As the pandemic approaches the end of its third full year, hotel restaurant operators are seeing more and more people return to in-person dining. Additionally, these operators are looking for ways to attract younger diners.
Four F&B executives from top hospitality firms spoke on these issues at the BITAC Food & Beverage conference on Tuesday at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa in Sonoma, California. The panel was the second of three industry panels at the conference — the first BITAC conference of the year.
The panel opened with Richard Garcia, SVP Food & Beverage for Remington Hotels, speaking on F&B trends he’s tracking. He said many Gen Z and millennials want to get out into the communities that they travel to instead of staying inside the hotel.
“There is so much more to the hotel stay that has to happen before they get to F&B,” Garcia said.
Dean Wendel, Vice President of Food and Beverage for Concord Hospitality, added that technology is crucial to bringing in these demographics to F&B experiences.
“I think if we want to capture them and get them into our spaces, we have to play in that world, Wendel said. “We’ve got to play in that space. And it’s Instagram, now TikTok is the big thing right now. So if we’re going to attract them and be relevant to these next generations, then that’s where we have to be.”
The conversation shifted to customers who have not come back to restaurant experiences post-pandemic. Garcia said he feels this has less to do with COVID-19 factors and more to do with changes the industry has made to cut costs and boost revenue.
“They’re not coming back because we’ve taken away a lot of what people are used to, but yet we still want to continue to take more money out of their pocket,” he said. “I think that what you have done in your restaurant is really dictating why they’re not coming back. And, have you taken away labor? Have you reduced your menu? Have you lost quality? I mean, there’s a lot to look at.”
Next, panelists talked about the increase in delivery and pickup options that restaurants have been providing. Tom Stafford, Vice President of Food & Beverage for Commonwealth Hotels, Inc., said the latter has exploded in popularity, as many customers want to order their food ahead of time and then have a quick pickup interaction.
Amanda McFarland, Vice President of Food & Beverage for MAKEREADY, LLC, echoed that the ways people want to receive their meals have changed. She also added that in-room dining is “back with a vengeance.”
“If people are ordering GrubHub, why not give them a full-service in room dining experience?” McFarland said. “And I think that’s a really important piece … returning services to your guests. People want that service. And, you know, you can let them order DoorDash in your hotel, or you can create an experience for them.”
She also spoke about the interactive experiences that younger diners are interested in such as classes on cocktails and latte art.
“People want to learn, and I think that this generation is really curious,” she said. “They have questions, and they want to understand more.”
With high-quality cameras in smartphones being the norm, dining has become more of an entertainment experience for Gen Z and millennial diners to document, Wendel said.
“I think it’s interactive, they want to try a lot of different things,” he said. “So they’ll go with a group, and they’ll order four or five things and try them all. And they’re taking their pictures, they’re posting, they really want to be entertained.”
McFarland said it’s important for operators to build these experiences into their menus, generating “wow factors” for diners. She also mentioned the proliferation of non-alcoholic drink packages.
Looking toward the future of F&B heading into 2023, the panelists said they foresee a plant-based and beverage-forward environment.
“We’re focusing on food kind of taking a backseat,” Stafford said. “A lot of the stuff we’re doing in the kitchen is much smaller.”
Garcia said, internally, operators are going to be squeezed by owners to do a lot more with less. Externally, he sees wellness continuing to be a major trend, but stresses that balanced menus are key.
“I think that’s what’s really important is you still have to have a really good menu mix of indulgent items, because I’ll be frank, as much as we talk about wellness, look at your product mixes and tell me what number 1, 2, 3 and 4 are, and none of them are in the wellness category,” he said. “So I think you still have to have that and have that balance.”