Reshaping hotels' F&B offerings

Like any industry, the ebbs and flows of economies, consumer preferences and trends dictate how and when change occurs. The hospitality sector is no different. 

If we look back a few decades, the experience of travel was more focused on the destination itself rather than any experience you would have in the hotel. While there was a wide variety of standard hotel chains that promised a clean and comfortable night’s stay, none offered the luxuries and experiences we’re seeing today.

At that time, hoteliers focused their investments and efforts on the room side of the business since that was the perceived draw for guests—and the greatest return on investment—while food and beverage offerings generally remained lower on the priority list. Hotel owners and managers were typically content with a mediocre restaurant that covered the rent and provided three meals a day plus room service to satisfy brand standard requirements. 

Fast forward to the early 2000s, and we saw traveler preferences start to become more sophisticated and guests visiting hotels expected more from their stay. Several progressive hotel real estate investment trusts were the first to recognize this shift in consumer behavior and started to curate epicurean food and beverage options to incorporate into their service offering. This smart strategy served as an additive to both rate and occupancy, and quickly started to be recognized and adapted across the industry. 

Several lifestyle brand hotels, such as the Marriott International’s Edition Hotels and Moxy Hotels, quickly followed suit and determined that offering bespoke food and beverage options could be revolutionary. They swiftly pivoted their overall philosophy and operations to include more upscale, curated dining experiences.

It was a watershed moment. From that point forward, we saw the hotel industry reshape its value proposition away from simply providing reliable lodging to making the hotel stay part of the destination experience.  

But what caused this shift in traveler preferences that continues shape the industry today?

Pop Culture

Few things are more influential than pop culture, and The Food Network played a key role in the initial shift of this changing consumer behavior. The network started featuring world-renowned chefs, thrusting them into a spotlight like never before and providing them with a platform for the general population to know them and their world-class culinary skills. 

Artisan chef-driven concepts began to gain market share. When it came to visiting cities, people wanted to try new and exciting food concepts, not the usual chain restaurants they could have in their hometown. So, what did progressive-thinking hotel owners do to address that? They started bringing the culinary experiences travelers were looking for, right into the hotel where they were staying. 

The Competition to Differentiate 

In the past, key features for hoteliers to differentiate themselves from the competition was through competitive pricing, points programs, location and service. But with the mass consolidation of brands that took place over the past two decades, differentiation from one hotel to the next became even more challenging. 

Given the challenges to stand out from the competition in a melting pot of an industry, the solution to differentiation is found in the evolving preferences of travelers. Incorporate interesting food concepts into your service experience and the people will come—and they did.

Curated culinary experiences across the U.S.

Pre-COVID, chef-driven food and beverage concepts in hotels started to gain measurable traction but when the pandemic took hold of the travel and hospitality industry, everything came to a screeching halt. Today, with industries opening back up and people starting to travel again, the hospitality world is building positive momentum. 

In fact, Cushman & Wakefield’s Specialty Food & Beverage, Entertainment and Hospitality Consulting practice recently inked several noteworthy deals for independent restaurant offerings in hotels across the United States. 

The Charleston Historic District Hotel recently partnered with Chef Vivian Howard, which resulted in Handy and Hot, a coffee house, and Lenoir, a southern dining concept, both of which have been thriving for more than a year.

In Boston, Blue Ribbon Restaurant Group is slated to open three concepts in Kenmore Square surrounding the historic Hotel Commonwealth later this year.  

In Nashville, the W Hotel welcomed James Beard Award winner Chef Andrew Carmellini to open two major restaurant concepts—The Dutch’s, a modern American menu modeled after Carmelini’s original location in New York, and Carne Mare, which is among the most sought-after chef-driven concepts throughout the United States. 

Hotel owners can continue tapping into these trends by:

  • Evaluating existing food and beverage operations and considering unused public spaces, such as the rooftop, laundry rooms, and empty lobby spaces as potential opportunities to introduce new concepts. 
  • Understanding that elevated food and beverage offerings does not always mean white tablecloths and an expensive wine cellar. Chef-driven, bespoke, artisanal concepts are often the big winners. 

When curated correctly, interesting food and beverage concepts not only generate significant new income opportunities, but, more importantly, help drive rates and occupancy and positively impact the revenue per available room index. Establishing differentiation through well-conceived food and beverage experiences is incredibly powerful—and a “trend” that is here to stay.

Trip Schneck is an executive managing director at Cushman & Wakfefield.