Adapting a Chain Restaurant to Fit Hotel’s Mold

When a chain restaurant is adapted for a hotel, it’s not just a matter of adhering to the brand standards of the restaurant company; the hotel brand must also be factored into the equation. But in the end, the best approach comes down to creating a special guest experience.

This is the primary ingredient that Eric Rahe, principal of BLT Architects, takes into consideration with every project, but especially with hotel restaurants. His latest challenge is to integrate Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse into the Sonesta Philadelphia Downtown, where he and designer Melissa Wylie of Sims Patrick Studio recently spearheaded a $30 million renovation. The restaurant is relocating to the Sonesta after being housed in the Atlantic Building on the Avenue of the Arts for more than 25 years.

“When you have a standalone restaurant, anything can go. When you have a space that a restaurant needs to fit into, that becomes a bit more restricted with what you can do,” Rahe explains. “But that’s also where the creative aspects of the brand can come into play.”

Rahe’s plan for the restaurant, set to debut this spring, is to create a flow of energy through convex and concave private-screened dining areas. Complete with cypress wood, exposed brick, and floor-to-ceiling wine racks, the new space will appeal to every type of Sonesta guest. Marsha Brown, president of Ruth’s Chris, says this is key to bringing the two brands together.


“The restaurant concept should complement the profile of the hotel guest,” she says. “And as far as the design of the restaurant, I feel the architecture should flow between the hotel and the restaurant. The restaurant space itself should have a strong identity from the hotel wherein it stands out from the crowd and creates its very own special environment.”

Once complete, the steakhouse will provide a comfortable haven for both hotel guests and locals, Brown says. But plans don’t always go smoothly when building a restaurant for an existing space. Depending on the age of the building and the area allotted for the new restaurant, unexpected problems can arise during construction.

“Because this hotel structure has been there for approximately 40 years, we still had to tie in to some hotel mechanicals,” Brown explains. “Our demolition was extensive to rid of any preexisting conditions in our space, so the mechanicals where much more costly than just building new systems, along with much more costly, extensive planning to fit all the systems in where possible and efficient.”

With that said, Brown insists the partnership forged between the Ruth’s Chris and Sonesta brands provides a support system during the construction phase that would not typically exist. Such a support system, made up of quality designers, engineers, architects, and construction crews, will help keep the project on track.

“When building your own building, you have to answer only to yourself,” she says. “With the Sonesta, we are building a partnership of construction and operations embedded in integrity, trust, and quality workmanship.”

Additional reporting by Megan Sullivan

Photo credit: BLT Architects: Architect with Beth Donner Design as interior designer
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