Find Your Expert
Brian O. Hospitality Executive
I served as General Manager of The Hotel Hershey from 2003 to 2017. The Hotel Hershey is a classic 278 room historic hotel built by its namesake Milton S. Hershey. The hotel is a member of Historic Hotels of America and has been an AAA Four Diamond recipient for 40 consecutive years; a Forbes/Mobil Four Star recipient for more than 36 years.
In 2010 the hotel was awarded the coveted Ivy Award in recognition of Food & Beverage excellence. Operations include a full service Spa, three award winning restaurants, indoor and outdoor pools, 25,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space, lawn sports and a complete fitness center. My additional responsibilities included Hershey Park Camping Resort and Resort Retail Operations.
I was also involved in a series of projects during my tenure at The Hotel Hershey. The most dramatic was the Hotel Grand Expansion, a $68 million transformation of the Hotel that included building 10 Guest Cottages (48 guest rooms); a Meeting Cottage; a new restaurant; new arrival road and Hotel entrance; new reception lobby; addition of a retail corridor (7 shops), all season skating rink and recreational campus. This project was completed in May of 2009. Other projects included renovating and repositioning The Circular Dining Room to The Circular (2013); expanding the Spa at The Hotel Hershey from 15,000 to 30,000 square feet (2004); complete demolition and reconstruction of the Hershey Country Club Clubhouse (2005); complete renovation and restoration of Spring Creek Golf Club and Clubhouse (2006); building a new 5,500 square foot Fitness Center and renovation of the Indoor Pool (2014).
Prior to joining The Hotel Hershey, I spent a number of years in the Private Club and Golf Industry, serving as Regional Vice President of Operations for Traditional Golf Properties, a Boston, MA. based Golf Company. Before Traditional Golf Properties, I served as Vice President of Operations for Two Rivers Country Club at The Governors’ Land. I also spearheaded the successful transition of the Club from developer control to equity member ownership. The Club is part of the Governors’ Land at Two Rivers community.
Before Two Rivers, I served as General Manager overseeing the Williamsburg Inn, Williamsburg Lodge and Golden Horseshoe Golf Course at Colonial Williamsburg. During my tenure, The Williamsburg Inn was a consistent Mobil (Forbes) Five Star recipient, and in 1995, I hosted the Annual Mobil (Forbes) 5 Star Awards Weekend. I have been in the hospitality industry for over 40 years, and my background includes management positions with Kiawah Island, The American Club, The Sagamore (where I was opening Food & Beverage Director), Omni Hotels and Dunfey Hotels.
After retiring in April 2017, I served as an Adjunct Professor at Harrisburg Area Community College (2017-2018) where I taught classes in Hospitality and Dining Room Management. I have also provided consultancy work to independent Hotels & Resorts and restaurants including, among others, Primland in Virginia, Skytop Lodge and Allenberry Resort both in Pennsylvania, The Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont and Waypoint Seafood Grill in Virginia.
As a graduate of Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, I hold a Bachelor’s degree in English and History and have a Master’s degree in Hotel Administration from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. I am a Certified Franklin Covey Trainer/Facilitator.
I currently serve or have served on a number of industry and related Boards including, James Madison University Advisory Board for Hospitality and Sports Management; Harrisburg Area Community College Advisory Board Member (and Adjunct Professor) for the School of Hospitality; Widner University, School of Hospitality Management, Advisory Board; Co-Chair of the Independent Property Council of AHLA; Council Member of the AHLA Food & Beverage Committee and Industry Advisory Board for Fred Tibbett’s & Associates. I am a member of the Resort Committee of the AH&LA and a Lifetime Member of the Cornell Hotel Society.
I have been the recipient of the Dolly Madison Award from James Madison University for his support of the University and the Hospitality Program. In addition, I have also received the prestigious Ivy Award for excellence in Food & Beverage. I am a member of The Society of Fellows at The Culinary Institute of America and a member of The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels.
I have served as a Guest Lecturer for a number or Hospitality Programs and Companies including Cornell University, Canisius College, James Madison University, The Culinary Institute of America, Harrisburg Area Community College, Health South and Penn State Medical Center.
My wife, Deborah, and I have two grown children: William and Emily. Brian and Deborah reside in Williamsburg, Virginia.
I’m happy to provide guidance and additional expertise in the following areas: Openings/Start-Ups, Repositioning, Rebranding, F&B Trends, Training, Culture Creation & Development, Staff Development, Cost Control, Revenue Management, Business Planning, Project Management, Concept Development, Staff Selection, Guest Service, Spa Operations, and Spa Development & Concepting.
