The Hospitality Industry's Response to The Ongoing Challenges in F&B
By Richard Garcia Senior Vice President of F&B, Remington Hotels | December 2022
Almost every aspect of hotel F&B operations was disrupted during the height of the pandemic.
As restrictions were lifted and these spaces were slowly able to host guests at a higher capacity again, hoteliers had to navigate the challenges that followed, including new COVID protocols like mask mandates and heightened sanitation guidelines.
Today, as we emerge from the dark days of the pandemic, the hotel F&B industry is facing these same considerations coupled with seemingly endless challenges like supply chain issues and staffing shortages. Luckily, hoteliers are moving forward with optimism and new solutions, bringing the lessons learned from the challenges they faced and integrating them into their current, day-to-day operations.
Navigating Staffing Issues in the Food & Beverage Space
When the pandemic hit, many hotel workers took the opportunity to find a new job in other industries, and when the world began opening up again, restaurants found themselves short-staffed. Not only that, but many of those left were overworked and burned out. To make up for the staff shortage, the industry had to figure out solutions without sacrificing service, quality of food, and overall guest experience.
One solution hoteliers have turned to is automation and robotic solutions to help conquer labor shortages and enhance food safety. Robots can help prepare and even serve food. With a sharp focus on food safety since the beginning of the pandemic, robots remove the need for human touch and cross-contamination. While robots cannot account for all variables like guests who require a gluten-free preparation or request extra salt, they can help with the overall efficiency when serving and preparing food.
Another solution that has been successful for hoteliers is the implementation of "on-demand" apps, which allow cooks, waiters, and/or bartenders to see which restaurant or bar is in need of help each night, giving them ad-hoc access to jobs. Through these apps, they are also given an option of when they would like to be paid, e.g. at the end of the shift or at the end of the week. Many people who are searching for more flexibility in their professional lives find this avenue helpful.
Additionally, the hospitality industry as a whole must increase wages and examine new payment methods to make them competitive and help bring in workers. For example, approximately 80 percent of guests tip by credit card, which means restaurant workers are not being paid out in an efficient manner and are waiting days and even weeks for the tips that they once were able to bring home daily.
The staff shortage has forced hoteliers to shift their hiring strategies. Hoteliers at branded, full-service hotels are leaning on people who have more leadership experience, especially those who are familiar with managing a large team with a set menu, like those who come from the chain restaurant world. Because many branded hotels offer similar menu options across the country, the need for people who have prowess when it comes to analyzing reports and budgets is becoming increasingly vital to maintain the hotel F&B ecosystem. That being said, the endless creativity that classically trained chefs have will always be a mainstay for upscale and boutique hotels that require seasonal and curated menus.
Hilton Boston Back Bay's on-site restaurant, Forty Dalton, serves up Fresh Fig & Burrata salad with Balsamic drizzle.
Updating Food & Beverage Programing
Given the lack of readily available staff and the ever-present need for F&B programs to uphold quality service and guest expectations, hotels need to adapt their current programming. One way to do this is to look for food prep vendors who offer sous vide solutions such as Cuisine Solutions, which alleviates some of the pressures on hotel management instigated by the pandemic including labor pressure and food inflation costs. Having pre-prepped, quality-assured solutions allows managers to free up staff for other tasks in the kitchen and in the dining room.
Sous viding is an efficient way to cook quality food without extraneous steps or procedures involved, a monumental step forward for understaffed F&B hotel teams. Any chef, with proper training, will find that sous vide is a quick, efficient way to cook quality food. Another great aspect of the sous vide process is that it reduces waste, something that is increasingly on the minds of food leaders. Because of the innovative packaging methods, these meals help save waste by 20 - 30 percent. Chefs are also able to save 15 - 20 percent of the foods' natural juices, so there's no need to buy excess products to enhance the meal during the cooking process. Not only that, but these programs also help alleviate many of the disruptions in the global supply chain. By having the ability to keep a finger on the pulse of seasonal offerings around the world, sous vide suppliers have been able to reduce costs and transfer those savings to hoteliers.
Sous vide solutions allow managers to free up staff for other tasks in the kitchen and in the dining room.
Recent Trends in Food & Beverage
As hoteliers navigate the changes brought on by COVID, they also must focus on shifted guest expectations. For example, there has been an increased focus on health and wellness over the past several years, resulting in the desire for a larger offering of plant-based meals. It's important that plant-based meals are fully integrated into menus, aren't seen as an afterthought, and are accessible to those of all lifestyles. For example, my team has developed a vegan bolognese dish that is featured on menus across the country.
Normally, a vegan version of a traditionally non-vegan meal is considered appeasement to plant-based eaters, but I love that our team put a lot of care into making the meal truly delicious for all lifestyles. In fact, we don't offer a traditional meat-based bolognese because of how delicious our plant-based version is. Having a solid plant-based program in place also tends to make the kitchen easier to manage. Because plant-based meals are free from a lot of allergens, fewer of them are brought into the kitchen, making prep work easier due to the lack of cross-contamination with other allergens.
Another major shift is a desire for a more elevated cocktail experience. After months of staying at home, many people learned how to recreate and even perfect their favorite cocktails. Because of this, hotel and bar guests now have heightened cocktail expectations; they are looking for a more memorable and elevated experience when visiting a bar. In order to cater to these needs, hoteliers can create new beverage programs that focus on bartenders' curation of time-honored classics like the old-fashioned, martinis, and cosmopolitans.
For guests, experiential vacations are more important than ever. Domestic travel is more popular now than it has been for decades. In order to capitalize on this, hotels should rise to the occasion and commit to providing guests an elegant, experiential stay that would rival an extravagant experience elsewhere.
Remington Hotel's vegan bolognese dish, which is featured on its menus across the country.
How F&B is Integrating Heightened Sanitation Standards
Today, many guests are paying closer attention to sanitation and cleanliness than ever before. While the food and beverage space has always been held to a high sanitation standard, many guests are interested in having the curtain pulled back a bit to ensure that is the case. As a result, hoteliers should ensure there are sanitation stations at the front of the house, and be more open about their cleaning practices. Some hotels are even implementing "clean teams" at larger properties where guests can be visually assured that everything is being cleaned properly.
Behind the scenes in the kitchen, it's all about communication when it comes to sanitation standards. Hoteliers must hold chefs, servers, and all other F&B personnel accountable when it comes to their own health. It's more important than ever that if a staff member is sick, they don't come to work. This allows hoteliers to do their part in not passing on pathogens and viruses to others.
After nearly two years of mandates and protocols, food and beverage spaces within hotels are entering this new phase of operations. Today, their focus remains on providing quality service and offerings while keeping guest safety top of mind. From new hiring strategies, food and beverage programming, and sanitation standards, hoteliers are looking for innovative solutions to navigate the ongoing challenges from COVID and beyond.
Main Image: In the kitchen, food is prepared with gloves to keep guests safe.
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