How Grab & Go Have Become the Latest Evolution in Hotel F&B

By Gary Isenberg President, LWHA Asset & Property Management Services | January 14, 2018

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. 

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.