Hotel food & beverage services have transitioned from being a mere amenity to destination drivers in the travel industry. Industry leaders said the future of F&B looks bright, and maybe technology is helping to provide a guiding light.
Food and beverage at hotels has shifted from being merely an added amenity to a competitive force in the culinary world, according to Bob Habeeb, CEO of Maverick Hotels & Restaurants.
Habeeb underscored how hotels’ culinary offerings have garnered recognition, carving out a significant niche in the hospitality industry. “Hotel restaurants have gained respect as credible quality restaurants,” he said, spotlighting the remarkable growth in beverage sales and the rise of rooftop bars as the most dramatic changes in recent times.
Nevertheless, the industry faces numerous challenges. Habeeb identified labor as the primary issue. Though staffing shortages have abated since the post-pandemic crisis, finding quality team members and dealing with high turnover rates remain ongoing challenges.
Despite these hurdles, Habeeb sees substantial opportunity for reinvention in the sector. “We have been given wide latitude to change our business model for the new world,” he said. “Consumers are accepting of things that just a few years ago were off the table. If we are smart, we will use this transition to reinvent parts of our business that, frankly, needed some rethinking.”
This reinvention could take many forms, including technology. The CEO confirmed that plans are underway to expand the use of apps and self-service kiosks in Maverick’s F&B services.
“While that human touch will always be the hallmark of our industry, the efficiencies that technology can bring present tremendous opportunity to improve guest experiences,” Habeeb said. He believes that technology, including artificial intelligence, could potentially enhance the dining experience, eliminating frustrations like waiting to pay a restaurant bill and even personalizing menus based on customer preferences.
“Hotel F&B will continue to evolve to meet market demands in many ways that we probably cannot yet conceive,” he said.
Anthony Langan, VP of food & beverage at Charlestowne Hotels, pointed to the shift from traditional dining to casual and experiential offerings as a main way hotel F&B has evolved. That means the status quo is not an option.
“Today’s travelers seek authenticity, and we’re seeing a demand for locally sourced ingredients, menus reflecting regional cuisine, and more collaborative efforts with local food artisans and farmers,” Langan said.
But there’s an opportunity to expand that authentic experience beyond the hotel restaurant. A re-imagination of traditional room service presents a huge opportunity, according to Langan. “Imagine gourmet picnic hampers for outdoor excursions, custom cocktail kits delivered or even personalized in-room cooking experiences with our chefs,” he said.
Technology, particularly behind-the-scenes technology that enhances personal interactions, is another area of opportunity for F&B. “We’re focused on expanding technology in our operations, but particularly technology that exists behind-the-scenes to augment, not replace, the personal interactions that make F&B experiences special,” Langan said. He points to technology that can help the team understand guest habits and patterns. That actionable data can create opportunities for teams to offer personalized suggestions and experiences that anticipate their needs before guests can even ask.
Langan said that the future of hotel F&B will be defined by these hyper-personalized experiences, facilitated by data analytics and AI. “This could range from personalized menu suggestions based on a guest’s dietary requirements or flavor preferences, all the way to personalized dining experiences where the chef creates a one-of-a-kind meal based on the guest’s mood, health goals or culinary curiosity,” he said.
Hotel restaurants have morphed from being mere amenities to destinations in their own right, according to Christopher Hunsberger, co-founder and CEO of Appellation, a culinary-focused hotel brand set to open its first hotel next year. At Appellation hotels, for example, lobbies feel more like a residential entertaining space than registration area. There are no boundaries between where the lobby ends and the restaurant begins.
“We ‘make the invisible visible’ by bringing culinary prep stations out from the back of the house into the public space so that guests can interact with our culinary team all throughout the day,” Hunsberger said. “We’ve also designed demonstration kitchens into our event spaces. Food and beverage aren’t just part of our guest experience; they are the experience.”
He believes the biggest opportunity for F&B lies in becoming an integral part of the local community. In fact, leadership at Appellation sees hotels as an amenity for their surrounding region. This strategy is executed through Crafted at Appellation, a learning program open to the public that features local artisans, purveyors and other talent to lead more than 50 classes a year.
While Hunsberger acknowledges the importance of technology in F&B operations, he stresses the irreplaceable value of human interaction. The team designed the brand’s tech stack to make the guest journey as frictionless as possible by providing an intuitive and user-friendly app. This helps the team provide a personalized experience. For instance, someone who enjoyed a bottle of wine at the hotel rooftop bar may receive a special invitation to an exclusive wine blending class the next time they visit Appellation’s website.
“The definition of luxury is changing, and fine dining is no longer about white linens and opulence. Diners are looking for high-quality, fresh ingredients and most importantly, connection over a meal,” Hunsberger said.