VIENNA – The Sacher Hotel in Vienna in the absence of guests due to the pandemic has revived the 19th-century tradition of offering diners “chambres separees,” private dining areas.
With borders still closed and barely any flights, tourists have become a rare sighting in Austria, but after hotels were given the green light to reopen on Friday, they are turning to innovative models to keep business afloat.
Many compete with special offers to attract customers and this is how the Sacher, located in the heart of Vienna behind the Opera House, decided to restore the tradition of dining with discretion, one of the keys to its success since launching in 1876.
The private spaces were 12 chambers of the Sacher restaurant “for those who wanted to meet, talk and eat well” protected from prying eyes, manager Matthias Winkler tells EFE.
They would have been ideal now given the strict hygiene and social distancing measures to prevent contagion, but they disappeared from the luxury hotel years ago.
So the venue turned to its empty rooms to resurrect the 2020 version of the intimate dining experience.
Each hotel room has been transformed into an exclusive dining room in an elegant setting with diners enjoying a personal butler.
“It is one of the ideas we are trying to test and see how we can improve business and billing with them, and differentiate ourselves in the market,” Winkler adds.
The soft launch took place on Tuesday and the manager was delighted with the response.
“We had more than 200 reservation requests for the ‘separees’. We weren’t expecting 10% of that demand on the first day.”
The special dining experience will be on a limited offer for June. The prospective diners who have reserved are mainly Austrian residents and new to the hotel.
The manager is convinced that one of the main draws is to get a glimpse of the opulent hotel which has a rich history of glamour without having to pay for an overnight stay.
“Many want to allow themselves to experience something special despite the crisis, or precisely because of the coronavirus crisis,” he says.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Prince of Monaco and his wife Gracia Patricia, Indira Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Mann, Arthur Schnitzler, Ernest Hemingway, Jean Cocteau and Isabel Allende are just some of the many well-known people who have occupied one of the 152 rooms and suites of the Sacher.
Prices start at €45 for breakfast, and €75 for lunch or dinner.
The main dishes will set diners back by €24 to €32, and a slice of Sacher cake is nearly €8.
The same government requirements apply to the private dining suites: a maximum of four adults and two children per table, while prior reservations allow for data collection for trace and tracking mechanisms.
Culture has long merged with the Sacher and the hotel has inspired writers like John Irving, who evoked it in his novel The Hotel New Hampshire.
It was within the Sacher’s atmospheric walls that Graham Green penned the script for the movie The Third Man.
Adjacent to the Opera House, tenors Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras often stayed at the Sacher, and the sumptuous suites have all been named after the artform: Vienna Philharmonic, Madame Butterfly and The Marriage of Figaro.
The Sacher’s history is shrouded in myth and legend and founder Eduard Sacher, son Franz Sacher, the inventor of the most famous chocolate cake in the world, captivated Viennese nobility and aristocracy from the moment the venue opened its doors.
In the past the private chambers were used “when two embattled politicians wanted to meet to be able to speak without sparking attention,” says Winkler.
As for the hotel’s financial projections, the manager is confident it will survive the coronavirus crisis albeit with considerable losses.
He estimates that the total turnover of the Sacher group, which includes another venue in Salzburg and restaurants and cafes in several other cities, will fall by 75% in 2020.
“We start from the basis that in the coming months we will only achieve 10% of our 2019 turnover (about €92 million), and for the whole year we calculate 25%,” he says.
So far, the shop from where their famous chocolate and apricot cake is exported to the world has reopened successfully.
“The store has recovered its level of operation from before and is again sending the Sacher Torte (in wooden boxes) to other countries,” says Winkler.