Hotel Restaurants Should Step Up Their Game to Meet the Needs of Today's Foodie Culture

By Eduardo Fernandez General Manager, Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach | February 24, 2019

With "foodie culture" being a relatively non-existent term just a decade ago, things were quite simple. Business travelers and tourists alike were content with concierge-recommended establishments, and easily walkable destinations offering straightforward fare. In many cases, hotel guests were satisfied with the traditional, on-site three-meal-a-day option.

But like many of society's most recent changes, a significant cultural shift can be directly linked to social media. Travelers are now interacting with their food and drinks in ways never seen before. Where a traveler dines, what they eat, and what that food looks like has become part of what defines them. Food is now a status symbol, shared with the masses at the click of a button. Hotel food and beverage is a new ballgame, as a traveler's search for a perfect meal is one of the focal points of their entire trip.

Travelers today are dining at carefully chosen restaurants, having highly vetted the location via Instagram, Yelp reviews and additional trusted apps. Gone are the days where travelers stop at an inconspicuous cafe across the street from their main activity. Rather, they're spending time curating an itinerary filled with must-try restaurants, made famous via social media with over-the-top desserts, magnificent cocktails and menus boasting "hyper-local" and "sustainable" ingredients. Seemingly overnight, restaurants have become the main attraction and event.

As an international hotel brand dedicated to the beauty – or art – of food, Sonesta has evolved over time to keep pace with the ever-changing needs of travelers and has even remained a step ahead of the trends. Working carefully to provide locally inspired, artistically crafted and unique experiences, Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach is no different. As part of a brand-wide initiative, Sonesta offers signature dining concepts including Liquid Art and Food is Art, presenting guests with beautifully crafted meals and stunningly delicious beverages. This innovative thinking has helped drive social engagement and brand loyalty, delivering a unique concept that has been successful for several years.

With a pulse on the social trends, Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach is seizing the moment and completely redefining the food and beverage offerings with the introduction of Steelpan, a Caribbean-American fusion kitchen and bar that caters to both guests and locals alike. Built to act as both a stand-alone restaurant for city residents and a prime choice for guests, Steelpan will be a restaurant that goes above and beyond the standard dining experience, creating an artistically infused ambiance that extends to both the cuisine and beverages, culminating in a destination restaurant where food, drink, service and ambiance are exulted.

As South Florida is known for its incredibly diverse population and fusion of cultures from around the world, Steelpan will reflect its location, delivering authentic cuisine that blends the flavors of the region. Insta-worthy highlights from the thoughtfully crafted menu include jerk chicken and dumplings with curry pineapple relish, guava-braised short ribs and jicama slaw and banana leaf wrapped snapper. Soon to offer local and sustainable ingredients, tantalizing twists on classic dishes and flavors South Floridians know and love, Steelpan is crafted to provide an authentic and vibrant experience and to show travelers that hotel food and beverage offerings really can be a destination unto itself.

With a brand new restaurant and food concept, the team at Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach thoroughly vetted candidates to fit their brand, seeking a chef with a diverse background and a passion for driving a fresh and imaginative menu. Chef Kevin Baker hails from Jamaica and is the perfect embodiment of all that Steelpan represents. Having found his passion in food from an early age, Baker's enthusiasm for cuisine culture led him to travel to destinations around the world, all while incorporating interesting techniques, lesser known spices and unique ingredients to his cooking technique. With Baker's emphasis on truly understanding culture and how it relates to foods of various regions, he has achieved a level of authenticity to his cooking that has been unmatched by any other candidate.

On the beverage side of Steelpan's operations, unique cocktails like sky juice - a gin, coconut water and condensed milk concoction - will be found next to island-inspired classics, including a toasted frozen coconut mojito featuring blanco rum, fresh mint and lime juice. Catering to the growing crowd of foodies in search of something decadent and different, these delicious creations include fun, unexpected presentations with oversized shareable portions, flaming displays and over-the-top color schemes.

A robust holiday and event program is designed to reel locals in on a regular basis, the kitchen and bar will offer festive concepts all year long, including a weeklong March Madness event with basketball bracket participation, event-inspired beer menu and enticing deals and competitions for participating guests, exclusive "pot o'gold" fishbowl drink on St. Patrick's Day and a unique Thanksgiving menu boasting Caribbean twists on the classics. Set to feature interactive experiences, themed drinks and exclusive menus, the evolving program will ensure returning guests will always be met with new surprises.

