Hotel F&B Magazine
Home Plate
Omni sports lounge menus win with emphasis
on localization and quality.

Story by Tad Wilkes, Video by Michael Costa

The format of a recent Ravenswood wine dinner at The Omni Fort Worth Hotel (shown here) aimed to avoid the formality of courses served traditionally. Guests interacted with the culinary team while chefs plated most of the dishes à la minute. Diners could choose to have as much or as little of the menu as they liked, and start in any order—some even began with dessert. Director of F&B Greg Van Riet says the roast rack of wild boar was a highlight for most guests.

Omni Hotels specialized sports lounges
As at other Omni sports spots, regional beers are gaining focus at the Falcon’s Nest at the Omni Amelia Island [Florida] Resort. “[W]e’re working with Intuition Ale Works in Jacksonville on our own signature beer,” Director of F&B Thomas Turner says.

Omni Hotels specialized sports lounges

Omni Hotels specialized sports lounges
The evolution of Omni sports venues began with David’s Club at the Omni Orlando Resort, currently the highest revenue generator of Omni’s new wave of sports lounges.

Omni Hotels specialized sports lounges

Like a coach giving his quarterback leeway to call some of the plays, Omni enables local chefs and mixologists to use their creativity in designing local menu items.

Somewhere between the no-frills, man-centric sports bars of yesteryear and the upscale, chic, high-end nightclub-meets-sports bar concepts of the mid-2000s, post-downturn sports venues swoop closer to earth but with high ambitions. The glitz is gone but likewise so is the previous grit and grime. Comfort, high quality, and value are the watchwords. In today’s sports pub environs, men, women, and families all feel like the home team. On-trend F&B is the focus. Rather than a hybrid of modern Vegas club and sports bar, today’s venues replace the club element with a heaping helping of upscale but comfortable dining.

Omni Hotels & Resorts is in on the action. In select hotels, Omni is injecting an upscale, laid-back sports bar energy—and doing so uniquely for each property. It’s no cookie-cutter chain plug-in, though common success points run through them. Localized food and drink fuel the fun in environments fit for a fan.

Extra Points
The evolution of Omni sports venues began with David’s Club at the Omni Orlando Resort, currently the highest revenue generator of Omni’s new wave of sports lounges. There, the back area features pool and foosball tables, surrounded by TVs. The bar is appproximately 30 yards long with 40 seats. Lounge seating for another 40 or so and casual dining seating for 100 to 125 flesh David’s out for many uses.

“We felt that we needed a gathering place or entertainment lounge where both leisure travelers as well as convention guests could go,” explains Stephen Rosenstock, senior VP, F&B and brand standards. “We looked at past sports bars but wanted to elevate it.”

“We don’t look at our competition as being other hotels,” says David Morgan, VP of F&B. “Given the choice to go to a freestanding sports bar in uptown Dallas or to come to ours, we want you to make that decision based on what’s the best experience, rather than being viewed as a hotel sports bar. In order to do that, it’s important that your offerings are in keeping with local customs.”

Anyone can throw some flatscreen plasma TVs on the wall and call it a day. Omni decided to make a bigger statement.

“We wanted to make it more sophisticated,” says Rosenstock. “Yes, there are flatscreen TVs in the room, but there’s also a much stronger emphasis on localized cocktails and microbrews—more than your typical sports bar menu. With the success of our entertainment/sports lounge, we decided to continue as we looked at other buildouts such as downtown Dallas and now Nashville. Sports is always very big and continues to be popular, and we have a winning formula.”

It’s a draw both for hotel guests and locals. “It’s due to what we’re offering in technology, food, music—it’s a multi-sensory experience,” Rosenstock says.

Omni sees the most recent installation, the Owner’s Box in the Omni Dallas Downtown Hotel, as a benchmark for sports lounges in the industry. Morgan predicts that the venue, opened in November 2011, will eclipse David’s Club as the top revenue earner in the Omni sports lineup.

Upon entering, the guest walks a backlit floor that’s a collage of newspaper headlines of sporting events in the Dallas area. Seventy-eight plasma screens ranging in size from 32 to 104 inches are positioned throughout the facility, along with six HD projection screens (five are five-by-seven-foot, and the main one is 12-by-16). Pool tables are available. A private room features enormous plasmas and surround-sound with sofa seating for 18 people, in a VIP setting. The bar boasts 16 beer taps and a frost rail on which guests can keep beers cold. An outside patio features firepits.

"It's not just the bar; it’s this hotel," says Charles Riley, former director of F&B at the Omni Dallas Hotel, now director of F&B at Omni Mandalay in Irving, Texas. "Our location and the product we have epitomize Omni's core goals of creating a sense of theater and a sense of a community gathering place...The community is flocking to us to see it, and we want them to go away feeling they experienced a superior product and a good value.”

Rosenstock splits hairs in defining the kind of venues Omni has put in place. “At the Owner’s Box, Whiskey & Rye, and the Tap Room, as examples, we are using the term ‘sports lounge’ rather than ‘sports bar,’” he says. “I think that’s a growing trend. Instead of having your typical bar-height tables and stools all focused on the TVs, this is more of an inviting environment where, yes, you have the bar with the display of microbrews on tap and cocktails, but you also have soft seating. You have couches and lounge chairs. People who come in feel like they’re in their own family room or entertainment room and not just sitting on a barstool or chair you’d see in a restaurant.”

