Indie hotels are changing dining areas and operations to safely give guests the F&B experiences they want.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Dining areas and operations at independent hotels are adapting to provide enjoyable F&B experiences while keeping guests and staff healthy and safe.
Some hotels that stayed open or recently reopened during the pandemic have changed staffing, layouts and menus to comply with state and local regulations aimed at stopping or slowing the spread of the coronavirus. As indie hoteliers make changes, they are also keeping in mind what their guests and local communities want.
“The F&B experiences we have created at our independent properties are designed with our community and neighbors in mind, as our hotel guests are drawn to places that locals enjoy and rave about,” said Michael Swasey, COO at Marcus Hotels & Resorts, via email. “Our venues always have a local nod and a connection to the experience of the hotel in which they operate.”
Changes to layout
The changes Marcus Hotels has made to its open independent hotel F&B outlets were more about flow than hard design, Swasey said. They created more space between seating and added partitions or closed off seating areas where spacing wasn’t possible.
Several of its dining areas, both communal and private, have been temporarily repurposed into small-table dining to adhere to physical distancing.
“We are paying close attention to how our guests and staff utilize the space and how we can further adapt,” he said. “As needs evolve, we will determine what changes may be permanent and how we design and redesign spaces in the future.”
Greg Griffie, SVP at Davidson Restaurant Group, a vertical of Davidson Hotels & Resorts, said via email his company operates upscale casual to fine dining with a mix of about 80% communal space and 20% private dining. The company’s restaurants have changed the seating layouts and spatial plans to comply with local guidance.
The interior dining facility at Hotel Erwin in Venice, California, converted into a general store with grab-and-go items for guests, said Paul Eckert, VP of lifestyle, independent and resorts at Evolution Hospitality, the lifestyle and independent hotel management subsidiary of Aimbridge Hospitality.
Changes included removing seating and adding a section with in-house cocktail kits that guests can buy and take to their rooms. Pizza is also made in-house for the general store, he said.
“So what it does is it really gives the guests confidence that they’re not having direct contact or interaction,” he said. “All of the sales are posted through the front office terminals, which are nearby.”
The Carté Hotel San Diego Downtown, Curio Collection by Hilton, has a completely indoor dining facility that catered to private parties, but that has since been moved outside to a patio that wasn’t previously programmed for outdoor meal service, Eckert said.
“As far as private dining rooms within traditional restaurants, you know, that’s been an obstacle we can’t overcome based on health requirements,” he said. “It’s not for us to do, and quite frankly, I don’t think consumer behavior would necessarily embrace it as of yet.”
Marcus Hotels adjusted its menu offerings, hours of operation and staffing to match lower-than-usual demand levels and limit guest and staff interactions, Swasey said.
While one of its restaurants was temporarily closed, the property stayed connected with loyal customers by creating and marketing special menus at prix fixe pricing for pre-order and curbside pickup, providing all the measured ingredients to make a gourmet meal. That included wine pairings, prep instructions and a link to a live-cooking demonstration by the chef. The follow up will be a special invitation to the restaurant to experience the same meal prepared by the chef.
“Our focus has been, and will continue to be, adaptability,” he said. “The survival of many food-and-beverage venues over the last handful of months has hinged on the ability to pivot. Restaurants shifted from a typical business model to take-out and/or semi-prepared meals that can be finished at home. The focus has been to retain customer loyalty during this period.”
Marcus Hotels properties have incorporated the company’s CleanCare Pledge for cleaning and physical distancing protocols that meet and exceed those outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Safe Stay program, Swasey said. In the restaurants, that includes removing place settings, replacing beverages instead of refreshing them and managing the seating process to prevent grouping or physical queues.
The restaurants also have contact-free tech for menu presentation, ordering and payment that allows guests use their own devices through a QR code.
“We see the investment in this technology and the related practice and processes to be changes that will be adopted permanently into our food-and-beverage experiences,” he said.
Staffing has changed dramatically, in terms of number as well as personal protective equipment, sanitation and safety. Eckert said hotels have to be cognizant of social distancing and the safety of staff.
“The staff that is working is happy to see all the precautions we’ve taken,” he said. “It gives them confidence. They can provide good service in a safe environment and still take care of their financial obligations and family.”
One example is an independent hotel in Napa Valley called the White House, which is similar to a bed and breakfast, he said. They no longer offer the traditional communal breakfast; instead, they bring the pre-selected breakfast up to guests’ rooms and leave it at their door.
In many cases, Davidson has reduced the size of the service and culinary teams to mirror the local municipalities’ seating capacity directives, Griffie said. The company plans to resume full staffing once operations are at full capacity without restrictions.
F&B in the future
Design and the experience of dining spaces in the future will be more minimalist, without paper menus or signage, Swasey said. Guests will order online or through apps and the payment process will be touchless.
“The virtual aspect will be part of the experience, comparable to how the ordering and tracking of Amazon purchases is part of their retail experience,” he said. “An important benefit of this technological advancement will be the ability to stay connected to and communicate with our customers, even when they are not in our venues.”
Restaurants will return to pre-COVID-19 seating capacity once a vaccine is developed and launched, Griffie said.
“We do believe we will see a ‘casualization’ of dining continue,” he said. “People continue to want to feel comfortable and relaxed, even in ‘fine dining’ restaurants. Consumers want to experience post-worthy, phenomenal food-and-drink experiences but in a casual environment.”
For the foreseeable future, most of the changes Evolution has made will stay in place, Eckert said.
Even after a vaccine or better treatments become available, consumer behavior likely won’t change for a while because the experiences of the pandemic will stay with people, he said.
“The expectations, especially in independent hotels or your upper-upscale environments, will be that guests will be able to travel and obtain very similar quality products that they did before that were offered in the restaurant setting but through different channels,” he said.