Likewise, brunch is the place to be seen, offering an array of dishes to make weekend brunch at Steelpan an ongoing tradition. Featuring a relaxed atmosphere to start the day, bottomless classics including mimosas, prosecco and Bloody Marys will be served alongside island-inspired variations of decadent dishes, including French toast, burgers and omelets. With doors directly opening onto a beachfront patio, Steelpan is crafted to fit the growing brunch scene, offering delectable eats in a laidback and upscale ambiance perfect for groups.

It's important that the innovative thinking around F&B extend well beyond the restaurant menu. Diversifying options can drive revenue per square foot, while satisfying wanderlust-filled guests looking for the next best thing. For example, Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach offers "Daily Delights" – a free treat served in Steelpan each day – ranging from bite-sized snacks to refreshing drinks inspired by the restaurant's offerings. Provided to guests as a delicious touch to the overall Sonesta experience and the perfect way to grab guests' attention, a small bite can offer a lasting effect, enticing visitors to experience everything Steelpan has to offer during their stay. Hotel companies have to think outside the box when it comes to capturing the attention (and spend) of their guests, while also creating dynamic approaches that draws in the local market.

With the name of the game vastly changing, it comes as no shock that the launch of these new restaurant models is an entire process in itself. When built as a destination, hotels now must market their offerings and amenities accordingly – and social media plays a significant role. Hotels are finding unique ways to bring locals and visitors outside of their guest pool into the restaurant, with some brands enlisting public relations and social media agencies, as well as internal teams to promote their new amenities.

At Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach, Steelpan will be launched as a sole entity, with a dedicated Instagram page, website and Facebook profile. To tap into the competitive local food and beverage scene, the restaurant launch will also include the onboarding of a Steelpan "ambassador," a prominent social media influencer well-known in South Florida in the culinary community. With teaser photos, behind-the-scenes images and exclusive shots leading up to the official opening, the ambassador provided a new marketing option that reached a highly niche audience in an organic way. The results included significant online engagement with a burst of comments, likes and traffic to the Instagram page, sparking interest among nearby residents as well as visitors.

Generating relevant and consistent content on social media leading up to the official restaurant opening helps drive local buzz and excitement around the new concept. These efforts, combined with traditional opening tactics and events including a ribbon-cutting ceremony with local media and dignitaries, helps to position the restaurant as a not-to-be-missed dining destination in South Florida upon opening day.

In an age where every guest is essentially a critic – posting about his or her experience on Yelp or social media – it is vital for all restaurants to go above and beyond in every aspect of dining, service and atmosphere. Hotels have always done a fantastic job at providing convenient, upscale and delicious eats for their guests, and have now been tasked with elevating the over-all ambiance to complete the delightful experience. With Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach among several other hospitality brands who have successfully catered to this new audience, the demands set upon hotels is not an impossible feat, but a challenge that is bringing about an even greater food and beverage experience for all.

Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach boasts panoramic views of the seven-mile stretch of Fort Lauderdale Beach or the Intracoastal Waterway and is just minutes away from Las Olas Arts & Entertainment District. Offering the perfect location for beach-goers and easy access to premiere nightlife via a quick drive or water taxi ride, the hotel illustrates how a property can flourish despite having fierce competition from top-notch restaurants just steps away. With sweeping renovations, the addition of Steelpan is just the beginning as the hotel continues to provide guests the experience they have come to know and love, while elevating the overall stay with a brand new lobby, updated pool and patio area and a guestroom refresh.

Mr. Fernandez Eduardo Fernandez is a seasoned hospitality industry professional with more than 30 years of diverse hospitality experience. Mr. Fernandez spent two years serving as general manager of B Ocean Fort Lauderdale, where he played a key role in the successful turnaround of B Hotels & Resorts' flagship hotel. Upon the 2014 sale of B Ocean, he was retained as general manager, and has since helped seamlessly transition the property into a successful new addition to the Sonesta Hotel & Resorts portfolio. As general manager, Mr. Fernandez maintains the operations of the property, featuring 240 guestrooms boasting panoramic views of Fort Lauderdale Beach or the Intracoastal Waterway. Opening in early 2019, he also supports Steelpan, the hotel's Caribbean-American fusion ocean-front restaurant. Eduardo Fernandez can be contacted at EFernandez@sonesta.com Extended Biography

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