Satisfying guests at mealtime no simple task for hotels

Hotel restaurants are working hard to become guests' first choice for dining. Photo credit: Getty Images/DGLimages

The need for sustenance is universal, and while there are overall trends that sweep through the food-and-beverage world, the specifics of what each diner is looking for are very individual. Hotels are doing their best to be guests’ first choice when it’s mealtime, but that often requires a fair amount of trial and error.

To find out what the newest generation of hoteliers is seeking in a hotel dining experience, we asked members of our Thirty Under 30 class what they like to see in hotel F&B personally and what they see happening in their own hotels.

Defined Identity

Katherine Kies, corporate director of F&B, PM Hotel Group: I think we all expect a lot more from hotel F&B than ever before. Hotel F&B needs to meet and exceed the offerings in the local market because the consumer has greater access than ever before to anything they want in the market—they have greater access to the best spots through social media and blogs and greater access to transportation through ride sharing. The F&B in the outlets of a hotel should have a defined identity with a thoughtful offering in a space that is engaging for working, eating and socializing. The F&B offering and presentation in a hotel needs to match the personality of the hotel in quality and creativity and needs to be relevant and locally inspired. Hotel F&B is no longer all things to all people; they need to know who they are and execute on it flawlessly. 

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Responsible Sourcing

Jacob Verstegen, executive chef, LondonHouse Chicago, Curio Collection by Hilton: My expectation of F&B in hotels is that a hotel will use its purchasing power responsibly and source from sustainable vendors. Hotels have a platform to set trends in the industry and with the incredible amount of influence we have over product coming into our cities, we have to use it to make a positive impact on the environment. When I see a hotel’s food program making an effort on not only creating food but bringing in product they can stand behind, I can make an assumption that it’s going to be a great experience.

Experiential Expectations

Greg Prescott, director of new business and talent development, Columbia Hospitality: A restaurant should be able to stand alone on its own two feet and have an experience all its own, despite its proximity to the hotel. To me, there is not much of a draw to a sterile hotel bar and restaurant that shares the look and feel of the hotel lobby. I want to experience flavors from the region, authentic cultural dishes, craft cocktails and local drafts. Alternatively, a hotel must offer conveniences to their guests. Long gone are the days of minibars or snacks teetering on expiration dates. Instead, a grab-and-go concept adjacent to the front desk allows for more robust options and overlapping labor dollars to absorb the amenity. 

Concept Restaurants

Sam Schwartz, development director, First Hospitality Group: An increasing number of hotels across the chain scale have caught on that guests value having access to concept restaurants frequented by locals. Our perspective is that executing on these types of restaurants involves a different skill set and attitude than operating typical hotel F&B, and therefore we increasingly look for dedicated restaurant operators to manage the concepted outlets in our hotels. At properties where this is the case, the hotel management team is now expected to work collaboratively alongside their F&B counterparts as peers for the success of both operations, whereas 10 years ago a comparable F&B outlet might have been overseen by the hotel team. 

Friendly Service

Tricia Wieser, senior manager of food & beverage operations, Marriott Irvine (Calif.) Spectrum: If I am in a new city for 24 hours or less, I want to be able to experience something that the city is known for while still being at the hotel. For instance, if I am in New York for a short amount of time, I would love to be able to experience a good New York bagel or pizza at the hotel. However, if I am in a city for an extended amount time, sometimes all I want is a little taste of home, whether that is something as simple as a burger or yogurt and granola. No matter how long I am gone traveling, I expect the hotel restaurants to truly make me feel like they are just as excited as I am to be there. Nothing makes someone feel more welcome while being away from home than someone who feels more like a friend than a server or a team member. 

Inspired Offerings

Joseph Heck, director of people support, HHM: Whether it be across HHM restaurants and bars or in my own personal travel, the dining experience is evolving from coast to coast. Today’s traveler is looking for a local and creative approach to dining and even ‘Instagrammable’ moments. People want to share their experience with friends and on social media. Hotels are now being challenged more than ever to offer inspired dishes and cocktails. 

Local Specialties

Dan Heagney, GM, Found Hotel - Chicago River North: With a hotel food-and-beverage operation, I’m looking for a jumping-off point to my exploration of the city. Give me something to look forward to when I head out on the town. What is the local drink everyone MUST have (Malört in Chicago, for example) or a dish that the city is known for? Have these things available with the hotel twist, but also give me a menu full of other ideas that I know I need to try in my venture around town. Service is also important, but the servers should be excited and knowledgeable about the local flair, too. 

Profit Margins

Sean Kreiman, manager, CHMWarnick: Speaking as an asset manager, I expect meaningful profit margins from F&B operations. Today, the focus has to be on optimizing profitability of every square foot of the operation, and owners cannot afford to maintain F&B outlets that are loss leaders, bailed out financially by banquets as was often the case in years past. Fortunately, hotel operators have made great strides, typically with help from restaurant and design experts, to develop relevant concepts that blur the lines between hotel restaurants and destination dining experiences through use of space design, concepting, smart cocktails, local ingredients and chef-driven menus with large amounts of Instagrammable appeal. From a cost perspective, operators and asset managers need to ensure menus are engineered with a purpose, to drive efficiency in steps of service (or kitchen touches) and ensure expensive ingredients selected are impactful to dishes that highlight them and are used appropriately in other menu items. Talented executives in this department are the key to achieving the owner’s objectives while elevating the guest experience.

Thirty Under 30: Hotel Management Young Professionals, or HMYP, is designed specifically for hospitality professionals within the first decade of their careers. And during the year, we go back to our Thirty Under 30 class for their takes on what’s going on in hospitality.  

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