Food and beverage at hotels has changed dramatically since the onset of COVID-19. But as the world emerges from the pandemic, challenges for F&B operations still remain. Labor shortage issues, supply chain struggles, and the staggering rise in operating costs—especially for food—are just a few of the top concerns. That means once again, hotel F&B is evolving. Here’s a look at the current challenges and opportunities for the industry.
Corporate director of F&B
Hay Creek Hotels & Restaurants
Kate Holt, corporate director of F&B, Hay Creek Hotels & Restaurants, said labor shortages, supply chain issues and rising costs have resulted in “shorter operating hours, reduced menu offerings and a rise in pricing.”
Additionally, she said this has led to a massive refocus on work-life balance as well as 10 to 17 percent pay increases for F&B workers across the industry. “It is hard to find employees who are willing to work the 50+ hours that was the industry standard prior to the pandemic,” she added. “Hay Creek has acknowledged these changes in our industry and have adjusted our staffing guides and schedules to accommodate this shift in staff expectations. Flexibility is the key to success in staffing going forward.”
And while the term “new normal” has been used ad nauseam, “there really is no other way to describe the future of F&B,” Holt said. “We aren’t going back to anything that was standard prior to the pandemic, and this new normal will continue to evolve as we move forward and find innovative ways to service our customers.”
She said the F&B experience is shifting to smaller menu offerings, reduced hours of operation and fewer service steps between customer and staff. That includes the traditional roomservice experience. “Many hotels have completely bid farewell to roomservice or have modified it into a version of to-go roomservice. This looks something like using to-go containers instead of real china to eliminate a second trip for staff to retrieve the food trays,” Holt said. “There is a big opportunity to innovate the to-go dining experience as this is not going away. Even the high-end restaurants will continue to produce some version of takeout.”
VP of F&B
Forget going back to normal. Getting to the “new normal” is a struggle in itself, according to Michael Rosen, vice president of food & beverage at OTO Development. “Operations are still struggling to get to the ‘new normal’ due to staffing challenges amid the current job market where there are two available positions for every one person looking,” he said. “However, our industry has always contended with ebbs and flows, and come through some major challenges—after 9/11, for example, and the market crash of 2008. Ideally, F&B bounces back with the same vigor it has in the past; time will tell.”
But F&B outposts in hotels are still trying to attract talent post-COVID-layoff frenzies. “A lot of the affected line-level employees became part of the ‘gig’ economy—Uber, Doordash and InstaCart, for example—and they’ve yet to return,” Rosen said. “On a positive note, because technology has had to evolve so rapidly, this is the first time some restaurant owners have been able to attract revenue outside of their own four walls.”
And finding that incremental revenue outside the F&B venue is crucial for survival, Rosen said: “I expect we will see a large expansion of vetted virtual kitchens among the major brands.”
But first, the biggest hurdle to jump is attracting talent. “Young hoteliers are looking for work-life balance. In the past, our 24/7 industry has struggled to retain these entry-level positions. No longer can an F&B operation just be ‘competitive’ to attract top-tiered talent. Hotels have the opportunity to become compensation leaders in their comp set by offering innovative benefits and perks,” Rosen said. “Daily pay will become the norm as we try to compete with the gig economy.”
VP of restaurants, bars & events
Hyatt Hotels Corp., Americas
When it comes to the biggest opportunity in hotel F&B, Frank Giacomini, VP of restaurants, bars & events, Hyatt Hotels Corp., Americas, said it’s all about delivering valuable dining experiences. In the luxury space, for example, he said there are opportunities to reimagine the dining experience with fully customizable and personalized options for large and small parties. With “In Residence at Park Hyatt New York,” for example, a party of up to 12 can reserve the entire 19th floor, which includes nine guestrooms and five suites, plus private dining options. At Andaz Maui at Wailea (Hawaii) Resort, pool cabanas can be reserved for a private experience.
Giacomini said today’s guests value in-room dining more than ever, and that means it’s time for hotels to lean in and rethink their spaces. “We replaced coffee-height tables with tea-height tables across various properties so guests can both work and eat comfortably. We are also placing a focus on the design of in-room dining experiences for newer properties like Thompson Dallas and renovated public spaces and rooms at Park Hyatt Chicago and Park Hyatt Toronto, where we’ve added designated work areas and separate dining spaces in suites to give guests the most comfort while working and traveling remotely,” he said.
- Beyond those shifts, Giacomini pointed to several other ways hotel F&B will continue to evolve:
- Collaborations with high-profile chefs who lead menu designs and kitchens
- Open-air dining
- Growing demand for zero-proof and low-alcohol-by-volume beverages
- Technology, such as mobile-order capabilities
“The fundamentals of food and beverage success in the industry and at Hyatt remain the same—creating inviting spaces designed for ambience and connection; memorable, meaningful dishes; and thoughtful, personalized service,” Giacomini said. “Flexibility is still key when it comes to evolving menus, and the common theme is prioritization of consistent product, quality and variety over familiarity.”