clients’ customers demanding from these spaces today?
A: Definitely quality and getting their money’s worth. People are a little more cautious right now about how they’re spending and if a restaurant can make them feel good about it, that’s a slam dunk.