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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Sales & Marketing: Opinions Matter

Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors manage a complex mix of strategies to attract and convert customers into guests. Part of their expertise includes an awareness of customer behavior during the reservation process, so they can make sure their hotel is favorably positioned. One such trend is the growing popularity of travel review sites. According to one recent survey, 61% of prospective customers consult online reviews in order to validate information about the hotel before making a purchasing decision. Another survey found that the average hotel customer reads between 6-12 reviews across 4-10 properties before making a final decision on where to stay. Similarly, other studies have shown that consumer reviews are a more trusted source of information for prospective customers than other kinds of marketing messaging. In fact, reviews are often considered to be as influential as price regarding whether a customer decides to complete a purchase or not. Plus, travel sites with the most reviews - including recent reviews from satisfied customers and thoughtful responses from staff - were also found to be the most appealing. So having positive reviews on a travel website is essential and can help to increase a hotel's conversion rates dramatically. Of course, there are all kinds of additional marketing strategies for sales and marketing directors to consider - the importance of video and the emergence of live streaming; the implementation of voice search; the proliferation of travel bots; and the development of Instagram as an e-commerce platform. 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.