How to create revenue with grab-and-go food-and-beverage

Knowing your market is an essential step to creating revenue from a grab-and-go operation, according to Rich Garcia, VP of culinary for Crescent Hotels & Resorts.

The opportunity for guests or even locals to grab a meal or snack and be on their way is an obvious benefit to those who partake, but let’s face it: a hotel’s aim is to make money. This goal is complicated by the fact that packaged food is out and fresh is in. So how do hotels make grab-and-go operations revenue generators?

At Crescent Hotels & Resorts’ properties, communication is key.

“First and foremost, and even before you start writing menus and before you start costing things out, make sure that your marketing plan is in place,” said Rich Garcia, VP of culinary for Crescent Hotels & Resorts, a third-party hotel operator. “How are you going to let the guests know that this is handmade out of your kitchen?”

When properties that are struggling to make grab-and-go work bring up the issue with him, Garcia said the first question he asks is about their marketing plan.

“Do you guests know that you make [the food] in house?” he said. “Do your guests know it’s not a gas station/convenience store product?”

Nine times out of 10, their answer is no, he said.

The key to financial success is to maximize traffic to offer what guests are looking for, according to Peter Schreurs, director of food and beverage at the Royal Sonesta Houston, whose hotel operates a grab-and-go outlet called Launch.

“We proactively work very closely with our meeting planners to explore opportunities to drive business into Launch when they aren’t planning a full lunch within the meeting,” he said. “We target local business buildings to promote Launch and on a more subtle level, the placement of products within Launch isn’t always coincidental. Moreover, Launch is set up efficiently for one barista to serve guests in quick succession, which helps limit the labor cost.

Another important element in making a grab-and-go operation a revenue generator is understanding what a guest is going to be doing with the food and portion appropriately, according to Garcia. One example is to offer a 6-inch Italian hoagie sandwich instead of a 12-inch version.

“If they’re getting grab-and-go, they’re doing it because they’re on the run. This isn’t a sit-down meal,” he said. “The guest can eat it fairly quickly without having to worry about, ‘What am I going to do with this? Where am I going to throw it away?’”

The Hotel Irvine in Irvine, Calif., offers Marketplace, a 24-hour grab-and-go outlet that completed 220,000 transactions in 2016. Because about 50 percent of Marketplace’s business is from the local community (it’s in a neighborhood with nearly 15 large apartment complexes and next door to five office towers with 5,000 employees), GM Jeroen Quint said success hinges on the fact that there’s always something happening.

“We actively draw the community in,” he said. On Wednesdays, we have a farmers market. They buy their fresh vegetables and fruits and they tag on a couple of other things [while they are here]. It’s about the experience.”

The other six days various local vendors set up a stand and offer tastings, which is a draw for guests and locals, and the hotel sends out text promotions that increase traffic and sales.

Marketplace offers everything from carryout pizza, ribs, macaroni and cheese, ribs, salads, sandwiches and sushi to staples like chips (30 different kinds), candy bars (50 different types), protein bars and more, including 40 different beers at supermarket pricing. The hotel even offers a loyalty program (buy nine coffees, the 10th is free).

Hotels amp up experience with specialty coffees

It doesn’t matter if a hotel’s guests lean toward business travelers or leisure guests—coffee is expected. And while it’s important to offer a good black cup of java (cream and sugar available, of course), more and more hotels are providing specialty options as well.

Hotel Irvine serves high-end coffee in two ways: There’s a coffee maker in each room as well as coffee for sale in the Marketplace. Offerings include espresso, Frappuccino and other specialty versions, as well as iced and flavored options. The Marketplace sells 1,263 cups of coffee per week, and Quint said grab-and-go customers are fueling that number.

“Hotels that have these stainless steel big containers and very fancy coffee service that you need to sit down for and enjoy for half an hour sitting at a table, I think that's going away,” Quint said. “It's a lot more focused on having a fun, creative coffee on the go versus true coffee service with 12 different sugars and French press.”

Launch at the Royal Sonesta Houston is a coffee-centric grab-and-go outlet that features salads, sandwiches, packaged snacks and more.

At hotels managed by Crescent Hotels & Resorts, coffee offerings vary by brand, according to Garcia. Some choose to have a branded Starbucks on location, but others have found that having only one coffee vendor doesn’t work for them.

“We work with some of our coffee vendors to help us create concepts that will resonate with people,” he said. “We’re [also] really focusing on how we can make sure that this grab-and-go is profitable. When it comes to coffee, most of the time we are leveraging what's already in house so that the property also doesn't have to carry additional inventories.

“Where we have the space, we'll make sure that we have an espresso machine, coffee machine, and in some of our higher-end outlets, we're now starting to discuss with our coffee vendors some of the newest trends.”

While the type of coffee is the most important factor in drink selection, it’s not the only one, according to Quint.

“The traveler nowadays, especially in these independent places, they're also interested to know where it's coming from, and if it's sustainable,” he said. “I think there's more awareness now of making sure that we have sustainable products and sustainable coffee. It might not be the deciding factor, but people feel better when they know it's sourced appropriately.”

Ease of use, variety among grab-and-go trends

Unlike a number of other hotel departments, the food-and-beverage department spends a considerable amount of time deciphering what the current and upcoming trends are. According to Schreurs, some of the big trends he’s seeing pertain to coffee.

“Much like the trend toward microbreweries in the world of beer, there is a growing curiosity for small batch, artisanal coffee,” he said. “Specifically to coffee, we are seeing a growing movement toward cold brew.”

Hotel Irvine also is seeing coffee trends heat up, specifically nitro-brewed coffee.

“We have two tap systems in Marketplace, and we also have it in our banquet facilities,” according to Quint. “I think nitro brew is really a great trend right now. We started that about two months ago, and people just love it. It's a little bit more caffeinated, but it has a very specific flavor. It's high end and it's iced. In summertime, it's fantastic.”

The 24-hour grab-and-go Marketplace at Hotel Irvine in Irvine, Calif., stocks more than 2,000 items.

At the Royal Sonesta Boston, coffee trends include orders made in advance via telephone, different recipes by season and, like the Houston Sonesta, cold-brew coffee, according to GM Michael Medeiros. In terms of food, offering unique local items, including gluten-free items and organic fruits, is trending at the Boston hotel.

The big trend that Garcia is seeing relates to tying the grab-and-go experience in with the restaurant experience in a way that keeps the property’s name in front of guests.

“For example, if we have a very successful outlet with a signature dish that has a signature sauce,” he said. “One of the things we’ve been working on with some of our properties is taking some of those products from the kitchen and bottling them into retail offerings. Guests can take a piece of that [experience] home with them, and it’s almost an extension of the marketing plan.

“It’s developing products that people can bring home and have a continuous reminder of the hotel they stayed at.”

According to Mark Sherwin, EVP operations for Sonesta, one trend on the horizon is the ability to order and pay through mobile devices without needing to visit the register.