From a more casual approach to dining to robots and ventless kitchen equipment, the food & beverage segment continues to evolve in the wake of the pandemic as hoteliers look to increase profitability and guest satisfaction.
Hotel food & beverage experts weighed in on these issues and more during a panel entitled “Heating Up: A Look At What’s Trending In Hotel F&B Offerings,” which took place at BITAC Food & Beverage Live 2022.
Greg Griffie, SVP, Davidson Restaurant Group, stressed that a movement toward more casual dining options has gained momentum, particularly with the emergence of services such as Door Dash and Grub Hub. He further acknowledged that within those Davidson resort and boutique properties that feature multiple venues, the company has altered its strategy.
“Instead of building out a $5 million-plus a year restaurant that’s going to take 42 people to staff, we’ve taken the approach of fast casual restaurants. We’re doing true counter service so there’s this juxtaposition,” he said, adding, as an example, the company is in the process of opening a Detroit Pizza style concept at one of its resorts.
Greg Winey, President/CEO, Northpointe Hospitality, reinforced the merits of a more casual approach.
“I think you’re going to continue to see restaurants go bar centric. We’re increasing our bar capacity so we can serve at the bar, it really makes our operations a lot more efficient. We pared down the menus a bit to make it a little more streamlined with small plates and tapas. We’re definitely moving in that direction,” he said.
Dale Miller, corporate certified master chef, Prestige Hospitality Group, indicated the company takes it on a case-by-case basis.
“We apply the Goldilocks theory of finding the format that’s just right for our guests in that property because every property has its own characteristics and its own unique flavor to it,” he said.
One casual solution that’s gained considerable momentum within hospitality has been food trucks, according to Griffie. And while they do offer hotels increased flexibility, he sounded a note of caution.
“I’ve had more requests for food trucks in the last six months then you can imagine. I just warn everybody that’s not necessarily the best path. If you’ve never operated a food truck it’s not as easy and the profit margins aren’t as attractive as you may think. So they have to be done very thoughtfully,” he said.
Flexibility is also driving the trend toward more ventless kitchen equipment, which can also greatly reduce costs associated with exhausts systems, according to Miller.
“I’m seeing a lot of movement with the ventless kitchen platform. One of the properties I’m working on is a historic property. To do a hood system in the middle of this historic mill property, which is being turned into a boutique hotel, would be very challenging with the infrastructure there. So the benefit is that you can put this literally any place in the establishment,” he said.
Winey reinforced the point.
“We’re not going to be confined to hood systems anymore. We’re going to be more mobile so we’re using ventless fryers, ventless griddles and things of that nature. We go where the action is, it’s almost like a pop-up kitchen. We think that’s going to make us a lot more efficient going forward,” he said.
Efficiency is certainly critical on the labor side and Griffie acknowledged the company recently started beta testing robots for select job functions.
“If you were to talk to me six months ago I would say you’ll never find a robot in any of our operations. The server should never go away, and the bartender should never go away in our point of view. However, how many of us have a lobby bar or a pool bar where we may only have one bartender and we have no food runners?
“Where we are seeing a benefit with some of these GPS robots is you can keep your bartender at the bar selling and you can program the robots to take the dirty or soiled dishware and glassware back to the kitchen. If you wanted to you can run food for the bar back out on the same unit or a different unit. So as much as I have been anti robots, I do believe there is a place in today’s labor market,” he said.
Meanwhile, the menus remain “a challenging aspect” of today’s operations, according to Miller, who acknowledged that consolidation continues to drive changes.
“The menu options have definitely become fewer. What I try to provide is menus that look as though you’re still offering the clientele a full array of items without bringing in 200 products to execute that menu. Try to cross-utilize product without making it look like you’re cross-utilizing product. Because menus have become smaller they are easier to execute for the staff and they result in better profitability for the hotel or the restaurant because you’re not bringing in so many products. That trend is going to continue I believe,” he said.
Miller went on to offer some detail on the types of items that are being emphasized.
“We all know that beef and fish and seafood costs have gone through the roof so bringing on items that are plant-based and vegetarian forward has been a key focus of mine,” he said.
Winey suggested that at some point some of those elevated food costs, as well as rising wages for labor, need to be passed along.
“I really think there’s going to be a day where we’re going to see dynamic pricing on menus. Gas goes up every day, bread goes up every day, and eggs go up every day. How can we get that technology into our menus and do that flawlessly?” he asked.