In 2009, Hostmark hospitality renovated the lounge of a DoubleTree property it owned near the Tampa International Airport in preparation for the Super Bowl coming to town, converting it into a sports bar that featured 14 high-def flatscreens and a menu stocked with Black Angus burgers, prime rib sliders, and chicken pesto paninis. Months later the company found that the hotel restaurant wasn’t getting as much traffic as it had before the lounge’s renovation. For many guests, the restaurant couldn’t compete with the sports bar, even though it featured an equally impressive menu. “The restaurant was often empty because we had this new lounge experience and the guests wanted to be in there,” says Hostmark CEO Jerry Cataldo. “It was more social and a more relaxed environment.” Hotel restaurants and bars aren’t as simple as assembling the right menu items, he says, you have to really understand what your guests are looking for if you want to turn a profit. “At the end of the day, our F&B bottom line went up because we were delivering what our guests want.”
When it comes to hotel F&B, it pays to be adaptable. In the case of the DoubleTree Tampa, says Cataldo, he didn’t care where the guests were eating, just as long as he was capturing more of their business inside the hotel. “You want to avoid a situation where your guests come to the hotel to do their business and then go out to restaurants in the area to meet friends and hang out,” he says. “Or if they’re staying in, then they don’t really want to sit in a traditional restaurant environment—they need something more lively.”
While it worked for the DoubleTree Tampa to serve up lunches and dinners in a sports bar environment, this obviously isn’t a one-size-fits-all F&B solution. “Each property needs to understand the specific value drivers of the guests it serves,” says restaurant consultant Arlene Spiegel. “For some hotels a grab-and-go option in the lobby is a better choice than a white glove full-service restaurant.” Speigel says the key to success in any F&B offering is to be relevant and in that respect, traditional F&B concepts often don’t hit the mark for guests anymore. “Does the customer really need white tablecloth dining anymore—not really,” adds Cataldo.
Speigel says there’s also a larger trend at work with many hotel brands looking at F&B differently to figure out what customers want. New brand F&B concepts are being conceived to broaden both the capabilities and the flexibility of the restaurant to incorporate more grab-and-go products or late night comfort food. This gives hotels more tools to capture revenue and to reinforce a property’s personality.
But it isn’t as simple as rolling out a new F&B concept and hoping it sticks. “With the proliferation of lifestyle and boutique hotels over the last 10 to 15 years, hoteliers have learned how to use F&B to establish an awareness and identity for their hotels,” says Cataldo. Traditionally hotel operators looked at these areas so separately that the F&B staff didn’t work together with the rest of the staff at all. Now, he says, in many recently opened hotels, the F&B offerings set the tone for and are integral to what the entire hotel experience will be.
For example, when Hostmark added the Ravello Lounge to the Amalfi Hotel in Chicago, the company concepted the bar around the Amalfi Coast in Italy, both in look and menu items inspired by region. The extra concepting work paid off when Hostmark eventually sold the property because the hotel had been able to make this limited-service operation feel like a full-service experience for guests.
“There’s more data available to us regarding what our customers want than there ever was before,” says Cataldo. “For instance, I can look at my competition and find out the one thing guests love about a particular hotel is its large beer selection. This makes me more aware of what my potential guests might be interested in.” If hoteliers aren’t taking these things into consideration when designing new products then they’re going to miss the mark.
It isn’t going to get any easier either. “I watched a child at a restaurant playing with an iPad in his high chair and wondered what we’re going to deliver to that kid in 20 years,” says Cataldo. “What his generation will be looking for is going to be completely different than what my generation or my children’s generation expects.”