Food-and-beverage operations have long been a challenging line item in budgets. Margins are thin, staffing a challenge at the best of times and guests have increasingly demanding expectations.
Depending on the hotel concept, foodservice strategies can range from grab-and-go or self-serve pantries to banqueting and upscale dining. But even within those categories, there’s much that can be done with foodservice to generate revenues and appeal to a broader audience, whether it’s more-flexible menu options, locally sourced ingredients or ethnic experiences.
Hotels are realizing a lot of excitement can be generated by food and beverage, says Hanif Harji, CEO and founder of ICONINK — a third-party management-services provider in Toronto. “More are looking at it as an amenity they can make money from.”
Yet it’s not just a case of opening an upscale or casual restaurant and assuming the locals will come. “The culinary aspect is just one phase of a successful food-and-beverage program,” he explains. “You also have to understand the market, the branding and the calibre of the hotel before choosing the concept. You wouldn’t put a luxury restaurant in a Holiday Inn Express — it wouldn’t make sense.”
Food-and-beverage programs need to be specifically tailored to different brands, confirms Sukhdev Toor, president and CEO of Manga Hotels Group in Toronto, which manages hotels under a number of brands, including Marriott, Hilton, InterContinental Hotel Group and Hyatt. That said, there are trends of note emerging across the board. “Hotels need to keep up with the more health-conscious consumers. Vegetarian and vegan are becoming more popular, along with egg-white dishes, smoothies and avocado toast.”
Breakfast is often the biggest daypart for many of Manga’s hotels, Toor adds. “Attached restaurants can also do very well depending on location, because people often like to choose something outside the hotel later in the day.”
For express-style hotels, a small self-serve facility requiring two to three staff may be the better option, while some have a pantry in lieu of room service. Grab-and-go is also increasingly desirable for corporate guests in particular, Toor notes. “They don’t like to waste time and want to get moving. Depending on the market, it might make sense to have a Starbucks-type of operation on site.”
Here’s a look at several ways hotel food-and-beverage operations are playing to their markets.
THE LOCAL SCENE
Local sourcing is becoming an important distinction for many hotel foodservice operations. At Victoria, B.C.’s Inn at Laurel Point, local sourcing has been a hallmark of its recently renovated Aura Waterfront Restaurant + Patio for a number of years. Aura’s kitchen services the property’s banqueting, restaurant and room-service operations.
“Local has always been a keyword for us,” says Janis Goard, director of Food & Beverage, Inn at Laurel Point. “It’s something everyone is interested in. We’re in a fortunate situation because of our ability to get ingredients that are fresh and local.”
A significant percentage of the wine list is B.C. offerings and the cocktail program often uses local distilleries. “It’s a great highlight for travelling guests,” Goard says.
The desire for local is coupled with the growth of individualized dietary demands — from gluten free to vegan and vegetarian. This can have a significant impact on budgets and time spent in food preparation, she adds. “If it’s too much, we can always modify menus by adding surcharges for things like gluten-free buns. We’ve also switched our dinner service to a small-plates menu with 37 items, so we can accommodate special requests without having to modify dishes.”
The property has also introduced tasting portions for beer and wine to pair with the various courses.
Le Germain Charlevoix Hotel & Spa’s foodservice operations are as local as they can get. The unique property in Baie-Saint-Paul, Que. has its own expansive garden that supplies up to 80 per cent of its vegetables and herbs for its Les Labours, a main-floor casual restaurant/lounge, and Le Bercail, an upscale dining room that serves breakfast and dinner. It also has access to a rich local bounty of cheese, meats, poultry, ciders and beer.
“When you can bring product from the garden right to the table it makes a big difference,” says Thierry Eck, general manager, Le Germain Charlevoix. “Guests want unique products they can’t find in supermarkets.”
Eck reports a majority of the revenues are generated from local customers, even in the low season. The hotel is also part of La Route de Saveur, a popular tourism event that attracts many diners.
GRAB-AND-GO ON THE UP AND UP
Hôtel Monville in Montreal has elevated the grab-and-go concept with an open area near the main lobby dedicated to high-quality, freshly produced goods for guests on the move. “It took a while for people to understand it, but now it’s part of our strength,” says Marc Saunier, the hotel’s general manager. “Even the big hotels are coming to see the area and trying the concept for their own operations.”
Customers can choose from a wide selection of healthy items on their travels or order a sit-down breakfast, lunch or dinner from the counter and eat in the café-style seating area. Or they can order room-service items delivered by the hotel’s resident robot.
It makes perfect financial sense. “The concept maximizes revenue per square footage. That’s why we’re able to do it,” Saunier adds.
Third-party management services are becoming an increasingly popular option for hotel operators, says Harji. “They’re able to bring an independent-restaurateur ideology to a hotel and give owner/operators more flexibility to increase revenues. If you can create enough excitement to make your food-and-beverage offerings hot spots, customers will never leave the building.”
The recently opened Bisha Hotel Toronto is a sterling example of a food-and-beverage themed showcase. The luxury property has two concept restaurants — Akira Back (Japanese cuisine) and Kost (Baja cuisine) — as well as French Made Toronto, a Parisian-style bakery and café.
Harji claims 90 per cent of the outlets’ revenues are from customers not staying at the 96-room hotel. “Guests are getting a product and culinary offerings they don’t get anywhere else in a fully activated space. Even the bakery has become a part of the neighbourhood.”
The Hazelton Hotel’s One Restaurant run by The McEwan Group, is a testament to the power of a successful managed-restaurant concept. Its kitchen executes all the hotel’s food-and-beverage needs and offers a full in-room service menu to accommodate the needs of international guests operating on different time zones.
As a signature restaurant in Toronto’s trendy Yorkville neighbourhood, a large portion of the revenues are generated from outside guests who visit for the quality and diversity of the offerings, says Jennifer Belanger, general manager, One Restaurant.
“The stigma of being a hotel restaurant is a thing of the past. The hotel is gorgeous the and amenities and service are incredible. Why should your restaurant be any different?”
Written by Denise Deveau