Guests staying at hotels near popular fishing destinations often face a similar challenge—after a long day out on the water, the weary fishers come back triumphant with their fresh catches, but face limited space to store, freeze, or cook them. Enter “Cook Your Catch” programs in which guests supply the seafood, and a hotel’s chef turns the harvest into a meal. These programs are a solution for vacationing fishers who want to enjoy the fruits of their labors, and for hoteliers looking to drive guests to a hotel’s restaurant and provide them with a memorable experience that will keep them coming back.
West 82 Bar & Grill at Plantation on Crystal River in King’s Bay along Florida’s Nature Coast has been offering Cook Your Catch promotions for some time—long before Executive Chef Jack Spiess took on his role earlier this summer. On July 1, West 82 launched into one of the resort’s busiest times of the year—scalloping season—which runs through September. Vacationing families and visiting nature enthusiasts alike flock to the coast for guided or self-led scalloping expeditions akin to snorkeling in shallow waters. Whether guests manage to harvest scallops or catch fish, Spiess and his staff will clean the catch and prepare a family-style meal in a variety of styles (e.g. scampi, au gratin, or sautéed), adding sides like fresh vegetables or starches to make a complete lunch or dinner.
The idea for the Plantation’s scalloping program emerged organically, Spiess says. “If you talk to anyone working at the Plantation, you’re going to find out that they’re a fisherman,” he explains, adding that it lends an air of authenticity to the program. “This is a place that offers amenities where you can just go and relax after a day of fishing, sit in the air conditioning, and have your scallops cooked for you.” The Plantation also focuses on eco-friendly practices through ethical harvesting and educating guests who are planning to visit scallop beds. “Preserving our Nature Coast is a really big part of what we do,” Speiss explains.
Spiess is not originally from the area, but recalls summers spent with family in Gulf waters off Florida’s coast. “Family, fishing—everything about the Nature Coast hooked me,” he says. “That’s the cool thing about ‘Cook Your Catch’—it is so family-centric.”
As more travelers look to hotels to connect them with local and one-of-a-kind experiences, these kinds of attractions are an opportunity for hoteliers to develop unique programming and offers that attract guests to their properties. Guided tours, SCUBA classes, and equipment for guests’ fishing adventures are all examples of amenities that hotels can offer to better meet guests’ needs and provide them with lasting memories that will leave them wanting to return.