Using F&B to Establish a Unique Character for Your Hotel
By Ray Chung Director of Design, The Johnson Studio at Cooper Carry | November 25, 2018
A hotel's restaurants and bars offer one of the best opportunities for the hotel to express its unique character. Food and beverage (F&B) is nothing less than hospitality in motion, on display and interactive in a way that everyone can see. It only makes sense to use F&B to help differentiate hotel properties, now more than ever.
F&B is unique in that guests spend their time in these spaces mostly sitting still and enjoying themselves. Most, if not all, hotel guests will visit the on-site restaurants and bars during their stay, and what's more, they will stay for an hour or more, sometimes multiple times a day. The quality of the food, service and environment plays an enormous role in the level of satisfaction and creates lasting memories, good or bad.
Furthermore, with food tourism on the rise, a hotel's F&B venues can become destinations in themselves. Nationally and internationally recognized chefs, renowned local foods, beers and wines, or even the spaces themselves-for example, a hip, exclusive rooftop bar-can be reason enough for guests to make a trip.
Many hoteliers are reporting upwards of 40% of revenue from F&B. With proper planning, F&B can increase bottom-line returns as well. Together with the draw power and potential improved guest satisfaction, it is clear now is the time to invest in food and drink offerings.
A well-conceived, attractive F&B program can also increase both bookings and profitability of group sales. Event coordinators list F&B as one of the top three most important factors in selecting a venue. Attendees are drawn to events and group activities that are based on local foods and chef-driven experiences.
Of course, simply operating a restaurant or bar is not enough. Neighborhood competition in secondary and even tertiary markets has intensified, and hoteliers need to respond like restaurateurs. More and more travelers check with online review sites before choosing a place, and with so many choices available, a hotel restaurant or bar needs to shine. It needs to compete with the best in the local market and offer a superlative experience, in food quality, service, setting-preferably all three.
Incorporating local ingredients and appealing to local tastes are two of the most effective ways to define a property's character and attract guests and locals alike. Guests are looking for an authentic neighborhood experience, and finding menu items that draw from local suppliers helps connect them to the place. At the same time, locals will feel their own connection to a hotel that supports local businesses, whether that is produce from a farm or craft beer from a local brewery.
Local and specialty foods can extend to the guest rooms as well. At the Arlo Hotel in New York, minibars are stocked with locally produced snacks. Similarly, event F&B can feature wine and beer from the region as well as traditional recipes with regional ingredients.
Partnering with a well-known chef is another great way to leverage an F&B program and build a personality for the hotel. With chefs now achieving celebrity status, hotels can expect to have a corresponding fan base among their guests. Moreover, a chef-driven restaurant with top quality food and high standards of service by extension raises the impression of the hotel it is in.
Unique, memorable menu items and cocktails also help build lasting impressions of a place in way that guests are happy to talk about and share with friends on social media. By the same token, merely average or predictable offerings can dull guests' memories of a place, making the hotel indistinguishable from countless other places.
Breaking out of the traditional definitions of "restaurant" and "bar" is vital to creating a lasting impression of a hotel that appreciates its guests and goes out of its way to accommodate them. Lobbies that also act as bars and/or casual work areas appeal to travelers who prefer a social environment and do not care for strict definitions of business and leisure. Similarly, many bars and restaurants have found success incorporating social games, where guests can both play and watch others. Games can be as simple as foosball, classic arcade games, and trivia contests to full-blown immersive VR experiences. Guests stay longer, consume more and most importantly have a great time that they will remember.
F&B does not have to be limited to sit-down dining. Fresh, original grab-and-go items, in the right situation, are what some guests prefer. In other environments, it could be food trucks or a deli. If the hotel has a spa, the F&B program can draw a connection between menu items and spa services and wellness programs. The key is that the F&B offering is thoughtful and in line with the hotel's attitude toward the guest experience.
Feeding Off the Energy of the Space
As recent reports and polls have shown, today's guests see F&B as a form of recreation and entertainment. It is where they prefer to spend their money, and in turn expectations are higher than ever. Hotels should invest in F&B and use the energy and excitement of their F&B program to show off the hotel's personality and style. Positioned in or near the main lobby, the restaurants and bars provide a view of the hotel in action, signaling what the hotel experience will be like. Guests checking in as well as anyone walking by will feel the energy of the place and naturally be drawn to it.
The idea of showing off this energy continues inside. Restaurants should, where possible, have an open kitchen where guests can see the food being prepared. By offering transparency with the food and the preparation it shows a commitment to the quality of the food. At the same time, it provides a dramatic, energetic activity that enlivens the space.
The lobby, too, should be considered a potential F&B space, for example, with beverage service at lounge seating or even a full bar. The Moxy Hotel has created a whole new experience, having guests check in at the bar itself. More and more, hotels are transforming the lobby to be an energized social hub for guests and locals alike, simultaneously the front face and the heart of the property.
When designing F&B spaces it is, of course, important to consider the overall look of the hotel, but it is more important that each venue be distinct and offer guests something new to see and do. This way each F&B space expands the overall hotel offering and creates a fulfilling, varied experience for guests. Done well, each venue becomes a destination, and guests feel fortunate their room is so close. Kimpton Hotels pioneered this idea by insisting that their hotel restaurant have a separate entrance on the street, to emphasize that the restaurant is a place worth visiting, on equal footing with the hotel.
To make the most of each venue, the restaurants and bars should be situated in a way that takes advantage of unique aspects of the property: mountain views, beach fronts, rooftops. Guests spend a good amount of time relaxing at these places and will remember the hotel all the more if they are served a great meal and drink while enjoying the view. They will likely be inspired to explore those parts of the hotel as well.
Hotels can think about using non-traditional spaces for additional F&B opportunities, especially during events. Courtyards, pool areas and even outdoor walkways can be temporarily transformed into cocktail and hors d'oeuvres areas for networking, team-building and more. Some properties even report higher per-square-foot revenues from these kinds of spaces.
In terms of offering, hotels have a distinct advantage while planning their F&B, as they typically have detailed knowledge of their guests' preferences. Menus and drink lists can be fine-tuned with more precision and accuracy than the vast majority of stand-alone restaurants. As an example, some hotels have recognized a trend away from traditional fine dining, even in the luxury market. White tablecloth restaurants at The Four Seasons are being replaced with more casual, all-day restaurants that are much more appealing to today's clientele.
Hotel restaurants also have the ability to host more than one concept. Breakfast can look dramatically different from lunch and dinner, adding one more guest experience to the property. Doing so requires careful attention to certain aspects of the restaurant, such as using induction burners for breakfast and converting it to a raw bar later in the day, or switching the place-settings and linens with each meal service.
In today's market, hotel F&B needs to meet and exceed guest expectations, but this does not need to be something to fear. A well-designed F&B program can enhance or even define a hotel's character. To stand out, it should be original, welcoming and full of energy, whether that is exuberant and colorful or refined and confident. Far from sinking to the lowest common denominator, it should aim to offer something for everyone. And at the very minimum, the F&B program needs to have a point of view, a personality that guests can come to know and remember.
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