A New Future for Hotel Restaurants

By Peter Karpinski Partner, Sage Hospitality | August 12, 2012

Is it possible to change the way travelers currently think about hotel restaurants? Can hotel restaurants provide a customer experience so good that they capture significant local market share in an ultra-competitive sector, and also deliver a solid return to shareholders?

At Sage Restaurant Group, those are exactly the challenges we work every day to solve and the same questions I wrestled with during my early experience in hotels and restaurants. In the end, we create unexpected, playful and locally focused food and beverage experiences that resonate with guests and the people who live and work in the communities we serve. Integrating great restaurant fundamentals in the unique context of F&B can be delivered through true partnerships at the property level. But this isn't the way I was taught.

Like many in this industry, I received my hospitality degree and went to work learning the business, inside and out. I was fortunate enough to work with some of the best companies in the world – Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, and Starr Restaurant Organization. Along the way I internalized the concept of continual learning.

In each of my professional relationships, I gained new insights about hotel and restaurant customers and stakeholders. I asked questions and I watched and learned from extremely talented managers and executives. I sought mentors all along the way. I built as much perspective as possible.

In a quest to learn about the strengths and pitfalls of independent restaurants, I professionally progressed away from the traditional hotel F&B environment, and closer to the world of independent restaurants, until I finally found myself out of the hotel sector altogether. As I learned about the business models of free standing restaurants, I realized the gap between profit and loss and knowing your markets. I realized there was no reason hotel restaurants should be loss leaders to the lodging business or unreliable sources of hotel profit. With that conviction, I needed a partner who understood the opportunity and was willing to join my commitment to shift the paradigm.

In 2005, I met Walter Isenberg and Zack Neumeyer at Sage Hospitality and they were open to this new opportunity. As Sage was becoming a more active owner, developer, and operator of premier full-service branded hotels, they were committed to developing a more sustainable in-house F&B platform and, from that, Sage Restaurant Group was born. Our new platform has changed the way our guests and our hotel ownership groups think of hotel restaurants. It has created a new model for investors and executives, and has provided our organization with a unique proprietary differentiator.

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Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.