A Focus on Social Food and Beverage Experiences

By David Ashen Principal and Founder, dash design | March 26, 2017

There was a time when a hotel restaurant was the place to be seen. A special anniversary or family celebration at a grand hotel with a formal meal was a real treat and something to look forward to.

While that’s still true to some extent, changes in lifestyles and the hospitality industry have had a major impact on the way most people celebrate special events and casually socialize, including those centered on an extravagant meal at a grand hotel. Often, today’s festivities focus less on elaborate banquets than they do on a lively bar scene with local brews, spirits and traditional drinks, along with inspired dishes at a restaurant of note, including those located in hotels.

During the first half of the 20th century, my father’s family owned several small hotels in the Borsch Belt, a summer resort region of New York’s Catskill Mountains. I remember hearing stories from my parents about grand dinners in the hotel’s dining room. There was nothing unique about the dining room nor did it have any other identity than simply the ‘hotel dining room’, but those grand meals were always something special.

Much of that tradition changed with the growth of domestic and international travel and the associated rise in faster-paced living, which led to an upsurge of hotel brands. While this new sea of hotel brands offered a menu of mere mediocrity in comparison to their independent and grand counterparts, their vast numbers and ability to meet the varied needs of the modern traveler supplanted many of the once-popular grand hotels and their outdated way of marking notable events and providing a social scene.

More than that, with the nation’s rise in international cuisines and celebrity chefs, the American palate has become more sophisticated, creating gourmands and spirt-lovers out of many of us. Today, the tables have turned on conventional dining, moving away from formal, banquet-style meals, toward a more cultured, yet highly social dining scene, with an emphasis not only on noteworthy restaurants, but also, trendy bars.

Twenty years after my childhood connection with the “grand” hotels, I was awarded my first restaurant commission for the Mercat a la Planxa at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago. The space my firm was hired to transform was once the hotel’s dining room and it was our job to shift the paradigm from the glamour of dining at the “grand” hotel – imagine perfectly round, warm dinner rolls served by (male) waiters in white (or black) coats. Because the ideal no longer found favor with guests, we were charged to create a destination restaurant for a star chef that, in many ways, turned its back on the hotel.

Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.