Can you taste it? Yeah you can. Because we know if you’ve been to a hotel or on a cruise lately, or if work in a hotel, you’re witnessing a seminal shift in the quality of food and beverage being offered in properties around the country.
“People are looking for what they want when they want it. You have to give today’s customers flexibility,” said Mark Southern, Director, Product Innovation - F&B Focused Service Brands, with Hilton Worldwide. “Shifting consumer dining habits is keeping everyone on their toes. You can’t keep having the same old stuff.”
Fresher foods, higher quality ingredients and better choices reflecting emerging consumer lifestyles is forever altering the way consumers envision hotel food and what hotels are serving. So say goodbye to boring frozen burgers and wilted salads in favor of options guests want to bite into. And that means lots more choices, right sized portions and more localized flavors.
At this week’s BITAC Food & Beverage East taking place at the luxurious El Conquistador Resort in Puerto Rico, attendees were seeking out the most critical F&B trends. BITAC is of course the industry’s preeminent idea exchange and at this sold out event attendees not only got a chance to network with top industry F&B decision makers, but also get the inside track on what is really happening in the hotel business.
So how are savvy hoteliers getting more people than ever before to stay within the hotel to eat and drink at times they never did before? According to Don Falgoust, VP of F&B with FelCor Lodging Trust you have got to make the hotel environment a place they want to hang out in if you even want a chance to get additional business.
“Hotel guests typically don’t eat in the hotel; they want to leave. We try to change that habit by making our spaces a gathering place. I think we have been quite successful in doing that and in also creating something where the locals will come to us,” said Falgoust.
And for many that means more selections that have fresher, healthier ingredients quaffed down with a side of craft brew or a wine from a local vintner.
In an attendee poll taken during this morning’s session utilizing a real time voting system, we uncovered some major industry trends from our sold out crowd. And the executives in the audience say they’re seeing guests looking to try new foods. When asked how open are hotel guests to trying new types of food?,” an unbelievable 82.7 percent said hotel guests are extremely open or somewhat open to trying new menu items. Just 13.3 percent said they’re sticking to what they know while 4 percent said guests still eat the basics like burgers and salads.
“People are most definitely up for some experimentation, but be careful. If you go too far out there, it turns people off. There are still a lot of people who don’t want to go outside their comfort zone,” said Gary Bennett, Senior Director of Business Development with Choice Hotels International.
But even if you are offering a hamburger or steak there are ways to better meet guests’ expectations. That means keeping fresh like they do on board the ships at Royal Caribbean Cruises.
“Everything on the ship is made from scratch from fresh ingredients. We cut our own meats in a butcher shop on board and we have bakeries running 24/7 where everything is made from scratch.
The way customers want to dine has changed too. As you have probably guessed right now, formal is out and laid back is most definitely the way people want to cocktail and eat.
“Dining has gotten a lot more casual, no stuffy atmospheres. In our hotels we’re creating more casual experiences with a focus on friendly service and great food. And it has to be cooked to order. Cooking food and storing it under a heat lamp doesn’t work anymore,” said FelCor’s Falgoust.
Changes don’t have to be that difficult to make either. At Choice it’s all about whole fresh fruits at their complimentary breakfast. “We have eliminated [canned] fruit salad and only do fresh fruit. We also have added a second flavor of waffles which has raised guest satisfaction scores,” said Bennett.
Another surefire way to make guests happy is by offering a deeper selection of choices in beer and wine. This time the microbrew trend is here to stay unlike the last go around in the late 1990s. And hoteliers said they’re making changes to meet consumer demands.
When asked if the hotel’s executives work with are expanding their beer selections, 31.4 percent said they are considerably expanding their microbrew programs while 46.3 percent said they are adding a few choices. Just 12.4 percent said they are keeping things the same while 9.9 percent haven’t yet realized the trend is happening.
“We are recognizing this trend and we want to reflect regional microbrews. No matter where are customers are [on the open sea] they can get what they want,” said Ghai.