Food and Beverage: Creating a Come-As-You-Are Space for Guests and Locals

By Peter Karpinski Partner, Sage Hospitality | August 03, 2014

In the years following the recession, travelers, both business and leisure, have increasingly gravitated toward more casual, "live like a local" experiences, and away from formal and elitist environments. It is important for hotel executives to consider how this trend can be applied to on-site food and beverage concepts. Creating a comfortable, come-as-you-are environment in restaurants frequented by transient customers means achieving an inviting atmosphere without trading down on quality and overall sophistication. When done correctly, a casual food & beverage concept that delivers exceptional and authentic experiences to visiting guests and locals alike can be a huge boon to hotel businesses.

Approachability Born from a Sense of Place

Our restaurants get about 80% of their business from people that live and work in the communities we are in. Given this high percentage, management can genuinely benefit from creating a restaurant with an environment that is approachable to the local community. One way we do this at Sage Restaurant Group (SRG) is by taking the time to forge strong relationships with the local farmers, ranchers, and purveyors that our restaurants source from.

For example, at Urban Farmer Steakhouse in Portland, Chef Matt Christianson has worked closely with a local farm in the past to produce specialty milk-fed chickens that were only served at the restaurant. At Mercat a la Planxa in Chicago, Executive Chef Jose Garces makes it a point to source lettuce and micro greens from Urban Till, a unique urban farm that transforms derelict urban properties into productive, vertical green spaces. The Mercat partnership is also an example of creating relationships that simultaneously serve the restaurant while supporting the community.

Beyond menu sourcing, several of our restaurants also feature the work of local artists in the design and decor. These are the types of local touch points that come together to create an environment in which diners feel good about spending their time, and money. All of these carefully curated aspects might register on a subconscious level, but definitely contribute to that sought after sense of place where diners can feel at home and at ease.

Restaurant programming is another important way to create authentic experiences that offer a comforting sense of place. At Kachina Southwestern Grill in Westminster CO, we regularly put on "Bison and Beer" dining events, which feature cuts of bison from a local ranch paired with various Colorado craft brews. At Second Home Kitchen + Bar in Denver, we offer pajama brunches every weekend, where local families and hotel guests can bring their kids and feel right at home eating pancakes and watching movies in their pajamas. When brainstorming programming ideas, it is important to always make sure the event enhances the guest experience by building on that restaurant's specific sense of place.

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.