Creating Choice and Flexibility in Food and Beverage

As providers of hospitality, we are constantly working to up-level our guests' experiences. To succeed at this, understanding the needs and demands of consumers is critical. I've learned that delivering a solid food and beverage platform is just as important as a hassle-free check-in or clean, modern rooms when it comes to creating guest loyalty. The foundation to successfully executing a food and beverage platform is understanding your guests and their needs, as well as your hotel and its capabilities.


By Shawn McGowan, Senior Director Food & Beverage Brand Initiatives & Programs, Hilton Worldwide
Over the years, there has been a systemic shift in guests' expectations of hotel food and beverage offerings. If you walk into most hotel bars and dining areas today, you may - or may not - be surprised to find hip locals, sophisticated guests and trendsetting staff mingling and socializing over artisanal drinks, selecting a sandwich from the in-hotel gourmet market or enjoying regional cuisine made with locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients. Of course there are also guests who want a quick burger and a beer delivered to their room before collapsing into bed. By understanding these diverse needs, we are able to design our properties and develop our food offerings in a way that gives guests choice and control over where they eat, when they eat and what they eat while they're at the hotel.
At Hilton, our vision is to consistently deliver exceptional experiences to every guest at every hotel. Factors like accessible fresh foods, regional fare by local chefs and bar-centric atmospheres are just as critical as a hot breakfast, a knowledgeable bartender and a lounge to sip coffee and tea. Hilton recently launched an industry-first food and beverage portfolio tool to help developers, owners and operators design and execute quality restaurant concepts that intersect with unique guest needs and property capabilities.

Here are some of the key lessons we learned:

Focus on the Bar

Consider your guests. Some are socially alone; while they are traveling independently, many want to feel like they're part of a community when they leave their room or meeting. This could mean a welcoming environment to sit with a laptop while being surrounded by the buzz of people or having the opportunity to interact with other guests at a communal table. You also have groups that want a space where they can create fun moments and memories with colleagues, friends or family. The impact of global influences like shareable Asian, Spanish, Portuguese and comfort food has led to a proliferation of family-style options like flatbreads, charcuterie boards, sliders or healthier items like Shishito Peppers that work for those in groups or dining solo. Hoteliers need to create a dining environment that is flexible enough to satisfy different types of travelers.

We're championing the rise of the bar-centric environment that delivers a communal space with the bar as the focal point. The bar acts as an anchor for the space and energizes the location that when combined with great food and beverage offerings gives guests something to talk about - or tweet, snap and share on social media. More importantly, it is a creative solution for guests who are hungry for convenient, accessible dining that delivers on choice and control in how they encounter other guests, hotel staff and their meal. From the family coming in from the pool for a bite to eat, to the local millennials visiting in the evening for a batch cocktail, a bar-centric set up aligns with the trend of consumers looking for a communal space that reflects both the socially alone and group engagers.
The greatest opportunity with the bar-centric environment is how it can transition throughout the day, providing a different mood and function in one space. For instance, rather than creating separate areas for the morning barista, the breakfast buffet and the late-night cocktail lounge, these bar centric concepts can serve all these purposes. It can serve as breakfast with a buffet or a curated barista space that delivers a high-grade coffee whether it's a nitro pushed cold brew or beautifully made latte alongside pastries and croissants. The late morning reveals another transition of space as the cabinets open, liquor is displayed and the bar becomes a communal dining space for guests to have their choice in terms of a convenient lunch counter featuring fresh salads and sandwiches that feature crafted lemonade, Agua Fresca and customized iced tea. For the evening experience, the mood is transitioned again to usher in upbeat music, lighting elements that accentuate the back bar and a comprehensive array of spirts is revealed to begin the craft of our expert bartenders in the preparation of cocktails, and beer and wine flights that reflect the region. Operationally this solution is more efficient from an owner's perspective; building out one environment that has different attributes and is flexible in use can drive incremental revenue.

Don't Watch the Clock

Like many in the hospitality industry, we removed the time constraints associated with eating meals. The restaurant is no longer the designated place guests must visit at precisely 7:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Pantry-style markets in the lobby provide guests with appealing house prepared hot or cold sandwiches, fresh salads and a host of snacks and beverages , including a dedicated merchandising space for beer, wine and more. These gourmet markets utilize smaller areas of hotel real estate, provide incremental sales, and draw attention to the food and beverage offerings. As consumer tastes change (think coconut water and kombucha!) it's easy to adapt and transition in new options. When designed with the hotel's location and clientele in mind, guest's will be more likely to buy what they need for the day from the hotel whether it's a breakfast sandwich before a meeting or snacks for a day of sightseeing.
Like consumers who frequent fast-casual and quick-service restaurants, guests want quality food on-the-go and for a value. There is a reason brands like McDonalds (all day breakfast and now fresh sandwiches), Panera (quick in-store pick-up and ordering) and now Starbucks (increasing their grab & go menu to grow 19% sales mix) have changed their menu to promote fast, fresh on the go menu programming. Their customers demand it, and so do our guests. Offer a grab-and-go market and pantry experience that provides a balanced menu with local flair to make guests feel like they are enjoying a favorite local restaurant, but with the convenience of it being in their hotel.
This approach offers flexibility, without compromising on the experience that drives sales and guest satisfaction. Guests will have access to quick, quality coffee and pastries they can take while heading out to a meeting and late-night wine and fruit to enjoy in their room after a long flight.

Highlight One-of-a-Kind Partnerships

There is, without doubt, value for hotels and restaurants to collaborate with renowned chefs, mixologists and vendors. Such partnerships bring credibility and an established customer following. More importantly to hotel guests, they bring an exclusive food experience they won't find anywhere else.
Part of providing guests with exceptional services is delivering interesting and unique options. Collaborate with an unexpected partner like a popular health and wellness influencer. Or create a surprising twist on a traditional dish with a tried-and-true brand to bring guests a different kind of food experience. For example, a hot breakfast is one of the critical elements of any hotel food and beverage offering. At Hilton, we asked ourselves how we could reimagine breakfast to surprise and delight our visitors. We've collaborated with brands like Quaker Oats and Kelloggs to create breakfast menu items that no one would have expected. Guests at some DoubleTree by Hilton's are treated with an interactive experience that allows them to customize their breakfast using savory and sweet ingredients to create dishes like bacon and cheddar oatmeal or green oats and ham. Our complimentary 'Top It' breakfast bar allows guests at Tru by Hilton to choose from seven bases, like Yogurt, Oatmeal, Bagels and Donuts, and add any of up to 30 sweet and savory items from a toppings bar.
Brands and companies understand the critical role that the food and beverage platform plays in delivering guests with the best hotel stay, and a stellar food experience starts with knowing your guests just as well as you know your hotel. Meeting the desire for choice and flexibility in where, what and how they eat allows them to curate that moment at your hotel the same way they curate all other aspects of their lives. While it can be challenging to pinpoint the intersection between consumer needs and hotel capabilities, the opportunities are limitless and scalable. When you really know your guests (loyalty programs like Hilton Honors are essential here), leaders and employees can better manage the service they offer: when to open and close spaces based on operational needs, how to provide a bespoke and more diverse food and beverage offerings, and so on. This will ultimately lead to greater efficiencies in your staffing model, greater revenue, an increase in margins, net unit growth and, most importantly, satisfied and loyal guests.
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