Full-service hotels in crowded hospitality markets are finding themselves at a crossroads when it comes to their F&B programs. More traditional offerings may no longer attract travelers looking to get out and explore an area through their dining experiences. That’s leading some full-service properties to drop restaurants and bars altogether while others are putting even more focus on making their F&B programs stand out, adding unique offerings that are attractive to both guests and area residents alike like locally inspired fare or rooftop bars.
Concord Hospitality, which develops, owns, and manages hotels across the U.S. and Canada, is pursuing the latter approach to emphasize original F&B concepts at several of its premium-branded properties. The company has opened two new dining concepts so far in 2017, with four more slated to open before the year ends. Concord’s Corporate Director of Food and Beverage, Dean Wendel, has more than three decades of hospitality experience and sits on the Marriott International Food and Beverage Advisory Board and the AC Hotels B&F Committee. LODGING caught up with Wendel to discuss Concord’s F&B strategy and how the company develops and positions new dining concepts to make the biggest impact.
Why is Concord putting more focus on F&B right now?
Although we’ve been focused in the past on select-service properties, we’re heading full-steam into full-service, lifestyle, and boutique hotels, which can really demand and exploit a solid food and beverage operation. We’ve had great success with food and beverage at our Renaissance Raleigh property in North Carolina as well as the newly renovated Crabtree Valley Marriott in Raleigh.
How do you determine which properties are best suited for large F&B programs?
It truly depends on the location of the hotel. In very activate settings, we feel that’s a great opportunity to put in a really cool bar and a great restaurant—for example, in the North Hills area of Raleigh, which is an urban, pedestrian-heavy space. People are outside and they want to be seen in these areas, so we try to make them very sexy and attractive.
How do you account for competition from other area dining options and bars?
We’re very thorough during our research and development phase. We are sensitive to making sure we aren’t copying or doing anything similar to other venues and establishments. We try to find our own niche and we believe that there’s plenty to go around. It’s great if you have two or three really awesome bars nearby—then you’re going to pull people into that area from all around.
How do you approach developing new dining concepts?
We look at what’s going to fit the space, what makes the most sense, and how we can incorporate it into the feel of a location. For example, Buckeye Bourbon House is located inside a 100-year-old historic bank building in downtown Columbus, Ohio. We kept as much of that as we possibly could—it’s got 30-foot ceilings, windows that are 20 feet high, and all the sconces. We built in a traditional-style whiskey bar with dark leather seating. We did a couple of private-label barrels—one with Maker’s Mark and one with Knob Creek—so we have our own select blends.
The space for Level7 in the AC Raleigh North Hills is totally different. That’s in a very high-energy area surrounded by large financial buildings and corporate offices. We wanted to pull those folks in at lunch or happy hour and keep them into the evening. We created something that was a little more trendy where everybody can see and be seen, with soft seating and communal tables.
Is there a particular F&B concept that you’re really excited about?
One of them is on top of the Hyatt House in Jersey City, New Jersey, and that’s a 14th floor rooftop bar in addition to the 13th floor terrace. It has complete, unobstructed views of Manhattan—the best that you could ever imagine—looking right over the river with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island off to the right.
Another is Whisky Charlie, which is opening in The Wharf area of Washington, D.C. That’s going to be on top of the Canopy by Hilton Hotel—the very first in the country. Whisky Charlie pays homage to the area and the waterfront.
Has this trend of converting hotel rooftops into F&B spaces been a long-time coming?
I shake my head sometimes thinking, “Why haven’t we been doing this forever?” Until the last 10 years or so, the bar and lounge scene in hotels has not been very good. We had a hard time getting our guests to stay in those areas. Now, that’s where your best mixologists and bar chefs are working. They’re at these hip older, historic bars. It’s become very trendy to go back into the hotel bars. We are hiring great mixologist who are passionate and care about the craft. Along with Concord’s development and design teams, we are making these areas more inviting and a place where people do want to stay and hang out.
As far as converting rooftop space, that’s a little more of a challenge. In a couple of our current properties where we have that rooftop patio space, we’re in the process of reviewing the logistics to see if we can make it work and if it can be profitable. We think we can, but we’re going to have to spend some money. For properties that we’re building now, we’re certainly trying to take advantage of any rooftop or top-floor space as well as anything outside.
How do Concord’s F&B programs adapt to suit changing tastes and trends?
Fads come and go. You don’t want to get stuck holding the bag on something that is no longer relevant. We’re making sure that our outlets and our spaces are sustainable and that we’re nimble enough to react quickly to change and keep up with the needs of our guests. We pay a lot of attention to social media and make sure that we’re staying on brand. We also have a food and beverage summit yearly and we have industry experts talk to all the chefs and F&B directors about where they feel the market or industry is heading.
Photo courtesy of Buckeye Bourbon House