The time-honoured traditions of room service and the in-room minibar are being shaken (and stirred) as new models for food-and-beverage service come into their own. Digital disruption and the locavore movement have already made their influence felt in the restaurant industry and they’ve been only slightly slower to arrive in hotel rooms.
The good news: there’s profit to be reaped and F&B is an expanding slice of the revenue pie. The 2018 Lodging Food & Beverage Outlook from U.S.-based hospitality-procurement services provider Avendra looked at food-and-beverage trends through 2020, based on a survey of about 900 hotel general managers, directors of F&B and related hospitality professionals across all segments. It showed three key trends supporting F&B growth, of which the top demand-driver was a predicted growth in group bookings.
A second area that’s increasing F&B business in full-service establishments is the local-restaurant concept — often accompanied by an upscale bar. And, just as chain grocers have been finding success with meal-replacement options, limited-service hotels are doing well with increased “grab-and-go” offerings. The study noted more than half its respondents were already offering prepared foods in a market or convenience format (with profitable results), while another third reported they plan to do so within the next year.
In place of room service, guests are picking up their smartphones and ordering food from third-party delivery services, including Uber Eats, Foodora, Just Eat and SkipTheDishes, and it seems operators who try to deny this reality will find themselves swimming against the current. In the U.S., InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has added delivery service Grubhub to its proprietary IHG app, website and in-room television menu. Hyatt Centric also offers Grubhub deliveries within its Restaurant-to-Go program.
In the spring of 2019, San Francisco-based DoorDash and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts joined forces to provide food delivery to guests at more than 3,700 Wyndham properties in Canada and the U.S. Not only does DoorDash waive the delivery fee to Wyndham guests with a DoorDash account, but new customers receive $5 off their first order, plus 2,000 Wyndham Rewards points.
DoorDash reports significant penetration into the hotel-delivery market, with 900-per-cent growth in New York City and 550-per-cent growth in San Francisco between 2014 and 2018. On the flip side, the food-delivery boom also presents the possibility for certain types of establishments to promote their own kitchen’s offerings as a delivery option within their neighbourhood.
This model is not for everyone, but numerous properties and companies are innovating with F&B strategies for disruptive times. Here’s a peek inside the approach of operators across the country.
Oak Bay Beach Hotel, Victoria
Nestled on the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island is Oak Bay Beach Hotel, a luxury boutique resort with views of the Pacific Ocean.
“Our hotel has been in the same location for more than 90 years, so we’ve been the neighbourhood favourite. About six years ago, we opened a brand-new building with a restaurant designed to bring in not only the locals, but also the destination traveller,” says Marketing and Communications coordinator Anneke Feuermann. “[Our] chef has done a good job of elevating our experience to meet the expectations of that type of traveller.”
“The way I would set up a strategy from scratch is to remember restaurant design, kitchen layout and equipment become a big part of what you’re able to do. Knowing the local suppliers is really important,” says executive chef Kreg Graham.
And so is understanding your clientele, he adds. “We work in a unique community — it’s older, more high-end. Our guests are luxury travellers,” says Graham. Although he’s cautious about embracing every new trend, he acknowledges the importance of meeting demands for healthy and local food.
“We make sure we have great seafood on the menu,” he says. For the quiet, relaxed and traditional dining room, “my strategy is to develop classic dishes such as a Dungeness-crab bisque with coconut milk, lime leaf and lemongrass notes.” As for Oak Bay Beach Hotel’s other outlets, The Snug is more casual, friendly and busy and the seasonal Boathouse Kitchen & Bar is “very summer-focused,” spa-inspired and health-conscious, with “professional and attentive poolside service.”
Atlific Hotels, Montreal
Montreal-based Atlific Hotels owns and manages numerous hotel properties across Canada, including independents and well-known brands. And, according to the company’s corporate F&B manager, Rob Hood, any food-and-beverage strategy should be founded on three pillars: location, target market and regional culinary direction.
“I’ve often been asked ‘would you ever use standardized menus?’ and I say ‘absolutely not.’ Canada has amazing culinary scenes and guests are looking for them,” he says. “We have, internally, an extensive menu-engineering process where we look at sales margins, food costs and so on. With Atlific, if our F&B directors from a property believe in it, it will be used — we don’t just roll out programs across the board. The input from the property level is absolutely valuable.”
In 2018, the Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour was renovated and its dining concept was fully updated. “If you walked in today, you’d see the restaurant and the bar completely integrated,” says Hood. “It’s much more casual, but upholds the same standards. People are looking for a more relaxed situation to enjoy food and beverage.”
“The days of the bowtie, white shirt and pleated pants are being replaced by a very eclectic service environment,” he adds.
Hotel Arts Group, Calgary
Hotel Arts Group owns two boutique properties in Calgary: the 185-room Hotel Arts, which houses the Yellow Door Bistro and Raw Bar, and the 19-room Hotel Arts Kensington, with its Oxbow restaurant (formerly Chef’s Table).
The company’s F&B strategy is “largely a collaborative process led by our executive chef, Quinn Staple,” says director of Business Development, Fraser Abbott.
“The ambiance in each of the restaurants is welcoming and yet design-centric,” he says, noting the concepts of boutique, art, local and service are key to these operations. “It’s enabled us to accommodate in-house guests, but also to position ourselves as a
Service is “refined, very welcoming, very efficient, very approachable; the policies and processes we have on the hotel side, we can use in the restaurants as well,” Abbott points out.
The two properties’ personalities allow the venues to be “a little bit playful,” Abbott notes. For example, popular duck wings were promoted when the local NHL team was playing the Anaheim Ducks, with the slogan “Come in and destroy our ducks.”
Hotel Arts also uses SkipTheDishes to augment its F&B sales, although Abbott feels delivery customers “miss out a little” on the ambience. But when it’s combined with dine-in, a “thriving” banquet business and offsite catering, he says, “I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years F&B outstrips our room revenues.”
Written by Sarah B. Hood