How Brian O’Day Repositioned an Iconic Resort Restaurant While Maintaining its Integrity
Many people are familiar with the iconic main or gourmet dining rooms present in classic hotels and resorts. Each offers formal ambiance, service, and menu. While prized for special events, signature restaurants with long-standing traditions face profitability challenges. Brian O’Day explores how guest expectations transformed expectations and put pressure on industry leaders to reposition brands and develop guest-friendly spaces.
And Brian isn’t an industry newbie. Before becoming general manager at The Hotel Hershey, he oversaw Williamsburg Inn, Williamsburg Lodge, and Golden Horseshoe Golf Course at Colonial Williamsburg. He’s repeatedly faced the ongoing challenge of repositioning brands as guest behavior and needs evolve.
Why brands reimagine classic dining spaces
Traditionally, resort dining rooms evoked feelings of high social standing. Guests regarded classic dining spaces as an important place to host special occasions. Brian says, “As formal dining rooms became more and more identified as special occasion, they entered a downward spiral. Formal spaces attracted clientele who wanted a grand and formal experience. However, living off of special occasions wasn’t a sustainable business model. Unfortunately, these restaurants’ traditions didn’t keep pace with the emerging culinary, service, and demographic trends.” The formal trappings of the experience became unimportant, including:
- Rigid and traditional dress codes
- Tableside preparations
- Gueridon and French services
- A dedicated sommelier
- Not being family-friendly
- Dining experiences lasting more than two hours
All of these attributes, among others, were out of step with the demands of the market. Today’s clientele places a higher value on casual, user-friendly, quick, and inclusive settings. Guests want locally-sourced products, excellent cuisine, and informed service. For instance, the trend of small plates or shared plates was taboo in a legacy restaurant.
The paradox was that the restaurant was satisfying its existing base but not reaching new generations of guests. Classic resort dining spaces became known as stuffy, formal, rigid, and, worst of all, old. As the restaurant’s base dwindled, profitability became poor or non-existent.
In sum, these restaurants weren’t user-friendly or guest-focused. They were tradition-bound and rigid. While there’s still a place for superior quality cuisine and service, many formal dining rooms must evolve to meet new expectations.
Modernizing without antagonizing
How does one approach repositioning a famous, well-known flagship restaurant, often in one of the top-rated hotels or resorts in the country, without committing career suicide? These restaurants were the vision or creation of the owner or founder of the property. They were the sacred cow of the operation, enjoyed legacy status, and were untouchable as the property’s operational third rail.
Proving diminished profitability is straightforward. Attributing that decreased profitability to the legacy concept is a more difficult task. Often there’s entrenched personnel that’s worked in the restaurant for many years and some generationally. They had great pride in the restaurant and their role in delivering a special occasion service product. The refrain is “the guests love our restaurant.” Correct, but not enough guests exist to make it sustainable.
Challenges abound. The needed changes will disappoint and potentially alienate the existing loyal clientele and possibly the staff. And the new concept might miss the mark or be off-market. Now isn’t the time for an ill-defined concept, surface attacks, or a solution lacking long term sustainability and profitability.
The adage of change goes, “Nothing tastes better than a sacred cow!” But where to start is the question. The assumption is that the financial need for change is recognized and embraced. The next step is to develop a collaborative and comprehensive plan that can be adopted by all concerned.
The challenge: Get buy-in before repositioning a brand
Universal buy-in is essential to make a directional change. Brian says, “The focus should be on the “what’s in it for you” concept.” The incentive differs according to the stakeholder. For instance:
- Owners want to regain profitability and return the restaurant to the leading edge.
- For the culinary department, it’s unleashing their creativity in a newly defined direction.
- Employees want increased revenues that naturally lead to higher gratuities.
- For the guests, it’s a new, forward-looking restaurant that aligns with their lifestyle.
To accomplish a total buy-in, there must be a “well-defined starting point or point of departure that is non-negotiable. No more, “they said,” or “I know this won’t work.” There’s nothing wrong with those that don’t embrace the concept. But, they simply can’t selectively participate in the plan from now on. Your crew needs to be all in. Fairness and consistency in dealing with the naysayers are essential to the success of the concept.
The solution: Clarity, consistency, honesty, and a well-defined road map
Brian recommends “being open and honest about the change that’s needed and expected.” To achieve total buy-in, you must address the three primary stakeholders:
- Owner and manager. They need to understand that the change makes sense from a financial, operational, investment, and market standpoint. With clear insights, they can throw their full support behind the project.
- Restaurant crew. Staff needs to know and accept that change is coming. Furthermore, they must understand that they play a vital role in the plan’s success.
