Are hotel guests bringing more food along with them on their travels? Some hotel operators seem to think so. Kyle Highberg, GM of the Residence Inn by Marriott Omaha Downtown, said travelers who are more health conscious are packing food and shopping at grocery stores rather than defaulting to on-property F&B options.
“Unlike in the 2000s, where having a refrigerator was a nice amenity or even a luxury in certain properties, they are a necessity now,” Highberg said. “If you don’t have one now, it can be a detractor, and at extended-stay [properties], guests need the freedom to store what they want.”
Jayne Barrett, GM of the DoubleTree Suites Boston, said the trend relies heavily on the mode of transportation used by the guest. If a guest is driving to the property they are almost always bringing food with them, but if they are flying, they are limited by what is allowed onboard an airline. Most liquids will often not be allowed on a plane, while food that needs to be cooled won’t make the trip without a cooler.
Majed Dawood-Farah, F&B director at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, said that, on average, the majority of guests bringing food with them to the property are family/leisure travelers, rather than business guests. Still, having a refrigerator on hand is imperative.
“The idea is to be serviced, and so a refrigerator must be on property to handle the needs of a family,” Farah said. “Business hotels won’t see this as much, but transient and one-day stays will sometimes pack meals.”
Refrigerators can also play a medicinal role. Travelers with medication sometimes must keep it cooled and prefer it within reach, or have specific dietary needs that are best managed with food brought from home.
“Diabetic guests, or guests on gluten-free diets need to be accounted for, and their travel experience should be consistent from property to property,” said Jessica Rubalcava, GM of the Howard Johnson Inn San Diego Seaworld. “The fridges don’t always need to be large, but they should be there.”
Refrigeration tips for maintenance and sanitation
Guests are paying more attention to the guestroom refrigerators, and so should hotels. That means more and closer inspections by housekeeping and, in some properties, engineering.
“Obviously we all want to say we’ve been taking great care of our refrigerators for years, but some need a closer look than others,” said Jayne Barrett, GM of the DoubleTree Suites Boston. Barrett’s property has weekly inspections of guestroom devices and fixtures from the hotel’s engineering staff, and that includes refrigerators. “They are seeing use, so above all we’d like [the refrigerators] to work. We are doing more preventive maintenance than five years ago,” Barrett said.
This is even more important in hotels with high occupancy, as there will be little downtime for replacing broken refrigerators and few alternative rooms to shift guests to. Kyle Highberg, GM of the Residence Inn by Marriott Omaha Downtown, said ice buildup is a problem area housekeeping can watch for when cleaning refrigerator ice makers.
“It’s something to watch for, because if you have high occupancy you can’t turn the refrigerators off,” Highberg said. “People need to come in and have them ready to go. It doesn’t take much, cleaning empty ice trays and watching for buildup, but it’s easy to overlook.”
If a property is turning every stone for energy savings, Highberg said they should consider turning off the refrigerators in rooms that won’t be filled during low travel seasons, but debates whether the savings are worth being unprepared for sudden bookings.
Marketplaces stress the need for refrigeration
In the past, guests would have to venture off-property in order to buy groceries or snacks, but the rising popularity of on-property marketplaces means these services are often located near the guestroom.
“I believe the entire guestroom has been affected by the popularity of marketplaces,” said Majed Dawood-Farah, F&B director for the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. Most importantly, marketplaces now stress the need for guestroom refrigeration, as guests will be more inclined to buy marketplace products if they are able to store them for the future.
“Guests are buying drinks and food at night and keeping them for when they want to work out in the morning and have everything they need ready to go,” Farah said.
Nettie DellaPenna, GM of the TownePlace Suites in Frederick, Md., said that marketplace activity picks up at the end of a guest’s stay as their departure draws near and they don’t want to buy more groceries. DellaPenna said in order to stay effective for moments like these, the marketplace must be open 24 hours per day.
DellaPenna also said it may be best to phase out vending machines when operating a marketplace as they offer more limited options to guests, and in the long term hotels with both will be competing against themselves as they pay commission to vending machine companies. The marketplace also allows hotels to sell locally produced items, which can be attractive to guests who do not know the area and can be used to draw attention to local businesses.
As for how this affects refrigerators, Jayne Barrett, GM of the DoubleTree Suites Boston, said grab-and-go food options will beat out other food options so long as guests have a place to put unfinished food.
“If a hotel has a market, guests will take advantage of it,” Barrett said. “But if the guestroom doesn’t have a refrigerator then they won’t be able to save their food and reheat it a day or two later, which can discourage future purchases.”