FOCUS online: Mr. Sendlhofer, note the booking numbers for “Sendhofer’s“ that people save?
Luke Sendlhofer: At the moment yes, because inflation is high, especially in Austria. We are among the top 3 in Europe and currently have around ten percent inflation. However, the bookings vary depending on the season. We had the strongest January ever with 94 percent occupancy. The guests had to reserve a table in our restaurant 1.5 weeks in advance.
Has it been a good year so far?
Sendlhofer: I’m satisfied, but I don’t fill the house at any price and only cooperate with selected partners. Apart from booking.com, I don’t have anything from the big players anymore, but rather go through private travel agencies.
Where are your guests from?
Sendlhofer: It’s mixed up. But mostly from Austria and Germany, and the north is also getting stronger. We are still in the discovery phase and want to give ourselves three years to make a final assessment. Half of the time is up now.
Why this long period of time to answer a simple question?
Sendlhofer: Because it’s not that easy. The hotel was established in 1928 and I am now the third generation to run the hotel with my sister and my girlfriend. We built the apartments in 2011 and started redesigning the rooms in 2015. In 2020 it was time to cast off old patterns and move into new waters.
Sounds fun, but that means?
Sendlhofer: We were a very classic 4-star wellness establishment with half board and afternoon snacks. Gradually we started to turn the gastronomy upside down. I didn’t want to have everything included anymore, because somewhere it’s included economically. But the guest no longer appreciates everything that is included. And that goes completely in the wrong direction for me. Because for that to work out, either the room price has to go up or the quality of the products has to go down. And no one questions where it all comes from. Value for money must be right and this approach saves on the product. I don’t want to be in a corner in ten years and have economic problems. So we started spinning what we can do.
And has your regular guest changed as a result?
Sendlhofer: Naturally. Some have stayed and also like the new concept, but there is also another part that no longer felt comfortable.
Why not feel better?
Sendlhofer: For example, we no longer offer a buffet, the guest has to think while eating. Many want A, B or C and just dine. But I want guests who will notice how much work we put into it. We don’t have award-winning gastronomy, but the goal is for people to come to us because we’re also good at food.
So you want to get away from half-board?
Sendlhofer: I’m a friend of a la carte. We want to turn the wheel again, you don’t invent anything anyway. And high quality and regional purchasing for the restaurant are at the top of the list: Where can I get the goods in Salzburger Land or at most in Austria – with small exceptions.
Like the famous pineapple.
Sendlhofer: Of course, I can’t get that in Burgenland. Or pepper doesn’t go regional either. But we simply try to shop regionally as much as possible and, if necessary, to do without products.
Sendlhofer: We have a lot of great products in Austria, a lot more than you might think. And I ask myself the question: How can I playfully bring people closer to food again? This is the culinary art, on vacation for my idea of the restaurant 2.0.: wellness with breakfast, rest a la carte. And that is a huge hurdle, since large parts of Austria stand for half-board. But we want to take this step, we are actively changing.
You offer delicacies, that’s like half-board, isn’t it?
Sendlhofer: The culinary delicacies are not like half-board, I would rather say they are an alternative to rooms with breakfast if it is important for guests to calculate their stay more precisely. I would prefer to only sell bed and breakfast, but that would be the death knell after a year. The guest searches with us in the region with half board. And if you don’t offer it, you lose 45 percent of potential customers straight away. So we offer the delicacies, but no half-board.
Sendlhofer: When making a reservation, the guest buys a 35-euro voucher per day. If he stays 10 days, it’s 350 euros. When and how he uses it is up to the guest. This can be in one day or spread over many days.
You have a lot of returnees – do they take half-board in disguise again?
Sendlhofer: Once you’ve been here, you’ll never book with delicacies again, I only need the offer for new customers. The guest who has stayed with us has understood the concept and only books with breakfast. The cuisine is not an advantage, but only a cash voucher. In Italy or Croatia guests would never think about it, they eat there every day. In Austria, 90 percent of the hotels in Salzburg and Tyrol offer half-board.
With your à la carte restaurant you also take the “nose to tail” approach – how does that work?
Sendlhofer: We try to use the whole animal and this is well received. This also includes hanging meat and letting it partially mature. Sometimes it also smells, but that’s part of it. We have forgotten how to process meat whole and of course the knowledge about it has also been lost. For example, the belly is one of the best pieces with a lot of taste. If I then hear that it isn’t being ordered because it’s too greasy and affects people, that’s a shame, because it would make a lot more sense to eat less sugar.
What’s on your menu?
Sendlhofer: When it comes to something unusual: We experimented a lot in winter and also had pig’s snouts on the menu. Even if we can only offer them a few times because a pig’s nose isn’t very long. This is a super tissue, most of the nerves are in the nose. With a slightly stronger sauce, it tastes great.
And what else?
Sendlhofer: The liver is one of the best things to do, as is the tongue or veal belly. We really strive for holistic exploitation.
Is there a dish that was almost impossible to order?
Sendlhofer: During the winter, the Wagyu liver was in such high demand that it was almost permanently blocked.
If you are regionally oriented, the range of vegetables is more varied in summer than in winter. How do you manage to offer fruit even in winter?
Sendlhofer: Partially with the shock freezing system. When thawing, the slight water bubble doesn’t burst open, that’s fine with me. But it should have a regional origin. Of course I don’t push strawberries in winter. And something like pumpkins is only available at certain times of the year. But then there are often other alternatives that you don’t always have on screen.
What about orange or lemon waste?
Sendlhofer: Good question. Sometimes we have them fresh when I need a larger proportion of zest (finely chopped citrus peel). I also had a juicer with oranges from Portugal. But you won’t believe how much of it I had to throw away. That’s why I’ve entered into a cooperation with “Rauch” – and get cold-pressed, fresh orange juice in bottles. This has to be ordered more often because of the short shelf life, but it’s worth it to me.
A good kitchen is therefore in the foreground.
Sendlhofer: Yes, but not only. For me, it’s about the whole profession, being there for guests – whether it’s in the kitchen or the waiter. We are not plate taxis and do not offer fast food. We should be proud of our profession, because it is one of the most beautiful there is.