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Menu Makeovers

BITAC® F&B Panel Dissects Changing Needs Of Today’s Guests

Monday, January 27, 2020
Dennis Nessler
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The continuing consumer movement toward smaller plates and portion sizes, shareables, and plant-based alternatives were among the top menu trends discussed by executives at the recent BITAC® Food & Beverage.

Taking place last week at The Mirage in Las Vegas, the event featured a panel entitled “Menu Makeovers: Tradition Gives Way To Diverse Guest Needs.”

Dean Wendel, vp, food & beverage, Concord Hospitality, weighed in on the increasing popularity of smaller plates and shareable items.

“I think the small plates are a great way for the chefs to showcase some of their talent and what the kitchen can do and what their teams can do. I think it’s also what the market wants and the guest’s want. They want to be able to try a lot of different food experiences,” he said.

Wendel went on to add, “I think portion sizes have to decrease. We need to be more responsible instead of putting these large entrée items out there where so much is going to waste. I think waste is such a focal point right now for everyone.”

Roger Taylor, VP, food & beverage, TPG Companies, reinforced the point.
“The smaller plates are demanded by your customers, particularly the millennials. It’s also beneficial for your cost of goods. The days of serving an 8-ounce angus beef hamburger with four ounces of french fries and all the accoutrements that go with it are gone. You’re talking about 14 or 15 ounces of food,” he said, adding that many outlets within the TPG portfolio have cut the size of burgers down to 4 ounces.

Taylor also acknowledged the pricing adjustment that needs to take place as a result of the reduced portions. “You’ve got to draw a fine line because you’re traditionally selling entrees between 24 and 36 dollars and now you’re selling smaller plates at 11, 12, or 14 dollars. You have to be aware of how that’s going to impact your top-line revenues,” he commented.

Meanwhile, having a flexible menu that allows for regional items has become critical, according to John Vogelmeier, corporate manager, F&B operations, Great Wolf Lodge, who touted the importance of such an approach for the company and its some 17 properties.

“There are [corporate] things that what we want to do but 20 percent of the menu is local,” he said. Vogelmeier noted, for example, that while a food truck which features tacos has been a big hit in its Scottsdale, AZ property, the concept was not as well received in LaGrange, GA. The latter property eventually switched to BBQ, which he noted has been quite successful. “There is flexibility in our approach. We’re willing to listen to the properties and the market,” he said.

The panelists collectively agreed on the importance of offering plant-based items as more consumers demand them.

Taylor noted it’s particularly important for branded properties to have such an option.
“I think you have to make the offering now of a plant-based burger versus the traditional turkey burger or veggie burger. I don’t think you promote it to the extent that certain fast food chains do. You just have to have it and that’s it. I don’t think it behooves any secondary or tertiary branded property markets to really focus on it,” he said.

Vogelmeier noted that Great Wolf Lodge has its own version of plant-based burgers, as well as a bratwurst or Italian sausage offering. “You taste these things and you’re like ‘these are fantastic.’ When you talk to your customers and you start to understand a little bit about where they’re coming from and what’s important to them that’s what it’s about,” he commented.

Wendel offered an example where he initially provided some resistance to a new chef who was putting together the menu at the company’s Autograph Hotel in Pittsburgh, which has an American bistro-style restaurant, before ultimately being convinced of the value.

“She really stuck to her guns and it was very limited on the meat protein side. It wasn’t plant based as much as it was plant forward, I think that’s really important. People who are looking for that are not making a political statement. It’s not about saving the cows and the planet, they’re looking at what they’re putting in their bodies and what that’s going to do for them and that’s where this is going,” he noted.

When it comes to putting icons and more information on the menus, including calorie counts and potential allergy issues, to give consumers more information on how the food is prepared a couple of the panelists instead emphasized the importance of communication from the staff.

“As a family oriented resort we have an allergen policy. We teach all our employees what our allergy policies are. If you have an issue you’re first line is the employee or server. If you aren’t real sure what’s going on the sous chef immediately comes to have that conversation with the guest. We’ve been real successful with that and it’s something that we take a lot of pride in,” he said.

“As far as putting icons on the menus and calories counts, I’m not a big fan, I don’t like to do it. The educational piece with the servers has to be done and they need to know what’s in each item. But our guest and our diners are so much more educated now, I think they can look at a menu and look at items and if there are any concerns they’ll certainly ask. I think it’s clutter on a menu,” asserted Wendell, who added that the company’s outlets can generally accommodate guests who ask for something to be prepared gluten free.

Taylor, meanwhile, noted there are certain inherent advantages of operating F&B outlets within smaller boutique, independent properties.
“Because of the combination of your in-house guests and your positioning those restaurants in local markets your revenues are traditionally higher than a branded restaurant. Therefore, if revenues are higher your labor staffing can be higher and you’re capable of attracting a restaurant centric workforce versus journeymen and women and short-order cooks,” he commented.

Wendel amplified the point with regards to soft branded hotels.
“There aren’t as many hard specs and you really can go and out and attract that chef that wants to make a name for themselves or has a name and bring them in and they really become the face of the hotel. We always try to push our chefs to be really involved in the community, really put themselves out there,” he said.

Wendel further demonstrated the shift that’s taken place in recent years when it comes to hotel restaurants.
“I think everybody knows the major shift in marketing dollars that’s going towards food and beverage now. It wasn’t even on the line of the P&L 20 years ago. Now you’re spending anywhere from $800 to $3,000 a month on social media marketing,” he said.


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Dennis Nessler    Dennis Nessler
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