In addition to the soft seating, there’s also a section of banquettes or booths, which have their own TVs and remote controls. “You have a number of different areas or combinations where people can congregate,” Rosenstock says.

Cheddar and Cheer
While a standard sports bar might be content to field a menu of freezer-burned burger patties and wings, Omni is putting star players in the lineup. Food selections and drinks are unique to each property, but all are born of quality sourcing.

“Look at the Tap Room at [Omni Interlocken Resort & Spa in Denver], where we have various types of local beers on tap,” Rosenstock says. Nearby Boulder is a wellspring of microbrews, such that the beer menu practically writes itself. “At Whiskey & Rye [at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel], we do Shiner Bock and other local Texas regional beers. The food also is something we take great pride in.”

Pride indeed flows strong as Riley describes the new movement. “What’s really important to us at Omni is to be ahead of trends or at least in keeping with trends,” Riley says. “Food trucks and simple foods are big—food that represents itself without being too fussed over,” says Riley. “What we’re doing [at the Owner’s Box] is just that. It’s food you’d find in a sports atmosphere, but really well done. I might have a hot dog on my menu, but it’s going to be the best hot dog in town. We have some flatbreads and some wings, but they’re not just ordinary. We’re highly sensitive that it’s got to be a really superior product without being too fussed over, fancy, or formal.”

Riley also dotes on chili-filled potato skins and the blackened tenderloin tip quesadilla. But the number one item is the Redneck Cheddar Burger—over half a pound of 70/30 ground chuck in hand-formed patties, topped with Redneck Cheddar Cheese (a local farmstead, three-year- aged cheese with a local beer in the recipe) and barbecued brisket.

At Hunter’s Lounge in the Omni Dallas Park West, Rosenstock says, guests enjoy “the next level of hot dogs. We found a particular hot dog made by a local company that doesn’t use any added by-products. It’s strictly pork shoulder and ribeye that goes into the hot dog.”

The burger, that most classic sports bar standard, has also shot into the stratosphere at the Omni Amelia Island [Florida] Resort. A few months ago, Director of F&B Thomas Turner started a build-your-own-burger concept at the resort’s Falcon’s Nest sports hangout, with no fewer than nine choices of protein, including bison, ground beef, a brisket-beef blend, grilled chicken, pulled pork, turkey burger, crab cakes, grilled shrimp, salmon, and a portobello mushroom for vegetarians. Rounding out the burgers are various choices of bread including a housemade jalapeño cheddar kaiser roll and a whole wheat artisan bread, as well as a gluten-free tapioca bun that is not made in-house. Various cheeses, guacamole, mushrooms, truffle oil, hot mustard pickle sauce, award-winning chili, and other toppings, as well as sides, complete the picture. “Everybody in the party gets exactly what they want,” says Turner.

What once was a relatively rote sports bar has morphed into a gastropub, he says. In addition to the burger bar, entrées include New York strip, salmon, roasted chicken, crepes, and waffle-batter fried chicken sandwiches.

As at other Omni sports spots, regional beers are a gaining focus. “We don’t have it yet, but we’re working with Intuition Ale Works in Jacksonville, Florida, on our own signature Falcon’s Nest beer, which will be out hopefully in 2013,” Turner says. “We also have some really great local beers from Tampa and other places. With cocktails, we try to stay true to our southern roots. We infuse our own bourbons. Right now we have orange and vanilla bean-infused bourbons, and we offer bourbon flights. We also have signature drinks from martinis to a southern berry-based mash.”

Like a coach giving his quarterback leeway to call some of the plays, Omni enables local chefs and mixologists to use their creativity in designing such local menu winners. But it’s still important that non-mandated choices fit Omni’s core values. “Once the recipe is created, we then review it. But we don’t dictate what it should be. We want our chefs and mixologists to have the flexibility to create based upon the local customer. It’s a lot more work, but if you are a chef, you’d want to work for us, because we’re hiring you for your creativity.”

Some of the F&B from the lounges is crossing over into banquets and catering at the properties that have the units. For instance, Rosenstock refers back to the Redneck Cheddar Burger and cites the food truck trend, “specializing in bacon-and-grilled-cheese sandwiches and tacos and things. We’ve taken some of that and put our own spin on it and integrated that into our sports lounge menus. In seeing the popularity and acceptance of the types of foods we’re doing in the sports lounges, what we’re doing now is selling that kind of experience on the banquet level. We’re enhancing some of the menus for meeting planners.”

Post-downturn, flash and opulence have stayed in certain markets and concepts, but not in Omni’s sports lounges. While Omni isn’t taking the almost Sex and the City approach of the highend sports nightclubs of the pre-downturn era, they are nonetheless a different brand of upscale and are appealing to females. Rosenstock cites the different seating environments, wine-by-the-glass programs, and specialty cocktails as contributing to the all-inclusive embrace of the lounges. Feeling they’ve hit upon a winner with the Owner’s Box, the new opening in Nashville will follow the same format.

Tad Wilkes is managing editor of Hotel F&B.

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