- Existing clientele. Your loyal guests must not feel abandoned during the repositioning process. They can and should be involved. Plus, it’s necessary to research and define the needs of your new target market.
Convince top management and owners
True directional change isn’t just changing uniforms and brightening up the restaurant. It calls for a departure from the status quo with sights firmly set on the goal of transitional change and creating a more user-friendly and relevant dining experience. The key to convincing stakeholders is to identify that the restaurant’s past success or founding success was through leading-edge innovation.
For example, there was a point in the not too distant past that dessert trolleys and gueridon service were innovative and cutting-edge. The fact that they were hallmarks of the restaurant reinforces that the restaurant was founded on innovation and should continue to innovate. Breaking from past policies or approaches doesn’t mean breaking from innovation or the restaurant’s founding vision. As Brian says, “The change must embrace evolution within the industry and not ignore market changes.”
Appeal to your restaurant staff
Once buy-in is achieved at the highest level, convincing the restaurant staff of the need for change becomes the focus. It’s relatively easy to appeal to the financial incentives. However, the evolution of policies, job descriptions, service standards, and service delivery are difficult transitions.
There’s a gap between what the guests need and how a process works at a restaurant. Brian points to an example at a nationally recognized restaurant with an award-winning wine list and wine cellar, complete with an excellent and well-trained sommelier. While the sommelier received incentives for selling wine bottles, service staff earned rewards for selling wine by the glass. Although this made sense for these positions, it wasn’t a guest-friendly policy. According to union rules, if a guest opted for a bottle, the sommelier had to go to the table. This process left the guest, who was ready to buy, waiting on the sommelier. Brian calls this a “service gap.”
He explains, “The solution was to incentivize the sommelier on total wine sales (glass and bottle) and assign him with the responsibility for wine training for the entire staff. This created a win for the sommelier as his basis of sales expanded. The win for the service staff was quicker service and their ability to steer the wine sale while maintaining their sales incentive. The win for the guest was quicker and more informed service. If the guest was interested in a rare or super luxury wine, the sommelier was there to assist, guide, and help the client select the appropriate wine.”
Brian credits a thorough explanation of the new system as to why the staff quickly convinced the union leadership to change the work rules. He says, “The result was that wine sales on a per cover basis quickly increased as did guest satisfaction with the wine program. The staff increased their gratuities, and the house improved the profitability of its wine sales.”
Innovate to delight existing and new restaurant guests
Many resort restaurants are bound to physical space and design. Brian shares an example of a resort dining space that required innovation to stay current but had to work around existing structures and layout.
“When founded in the early 1930s, the resort dining room was a brilliant homage to the founder and owner. It was a classic main dining room serving all guests of the resort. The central focal point was a dance floor in the center of the room. Guests came to dine, drink, and dance in a formal, elegant environment. It was an immensely popular setting and experience.
As the number of guest rooms expanded and dinner dancing declined, the dance floor was eliminated, and dancing moved to an adjacent cocktail lounge. Over the years, business diminished as the demand for formal dining declined. A beautiful 225-seat restaurant was serving less than 100 covers per night. The need for change was evident. But how would we relate the new concept to the legacy of the room?
One of our solutions was to build and position a circular bar in the center of a circular room. Half of the bar would be a cocktail service, and the other half would be a display dessert kitchen, as the restaurant was renowned for its desserts. The talking and selling points were that the “theater of dining” in the 1930s was dinner and dancing. However, the “theater of dining” in the 2000s was cocktails and display kitchens.
Using this analogy made it easy for long-term guests to embrace and accept the change while at the same time becoming more relevant to a younger demographic. This was further supported by prominently displaying a framed vintage photograph of the 1930s dining room, with the dance floor in the current bar’s exact location. Guests could easily see and embrace the change. It was a compelling blend of the old becoming the new.
This use of innovation and engaging the current guest with the changes proved to be a resounding success. Guests who were unaccepting of the changes were quickly replaced with new guests, people loyal to the new concept’s vision.”
Successful repositioning means your success is everyone’s success
By delivering a clear plan and getting buy-in from owners, management, staff, and clients, everyone feels like they’re a part of something big. During each repositioning effort, Brian maintains that “truly effective repositioning and marketplace change calls for inclusive and targeted planning that’s gained support and acceptance from all concerned.”
Refresh your brand with help from a professional
Generate excitement and get a loyal team behind your repositioning effort. Doing so results in better outcomes and easier transitions. Backed by decades of in-depth restaurant experience, Brian provides the information you need for a successful transformation. Get support by scheduling a call with Brian today.