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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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.