As much as any aspect of the hotel experience, food & beverage outlets have had to demonstrate creativity to successfully maintain operations amid the pandemic with stricter protocols in place and fewer guests. Fortunately, those creative solutions seem to be paying off now.
That was the opinion of a handful of owner/operator and brand executives who participated in a panel discussion entitled, “Recipe For Success: How Hotel F&B Outlets Can Thrive In ‘New Normal’” at last week’s BITAC Food & Beverage Virtual Connect 2021.
Karim Lakhani, EVP, food & beverage/procurement, Northwood Hospitality, cited some positive trends pointing out that the incremental spend among guests is increasing, particularly in the company’s Florida and Arizona locations, which he added are doing “a tremendous amount of business.”
Lakhani continued, “we are seeing that the spend has increased tremendously. We’re seeing anywhere from a 10% to 18% increase [over 2019]. With those people that got out first and started to visit our locations we saw beverage spend go through the roof, more so in cocktails.”
He further added that the company’s properties have been able to pass along any price hikes as well. “We’ve had to raise our prices about three times in the last year because of commodity increases and we’ve had no pushback,” he noted.
Paul Lynch, vp, F&B, Aimbridge Hospitality, detailed some of the ways F&B has evolved. “The pandemic did provide us with the impetus to embrace new opportunities in ways that we may not have or it would have taken longer to create,” he said.
Lynch provided some specific examples. “The hotels weren’t full so now how do we take advantage of those capabilities through ghost kitchens, off-site delivery, and looking beyond what our standard programs may have been?” he noted.
Jason Francis, corporate director of F&B, Dream Hotel Group, reinforced the point. “I think it’s allowed a lot of the creativity to start to flow and we’re able to do a lot of things by trial and error. To be able to pivot in a way that we can offer the guest an experience that they can enjoy and take back with them and something that they haven’t been able to do for a year or so is great,” he noted.
Jay Wetzel, vp, food & beverage, Americas, Rosewood Hotel Group, also talked about the experience and how it has evolved, particularly at the high end of the market.
“With a lot of our F&B operations we’ve had to make this shift from a typical luxury experience, where maybe we wouldn’t be trying to do delivery and having people order in through third-party and what have you. That’s something that we’ve really embraced and tried to see how can we package that from our side in order to really engage the community, and specifically our clientele?” he noted.
Wetzel detailed some innovative solutions, such as when the company purchased a food truck for its Rosewood Miramar Beach in Montecito, CA.
“Honestly, it was a very great outlet leading into outdoor dining and having some spaces around. That was a really great mobile solution for us to be able to service who we wanted to,” he noted.
Wetzel further added the company eventually took the truck on the road to help support the local community and first responders. “It allowed us to participate at a level that perhaps we wouldn’t have if we were just rooted back in the property itself,” he said.
The panelists were all in agreement that the recent movement toward outdoor dining is more than just a passing trend.
“I think it is going to be long-term. As an example of this look at what you were seeing pre-COVID when you would travel to Europe, people want to be outdoors more so and you get a better experience. I think it’s time that we reimagine the whole space in a food and beverage operation, be it an indoor/outdoor pool area, cabanas, all those sorts of things,” said Lakhani.
“Outdoor spaces are here to stay and the impact on social distancing is that personal space has increased. The days of taking a small, long room and packing it with tables where you are elbow-to-elbow I think are not coming back. People are going to expect more space around them and more generous size tables,” said Lynch.
And there seem to be no geographic boundaries, according to Lynch.
“Outdoor space is very common in Europe and elsewhere like Hawaii, but that idea of Alfresco dining is just as relevant in Minnesota in the spring and summertime and in the northern tier. Even in the winter we had locations that put ice bars out on their patio and that gave guests a reason to be outside and do something unique. So it’s just not in the temperate climate states of Texas and Florida, and maybe California, but I truly think that it’s across the United States and across our entire portfolio,” he said.
Francis, meanwhile, maintained the company has tried to “keep the core experience” the same whether its venues are indoors or outdoors. He referenced the company’s Unscripted Durham hotel, which is typically sold out from October through January and now provides igloos on the patio.
“They were great and they were at a good price point. You can go there and get an experience and still be in a patio situation and feel safe and have an amazing experience with your friends and family,” he noted.