Many Pandemic-Borne Trends Here to Stay
As hotel operations shift to accommodate smaller labor pools and guests at varying comfort levels, hotel restaurants, bars and other food-and-beverage outlets have followed suit.
The overarching theme of hotel food and beverage as the world emerges from COVID-19 seems to be “less is more done better,” according to Adam Crocini, senior vice president and global head of food and beverage brands for Hilton.
In a panel titled “Hotel Food and Beverage in a Post-COVID World” at the 2021 Lodging Conference, Crocini and other hotel company food and beverage executives agreed that the pivot to streamlining options, while focusing on quality, is both a necessity and garnering positive reception from guests and hotel owners.
Pandemic-Driven Trends Here To Stay
“In May 2020, we started hearing back from ownership and we pivoted to create a new breakfast experience for Hampton and Homewood that focused on finding out what the consumer really wanted,” Crocini said. “It didn’t have to be 70 items. We focus now on a classic American breakfast. We tested it for seven months, and in May we launched the new programs.”
He said that return to the basics has driven high guest satisfaction scores and will continue post-pandemic.
“We don’t see developing more items; we think that if anything, we’ll refine them further,” he said.
Supply-chain slowdowns and staff shortages create headaches in hotel food and beverage in particular, but Meaghan Goedde, chief operating officer and executive vice president of Sage Restaurant Concepts at hotel development and management company Sage Hospitality Group, said by streamlining offerings, chefs and hotels can have flexibility to use what’s available.
Sage recently opened Catbird, an extended-stay hotel in Denver, that offers free breakfast. But instead of a full menu, Goedde described the concept as a “chef’s counter.”
“Our chef offers one item a day, which lets us have some control,” she said. “It’s one really great breakfast sandwich, with a veggie option and a meat option. It’s chef-driven, so it’s based on what he has and what’s available and it’s served us really well.”
Brian Contreras, director of corporate operations and global franchise for Hyatt Hotels Corp., said that scaling back the number of items offered and focusing on “favorites we knew our guests wanted” helped both operations and supply-chain logistics.
Buffets are still part of hotel service, but speakers said they and others continually experiment with the best and safest ways to use them since in most cases, tearing out the hardware really isn’t an option.
Crocini cited an experiment Hilton did at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, a Honolulu resort that typically receives huge breakfast buffet volume. The property tested technology that allowed guests to apply a plastic glove before serving themselves on the buffet. That only got about 50% satisfaction, he said.
Other ways in which hotels are adapting buffets include “placing individually portioned food on the buffet, so guests grab one plate or serving, or having someone serve the guest from the buffet,” he said.
Formal room service has likely changed for good, speakers said, though the shift away from formal table service to casual delivery was already in adaptation; the pandemic just accelerated it.
Crocini said traditional room service is a heavy cost for owners with no discernible financial upside, so Hilton is looking into a “knock-and-drop model” brand standard at some hotels, in which staff deliver room service in to-go containers, or guests pick it up.
Cocktails, particularly batched and to-go cocktails, have been another pandemic-era win for hotel bars that operators say aren’t going anywhere.
Goedde called to-go cocktails “a real silver lining” to the lean months. Her team did brisk business in to-go alcohol, often in large formats, and even did pop-up concepts around their cities.
Contreras and Crocini said these types of cocktails are definitely still on the menu at Hyatt and Hilton hotels moving forward.
“Pre-COVID, we saw some of these trends, like pouched cocktails and prebatched cocktails in jars, at high-end hotels, but now that’s how people want them because of safety reasons,” Crocini said.
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