How "Grab & Go" Became the Latest Evolution in Hotel F&B

By Gary Isenberg President, LWHA Asset & Property Management Services | October 01, 2017

If hoteliers want a lesson regarding how drastically dining trends have evolved over the past 40 years, they need to look no further than the history of Howard Johnson’s. A welcome respite for vacationing families and interstate road warriors in the mid-20th century, those orange-domed waystations dotted nearly every highway across the country. At HoJo’s zenith, the chain numbered than 1, 000 restaurants and 500 motor lodges.

Though people packed its tables and booths, no one mistook a HoJo for a fine dining establishment. Instead, Howard Johnson’s offered weary travelers a familiar and comfortable place to dine. Essentially, HoJo’s were diners, serving three meals a day from an expansive, but uniform, menu at affordable prices. There wasn’t any deviation into exotic culinary choices. But from the 1930s to the 1970s, that was okay with consumers who, for the most part, had less adventurous eating habits. Given that successful model, it’s easy to understand why full-service hotels built during that era mirrored that trend by featuring a breakfast-to-dinner restaurant.

Yet today, only one HoJo restaurant remains. So what happened to make HoJo’s a relic of this country’s collective dining past? Why have morning-to-evening, waitstaff hotel restaurants become a rarity? It all has to do with shifting consumer culinary preferences that are reflected within the walls of modern lodging properties.

The Place to be…Then Not so Much

During the 1970s and 1980s, when full-service Hiltons, Marriotts and Sheratons expanded into the suburbs ringing primary markets, those hotels’ three-meal-a-day restaurants, sports bars, and nightclubs thrived. In those secondary and tertiary markets, hotel eateries had few, if any competitors. So for consumers, the hotel restaurant was the place to eat and socialize.

Chain restaurants, however, soon seized on an opportunity to knock hotel restaurants off their perch by muscling into suburban, and even primary urban, locations. The chains provided another dining option to people in those towns; they needn’t go to the hotel restaurant anymore. Unfortunately, this reversal in consumer tastes left hotel owners with darkened dining rooms and decelerating food and beverage revenues. Hotels lost their supremacy as the “Best Place in Town to Eat and Drink.” People viewed hotel restaurants as stodgy and over-priced.

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.