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The Lockdown Workaround That’s Turning Private Hotel Rooms Into Mini Dining Bubbles

Hotel restaurants like Maggie Oakes and Verses Bistro are offering in-room dining, without an overnight stay

William Gray/Supplied

Three Old Montreal hotels and their on-site restaurants are using empty rooms to host private dinners, with guests not needing to stay the night. Diners get a three-hour dining window, a server brings each course to their table, and the beds are removed (unless guests are staying the night).

With restaurants across the city restricted to takeout and delivery until at least January 11 due to a surge in coronavirus cases, some might call it a lockdown loophole, but Dimitri Antonopoulos, the co-owner and VP of marketing for Experience Old Montreal, the brand behind the participating hotels, says that isn’t so. “Hotel rooms are allowed, and they’re allowed room service. We don’t really see it as a grey zone,” he says. As a result, they’ve followed in the footsteps of other hotels including Quebec City’s Auberge St-Antoine with its $196, three-hour in-suite dinners and private greenhouses, and the Chateau Frontenac, though the latter has eliminated its dine-only option in favour of a dine-and-stay version for the holidays.

The restaurant-like holiday table d’hote experiences come from Hotel Place d’Armes, supplied by its on-site restaurants Brasserie 701 and Kyo Bar Japonais, Hotel Nelligan with its adjoining French bistro Verses, and Hotel William Gray with Maggie Oakes, and are available until January 2. After that, three-course menus will continue to be available on a regular basis.

One group from the same household can dine per evening in each private room, which allows cleaning staff time to prepare the room for the next evening’s guests. Guests check in at reception, choose their menu and head to the room. “All protective measures are taken,” says Antonopoulos.

Experience Old Montreal’s hotels seem to be the only places in Montreal promoting private dining without an overnight stay. Though, others are creating special room service options, including the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth with its special holiday room service menu from Marché Artisans and the Ritz-Carlton with its $635 “Ho Ho Home” package for a three-course, in-room dinner with wine pairings, but at those diners have to stay the night.

Hotels offering indoor dining without an overnight stay might leave some restaurant owners with a sour taste in their mouths, but Toby Lyle of the Burgundy Lion Group isn’t upset. “We’re all pivoting, trying to figure out creative ways to make money. The hotels are suffering as much as us, if not more, because they’re not necessarily mandated closed, so they’re getting less subventions than us. I have a lot of sympathy for the hotel industry.”

Constant Mentzas of Ikanos feels similarly. “If we start wondering what’s fair and unfair I think we’ll get dizzy,” he says. “I honestly don’t find there’s any purpose to being angry at someone for doing their best. Everybody needs to take stock of what they have that works compared to others. These restaurants in hotels basically work on tourists. There’s been no tourism for quite some time. It’s easy to be annoyed at them now, but we forget what they had to go through this summer. 2021 isn’t looking much better. If they’re making a little cash on the side, good for them.”

He wishes he’d thought of partnering with hotels for meals sooner, he adds. Ikanos is now planning a special dine-and-stay menu for December 31 with the St-Sulpice Hotel for $625, which features a menu of hamachi, sea urchin, caviar, lobster, veal, truffle and foie gras.

The Hotel Place-d’Armes, Nelligan, and William Gray four-course holiday meals start at $85 plus tax. Menu offerings range from salmon gravlax, filet mignon, sushi, or olive oil-poached cod with charred lemon from Brasserie 701; to duck confit salad; an aged tomahawk steak for two; and a maple yule log cake with pecan crumble, frangipane and vanilla cream cheese mousse from Verses.

The hotels’ New Year’s Eve packages do include an overnight stay, however, and their restaurants are also offering takeout and delivery, like many others in the city.