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The operators of Culina like to talk about the Beverly Hills, Calif., restaurant's lively bar scene, open crudo station and sleek design, with its rows of wine bottles visible behind walls of glass. Culina is located inside a Four Seasons hotel—just don't call it a hotel restaurant. Long known as dens of stuffy service, limp Caesar salads and $8 orange juices, hotel restaurants are trying to revamp their reputations and make customers feel they are anywhere but in a hotel.
Many hotels are debuting separate street-side restaurant entrances or making existing ones more prominent. Some hotel restaurants even have their own addresses.
The Benjamin Hotel in New York is on East 50th Street. The hotel's year-old restaurant, the National Bar & Dining Rooms, has an address on Lexington Avenue. The separate address "adds to the independence of the thing," says Sims Foster, vice president of restaurants and bars at Denihan Hospitality Group, which owns the Benjamin. "We're building independent restaurants that happen to be in hotels." Mr. Foster says the company tries to enhance the feeling of separateness by giving the dining spots' signs in their own fonts. Restaurants have their own websites and public relations teams, too.
Over the past three years, Four Seasons has overhauled 13 of its hotel restaurants in the U.S. It found that in many markets its traditional style of fine-dining restaurant had "ceased to be relevant," says Guy Rigby, vice president, food and beverage, Americas for Four Seasons.
Service standards for Four Seasons wait staff were also modified. Waiters no longer pour wine the traditional—some would say overly formal—way with their thumbs stuck in the bottom of bottles. New this year: Staffers are allowed to have tattoos, and men can sport earrings and facial hair. "You can't find a chef that doesn't have a tattoo these days," Mr. Rigby says.