Pre-pandemic, the operative model for many hotels was to generate core earnings through the rooms division, with more-or-less break even or slightly positive support from the hotel’s F&B offerings.
With the onsite-dining experience heavily compromised by COVID-19-induced restrictions to seating density and, therefore cover volume — as well as less-than-motivating amenities such as single-use menus — this is a disastrous combination for keeping any outlet afloat, much less one in a hotel whose primary purpose is servicing in-house guests.
Another fascinating advent is the ghost kitchen — a restaurant purpose-built for online delivery apps with no physical seating or store frontage whatsoever. Ghost kitchens can be setup practically anywhere close to the target market and kept lean by excluding all costs associated with waiting tables, such as dishware, server wages, ambiance elements or high rental fees for a prime location on a main thoroughfare.
Without these overheads, ghost kitchens can seriously undercut a hotel restaurant on menu pricing. Additionally, many regular eateries in your neighbourhood have likely already converted their spaces into this type of model, further driving local competition.
Given the grand shift in eating habits currently happening, hotel guests may prefer familiar ordering apps (Uber Eats, DoorDash, SkipTheDishes or others) for in-room meal delivery over a quick saunter downstairs to your restaurant. So how do you differentiate your dining outlet through these mobile channels so customers choose your hotel over any other ghost kitchen? Moreover, how do you build an emotionally impactful experience without in-person contact in order to maintain loyalty and prevent any less-than-stellar online reviews from cropping up?
In many ways, hotels have already faced this situation when they started putting rooms inventory on the OTAs. These have historically been great channels for maximizing property visibility at the expense of brand dilution and operating income. Namely, when your hotel is solely represented in any travel query by a tiny website letterbox of basic details amidst a sea of other letterboxes for your competitors, there’s seldom any emotional resonance and customers end up gravitating towards price and location, while not necessarily dwelling on your other USPs.
Prior to a full elimination of physical-distancing rules at restaurants so you can resume pre-pandemic levels of turning tables, much like how we acclimatized to the OTAs, the answer to our present dilemma is to holistically embrace technology. You simply have no other option.
As a start, you need a staff member completely devoted to making your restaurant visible, with consistent information, wherever guests or locals are searching. This individual must also curate your content so customers can scan every possible detail without resorting to SMS or a phone call. Think multiple pictures of each dish as it will arrive to the room and note all ingredients with specific attention to allergens.
Rigid monitoring of review sites must also take place to ensure any mistakes are immediately remedied. To this end, you may also want to enhance your own channels to send out private feedback requests, aiding in recovery situations before any objections reach the public.
Next, you have to generate demand. With all aspects of business operation shifted to digital, this requires a tactful mix of paid search, social advertising, in-app promotions, discounted beverage or family-size bundles and personal offers disseminated via pre-arrival emails or from within your own branded app. By also showing how inviting and safe your onsite-dining experience is, these channels can act as a Trojan horse for getting more foot traffic to your restaurant.
Above all, while technology is instrumental to facilitate this new way of consumption, there’s only so much you can gild a lily, meaning the food must ultimately speak for itself. The challenge your chefs face is to deliver a product expressly for takeout or delivery that carries the same flavour and presentation as if it were served tableside.
In the face of new ghost-kitchen competitors, where the cuisine is specifically designed to survive the various nuisances of delivery without serious cost overruns, this requires a holistic re-think of ingredients used, as well as packaging and accessories you add to round out each order. All this won’t be easy, but you can make your restaurant profitable if you act prudently.
Larry Mogelonsky is the principal of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited, a Toronto-based consulting practice. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, and ranges from luxury and boutique to select-service. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss hotel business challenges.