Creating an elevated coffee experience, adapting to changing breakfast needs, and the importance of outdoor venues—such as rooftops bars and restaurants—were identified as key areas of focus for hotels by a trio of experts at last week’s BITAC Food & Beverage Live 2022.
Taking place at Innisbrook, A Salamander Golf & Spa Resort in Palm Harbor, FL, the executives took part in a panel discussion entitled “Ingredients For Success: Hotel Execs Share F&B Strategies In The ‘New Normal.’”
Jack Hancharick, corporate director of F&B, Spartanburg, SC-based OTO Development, LLC—which currently operates more than 60 branded select-service and extended-stay hotels—emphasized the importance of having dedicated coffee venues going forward.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more cafes. The drip coffee nowadays just isn’t doing it if you’ve got to pay for it. We are developing cafes in lieu of the breakfast option for a couple reasons. First of all, the elevated coffee experience is necessary nowadays to compete. Secondly, from a business model the labor costs about half as much to operate a cafe style offering versus a full buffet or even an a-la-carte model,” he said.
Rick Hertan, director, brand management, Rockville, MD-based Choice Hotels International— who works with the company’s upscale brands, including Cambria Hotels—asserted that “the power of coffee is incredible.” Hertan explained that the company has evaluated a number of options, including removing in-room coffee—which it ultimately decided against—as well as having locally roasted coffee in the lobby in an effort to come up with the right formula for both owners and guests.
“We’ve been looking at all different types of things, but what we see overall is just the volume of guest feedback we get on coffee is quite high. So I totally agree that having elevated coffee is going to continue to be a trend in the industry for the future,” he said.
Hertan noted that Choice is hopeful for additional changes when it comes to the traditional breakfast buffet, particularly within its Cambria brand.
“We do not want the breakfast buffet to come back. The reason why is even before the pandemic we saw that guest satisfaction scores were actually much lower for outlets if they had breakfast buffets. In addition, we looked at profitability for our restaurants as well and if they had a breakfast buffet there was significantly lower probability for those outlets as well,” he said, attributing the lower profitability to significant waste.
Hancharick, however, had a different perspective on the free breakfast buffet that has been a staple for many of the select-service brands the company operates.
“What I’ve seen is people want to get back to normal. They like to choose what they want to eat and they love to scoop it on their plate. So I don’t think the buffet is going to go away. I think that brands are doing a good job of mitigating some of the costs so we can maybe reduce our cost per occupied room by say 30%. We have done a significant job in our company of reducing that cost,” he noted.
Javier Hernandez, executive chef, The Alida Hotel—a 173-room boutique hotel in Savannah, GA—also noted the buffet still has a place, but he acknowledged there have been a few changes.
“We also offer the breakfast buffet, but just for banquets. People still ask for it and we have to offer it if they want to have it. We are noticing though that people are leaning towards more nutritious or healthier options so we kind of have to adjust those aspects in our banquet menu,” he said.
Another dining trend that’s been accelerated by the pandemic has been the need for outdoor venues where guests feel more comfortable and safer. Rooftop venues, in particular, have become trendy destinations and Choice’s Cambria brand has been on the forefront of that movement.
Hertan explained the evolution within the brand.
“Rooftop bars and restaurants were not initially a hallmark for our Cambria brand, our owners really pushed it. That’s really what they wanted before the pandemic and obviously it’s worked out very well during the pandemic. What I would say is these outdoor spaces should not be an afterthought or thought of secondarily to other outlets within a hotel. What we’re seeing right now is they’re driving significantly more revenue compared to a typical lobby restaurant that’s downstairs. So being really focused on the experience that you are delivering there is definitely key to the success, of course, of that outlet, but the entire hotel overall,” he maintained.
Hernandez further drove home the point.
“We’re lucky to have the rooftop bar because we can provide outdoor dining. As long as we have it cozy or ready for guests to go there it’s usually pretty nice business so we try to control the climate. For example, for the winter months we have the igloos and we rent them out for a couple hours. I think that’s a big thing right now where restaurants or hotels are trying to offer that space,” he said.
Technology, of course, has also been a game changer for many in the F&B space. According to Hancharick, the ability to seamlessly interface with all the various technology programs and offerings is critical from an operator’s perspective.
“I think what’s happening is the companies that have the mobile ordering and pay at the table and things like that are upping their research and development so they can give us a product that is more compatible. I think that’s important because technology not only helps from a consumer perspective, but it also helps with the labor model. So we’re looking from QR codes to mobile ordering to everything in between to see what we can do to make our hotel run more efficient and give the guests the expectations of service that they expect,” he said.
Hertan agreed with the importance of seamless integration as he further detailed how the company is looking to leverage the latest technology as the segment has evolved.
“We really are looking at our restaurants with an omni channel revenue strategy moving forward. Your typical hotel restaurant would focus just on in-house guests and in-room dining as well, but we are looking at it differently where we can drive significant sales with guests outside of our restaurants. We can do third-party delivery; we can do third-party banquet orders; we can have ghost kitchens in our restaurants. So we’re looking at this from the perspective of how do we drive more revenue through these different technologies that are out there?” he concluded.