While the coronavirus pandemic will change how hotels provide F&B in the short term, the great experiences and innovation that underline the boutique experience don’t need to change, sources said.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Many hotel restaurants and other foodservice outlets are finding ways to survive the pandemic by offering delivery and getting creative with carryout cocktails and family-size meal portions.
But for independent boutique hotels, the pressure is always on to be even more innovative and forward-thinking about how to approach food and beverage, and as hotels around the world begin to reopen, opportunities loom for reinvention.
Speakers on “The boutique hotel’s crisis guide to food and beverage,” produced by BLLA, offered their takeaways on how independent hoteliers can embrace the new normal and even thrive in it.
1. Roll with changes but hang on to your differentiators.
Speakers agreed that the first step for boutique hoteliers is to acknowledge that the way they used F&B to reinforce their story or brand may not stay the same post-pandemic—but it needs to retain the essence.
“This isn’t going back to normal,” said Julia Heyer, president of Heyer Performance. “Boutique hotels were always at the forefront of cool concepts and lifestyle dining, and a lot of that had to do with density of seating, environmental qualities and how boutique is always very experiential.”
Current trends such as carryout food may not necessarily mesh with the overall experience boutique hotel restaurants have been trying to promote, and she called that “a big dichotomy the industry will have to find a way through.”
Jody Pennette, founder and CEO of cb5 Hospitality Consultants, said it’s tough to think about boutique hotel restaurants and bars without the full experience that comes along with the food and drink, but it can be done if hoteliers stick to their core values.
“A boutique hotel without its F&B operation probably feels a little impotent; it’s a big part of the touchpoint for guests,” Pennette said. “It’s important that as we start to develop efficiencies and ways to evolve the dining, that we don’t lose sight that (boutique hotel dining) was always effervescent; it was always meant to have a certain effect.”
To that end, he said, “it’s important that we don’t just start putting food into a bag, because that was never our role to begin with, and it was never what people sought out.”
2. Delivery and carryout are here to stay. Make them great.
Boutique hotels with operating F&B outlets are finding creative ways to really lean into the pivot away from in-house dining and toward at-home dining, Heyer said.
She said things such as packaged cocktails are going over well, as are what she called “dinner baskets,” or prepared meals that echo what people may pick up from a gourmet food market or even a meal delivery service. Hotel restaurants that tap into their foodservice connections to provide fresh produce and other grocery options for guests are another win.
Something else to consider is how well your food travels. Pennette said it’s important to be mindful that your restaurant’s carryout meal experience needs to be just as good via delivery.
“Chinese (food) and pizza are good the next day, you can eat them out of the container, it’s natural they’ve been strong” in the new carryout environment, he said.
It’s also key to think about the packaging alongside the food, he said, because if one brings down the other, the experience isn’t the same.
3. Think about best uses for your F&B spaces.
As social experiences change, traditional scenarios for boutique hotel restaurants—like trendy bars packed with people and communal tables in crowded, high-design dining rooms—will change, too, speakers said.
The ghost (or cloud) kitchen concept, which has been picking up steam in recent years with the advent of more widespread food-delivery services, is one coming to the forefront during the pandemic, said Steven Kamali, founder of Hospitality House. Ghost kitchens essentially operate to prepare food for carryout and delivery without a guest-facing restaurant seating area.
He said that given the realities of social distancing and health concerns, people simply won’t gather, and restaurants won’t be able to provide the experience they want to. Until then, ghost kitchens can go a long way toward “giving people access to fun and interesting food but in a different environment,” he said.
Heyer said some forward-looking hoteliers are looking at how they might repurpose their current F&B space to maximize revenue generation based on these new trends.
“I think reusing facilities and cloud kitchens are really smart because … hoteliers aren’t going to see the $3,000-per-square-foot venues where it’s all about density,” she said. “All of these metrics and benchmarks are going to change going forward.”
Jay Coldren, managing director of Streetsense, said innovation reflects what boutique hotels are all about.
“The boutique segment is always positioned to be innovative and scrappy and think about new ways to make money,” he said. “You pitch in and use your facility in the way that is most beneficial to the bottom line.”
As travel picks up, Coldren said hotel restaurants may pivot to offering more private dining, “for families that have been quarantined together to go out in a way where they feel safe and be in a semi-private or private dining situation,” he said. “For the knife-and-fork restaurant, this could be an opportunity.”
4. Remember that crisis brings opportunity.
Speakers said they’re excited about the innovations that will emerge post-pandemic.
“If there is a silver lining to this, it’s innovation, and breaking down of barriers,” Coldren said. “We may have said, ‘Well, we can’t deliver full meals,” and of course we can. … That’s what’s great about this—we’re having to do (things) that seemed completely foreign before but may be a fantastic business model opportunity.”