What is a “hotel restaurant” these days when hotels and resorts have had to make so many adjustments? As long as there’s a kitchen and a wait staff, do meals have to be in a fixed location?

private dining on the beach in Belize with roaming butler

When we look back on this era in future years, we’ll probably classify the travel industry trends in different ways. Before, in the 2000s, we would have talked about pre- and post-“overtourism.” You don’t see that word in the news very much anymore and it’ll probably be a few more years before it creeps back into the vocabulary. Instead, we’re going to talk about pre- and post-Covid and how the lodging industry has adapted.

I’ve stayed at 14 hotels over the past eight months in different regions and gotten a feel for how things have changed. There are enhanced cleaning procedures and mandatory masks, of course, but also a change in how hotel dining works. Often the main restaurant and bar are both closed for now or if not, have half the number of tables as before and you can’t actually sit at the bar. So it’s room service or delivery instead.

Private Dining is the New Hotel Restaurant

In many hotels and resorts now, things are starting to open back up again, especially in the USA and Mexican resort areas, but in others it may not make sense to even have a restaurant open anytime soon. After all, some resorts never had a physical place where everyone sat together to eat and the guests actually like it that way.

One example of this model is the Roaming Butler Service at Chabil Mar Villas in Placencia, Belize. While many of the resorts we’ve covered will offer a “private dining experience” as an expensive add-on for honeymooners or couples celebrating an anniversary, at Chabil Mar that’s just how they do it all the time. You can dine on your balcony, by the pool, on the pier, or have a romantic dinner by the waves and under the stars. Waiters set up the table, light some candles or tiki torches, and bring you what you order directly from the kitchen.

Here’s how they describe their dining service:

“We serve you breakfast, lunch and dinner, al fresco style, anywhere on property you choose to dine.”

Follow that link above to see more and there’s a graphic on their page with a drone photo from above. It has “Dine here” all over the photo because you choose the spot, including at the outdoor bar where they can grill up fish you caught that day on a boating trip.

waterfront dining by the beach in Placencia

The resort has 400 feet of Caribbean beach, but it’s intimate enough that the wait staff can get a cocktail to you before condensation starts gathering on the glass and your meals will be piping hot. Since some of the villas have terrific views and covered terrace areas, you can get the “private villa with a chef” experience you would normally pay far more for by choosing to dine al fresco a few steps from your door.

Boutique Resorts and Hotels With Private Dining

Chabil Mar was set up well to reopen with capacity controls and extra virus precautions since they never had an enclosed indoor restaurant where people gathered. That’s true for a fair number of other luxury boutique hotels and resorts I’ve stayed in over the years. With smaller places that are easy to navigate, there’s no need to turn tables in a big room that can hold 50 people or more. They just bring food and drinks to where the guests are.

Here are a few other hotels with private dining built into their everyday process, not something you have to request in advance and arrange for a fee.

When I first stayed at Villa Ganz in Guadalajara, here’s what they told me at check-in:

“We don’t really have breakfast hours, When you wake up, when you’re hungry, you just tell us what you want. Seven in the morning? Noon? It’s okay with us.”

Chairs and tables were scattered around their courtyard garden, some shaded, some not, with enough room between them that they probably didn’t have to move anything to keep people distanced.

At the all-inclusive boutique resort Casa de Mita on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, they just said, “Tell us when you want to eat something and where. We can bring it to the pool, to your balcony, or to a table anywhere.” They have a covered dining area behind the bar, but unless it’s raining, most guests will go for a view of the water instead. (See our Casa de Mita video tour here for a time-lapse of that view.)

a hotel restaurant for current times

At Hotel Amparo in San Miguel de Allende, they make full use of the great year-round weather and bring your meal to wherever you want to eat. For most guests, this is the nice courtyard area near both the kitchen and most of the rooms, but the upper-level rooms can dine on their own terrace or lower-level guests can come up to one of the upper patio spaces for breakfast with a view.

There are also many intimate luxury lodges in Costa Rica that will ask you “Where would you like to have your breakfast?” so you can choose your ideal spot. Since many of them have a fabulous view from the room balcony, it can be a great experience to dine in your bathrobe while looking out at the ocean or jungle.

So if you’re ready to travel but not ready to cram into a restaurant with all the other guests, consider a smaller resort or hotel where you get a roaming butler or a private dining experience wherever you want. We may see this trend spread in the coming year, where the “hotel restaurant” is wherever you want to sit.