Hotels are placing a renewed focus on food and beverage sales. This is because the segment has discovered that a distinguishable restaurant is a draw not only for overnight guests but also for locals. In other words, it’s a win-win.
Food purchases in the lodging industry are projected to reach $8.5 billion this year, compared with $8 billion in 2010, according to Technomic, a Chicago-based foodservice research firm. Despite the many challenges the business environment continues to face, occupancy rates at U.S. hotels increased almost 6 percent between 2009 and 2010, which is good news for hotel restaurant operators.
Hotel restaurants have typically been early adopters of menu trends. “Although hotel restaurants are innovators in certain areas, these operators also will incorporate successful food trends from traditional restaurants,” Aldrich says. “In the last 18 months, almost all hotel foodservice operators have begun offering a lighter fare option for guests. Other prevalent trends include gastro pubs and small plates.”
Shared plates represent another menu trend growing in popularity for a growing number of hotels. “People today don’t necessarily want to eat a three-course dinner,” says Ned Barker, owner of Grill Ventures Consulting and the former vice president of food and beverage for the Intercontinental Hotels Group.
In their quest to be leaders in a competitive segment, hotels continue to strive to be in tune with food and beverage trends. “This segment has a broad audience that needs to be addressed,” Aldrich says.
As a result, creative cocktails represent another emphasis for many hoteliers. This impacts the type of glassware and ice operators use. “Hotel restaurant operators are looking for the proper glassware and equipment to do it right,” Barker says.
Past efforts to provide healthier dining options tended to focus on fat and calorie counts. In contrast, for a growing number of hotel foodservice operators, more sophisticated and authentic food represents the more prevalent menu trends. “People are more concerned about whether an item is local, natural, organic and functional,” says Barker.
As with their menus, hotel foodservice operators continue to refine the ambiance of the areas in which they serve their food. Consequently, many of today’s hotels represent true multiuse space. For example, one end of the lobby may contain a branded space, such as a Starbucks, that flows into a lounge that simulates a living room, which blends into the main restaurant. “In many cases, there is no clear definition of a restaurant versus the lobby lounge,” Aldrich says. “All of these areas typically provide food and beverages.”
More hotel restaurants also are becoming “bar-centric,” bringing customers into the bar area for dining. “This is because some dining rooms are of an inadequate size for breakfast or dinner seating,” Barker says. “As a result, these restaurants are installing more comfortable seating in the bar and using it as an extension of the dining room.”
Restaurant ownership and management varies from property to property. While a majority of hotel organizations are capable of running foodservice operations, certain variables, such as the lease terms and union agreements, have made it more desirable for some to rent out the space. The prevalence of celebrity chefs in the hotel restaurant segment is one reason hotel operators have handed over food and beverage operations to those with more experience. “There are many properties experiencing huge successes with local celebrity chefs in primary and secondary locations,” Aldrich says. “Many chefs, in fact, are targeting this industry.”
Hotel chains, in particular, are looking for ways to distinguish their properties and capture more customers, including locals. As a result, celebrity chefs have become a big draw. “This trend began about six years ago due to what was happening in Las Vegas,” says Joseph A. McInerney, CHA, president and CEO of the AHLA. “Hotel chains took note of how well this worked.”
Along with incorporating celebrity chefs into their operations, these upscale hotel restaurants are more likely to offer breakfast as well as lunch and dinner. “Taking these restaurants to three meals a day is more common,” McInerney says. “These operations have adapted a design that fits this model, rather than just offering white-tablecloth dining.”
Many hotels now offer spaces for dining outdoors. “Even in big, congested cities like New York, where there is limited space, chefs are grabbing space on a terrace or rooftop,” says Barker.
These chefs also reserve space outdoors for growing ingredients, like vegetables and herbs. Some even have their own apiaries with bees that produce natural honey.