At about 550 feet, the Florianturm in Germany featured the world’s first rotating restaurant. Named after St. Florian, the patron saint of firefighters, the tower opened in Dortmund in 1959.
The first revolving restaurant in the United States, La Ronde Restaurant, opened two years later in Honolulu, but is now closed.
In fact, there are a number of revolving restaurants in the U.S. that have closed, including two in New Orleans, which never reopened after Katrina, and one in Atlanta, which closed in 2004.
Tennessee had four rotating restaurants, with one in Nashville, two in Memphis and one in Knoxville. All four have closed.
In Florence, the tower where the 360 Grille opened in 2005, was built in 1991.
There are a number of challenges that need to be managed by the restaurant staff, said Einar Gudmundsson, director of food and beverage operations at 360 Grille.
At most restaurants you can look out and see the dining room setting, but at the 360 Grille, servers and workers have to walk all the way around the restaurant to see every table.
“You notice that there is no place to hide,” Gudmundsson said. “The server stations are open, the kitchen is open — everything is open so you have to be on your best behavior the whole time.”
Other challenges include servers — and guests — looking for their tables, limited storage, moving in new furniture and the heating and cooling costs.
“Everything has to be pumped up,” Gudmundsson.
“If a water pump goes out, there’s no water. And heating and cooling is a big challenge for us being all windows.”
Finding workers who don’t have a fear of heights isn’t a challenge as most people would expect, said restaurant manager Kristy Bevis.
“People may have trepidations about it at first, but then quickly get over it and take in the view,” Bevis said.
For guests most guests it isn’t a fear of heights that affect them.
“More than the height is the rotation. We see more motion sickness than a fear of heights,” Bevis said.
The 360 Grille itself doesn’t actually rotate, but there is a track in the outer half of the restaurant that rotates tables around while the inside section and the kitchen stay stationary. It’s not uncommon for patrons to ask to sit in the area closer to the center, which doesn’t rotate, Bevis said.
The outer track is set to make a full rotation around the restaurant in about an hour and a half, which is about the time it takes to have a meal, she added.
But the track and height all add to the challenge of running a rotating restaurant.
Those extra challenges present extra cost that a restaurant on the ground level doesn’t have to worry about, Gudmundsson said. That has also given the 360 Grille a reputation as being expensive.
“For this area, it is (expensive); it cost more than every area in town,” Gudmundsson said.
But when compared to other fine dining restaurants in surrounding areas such as Nashville, Gudmundsson said the restaurant is competitive and often cheaper, despite the added costs and challenges of being so high off the ground.”
“if you go to a restaurant that offers our type of service, our type of food, the price point is very competitive,” he said. “If anything, we’re under.”
Gudmundsson pointed out, even though they do have some entrees that can cost as much as $60, they also have many entrees that are closer to $20. You don’t have to spend $400 or $500, but you have that option.
“You can get a glass of wine for $8,” Gudmundsson said. “Or you can get a $400 bottle of wine. You can come here and have a nice experience without breaking the bank.
“We have comparable prices, but some people want to experience the $65 steak, or the $100 steak or the $300 bottle of wine. We have that here if they want it.”
It isn’t just business travelers and tourists who want to come to the 360 Grille, plenty of locals frequent the restaurant.
Bevis estimated that around 60 percent of the guests they have are locals, with a higher percentage of locals in the off season, and a higher percentage of hotel guests eating there in the summer when the hotel is full.
It’s also not uncommon for people to make a day or weekend trip to Florence from cities such as Nashville, Huntsville, Birmingham and Memphis.
One thing that, while not necessarily a challenge, but something the staff works toward is making sure the attraction doesn’t eclipse the food and service.
“There is a certain percentage of people who come in, whose first thought is ‘oh lets go up there, it’s cool,’ before they think about the food,” said executive chef Josh Quick. “I think over the last five or six years we’ve kind of established ourselves with food quality and have pushed the envelope to do some different things to keep people coming back.”
Part of the draw of the food, is nearly all of their food is from local farms in Alabama. Quick said they get a lot of ingredients from Shamrock Farms and Jack-O-Lantern farms.
“We’ve started from the get-go of trying to introduce new items,” Gudmundsson said. “I think we’ve had a good mix of people wanting to come to the restaurant to experience the view and the rotation, but more often than not, they come back because the food is great. It’s local, it’s all natural, it’s organic.”
Bobby Bozeman can be reached at 256-740-5722 or bobby.bozeman@TimesDaily.com.