Generating a livelier atmosphere can help to draw in the lunchtime crowds at hotel F&B venues.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Hoteliers looking to compete with local restaurants for lunch crowds said that they’ve had some success by creating an interactive buzz around their food-and-beverage venues.
When the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles underwent a $75-million renovation in 2016, revamping the F&B options and lobby space was part of the plan, said Jeff Rostek, the hotel’s regional VP of full-service franchise operations.
With the redesign, the property’s previously closed-off dining area became very open, which was an important improvement, he said, noting that’s a big part of what brings people in for lunch.
“Wherever you are, if you’re at the front-desk pod checking in, you can see the lounge, you can see the market and you can see the dining room,” he said. “So you get that great buzz and kind of energizing feeling when you walk into the hotel. “
Showcase the best assets
Rostek said the hotel’s Unity LA Restaurant, Open Market and Bar serves as a bar, fresh grab-and-go station and sit-down dining all in one for three meals a day, and is built around clear glass to showcase the foods, which are inspired by cultures from several LA neighborhoods, such as Koreatown.
He added that there might be a perception among guests that hotels aren’t able to provide a quick lunch, so instead they might run to a sandwich shop across the street during a break in the day.
“That’s why the visibility is important, so that they see (the options here),” he said. “The food is all showcased; it is within that new style of restaurant where it has everything open. You see chefs making the salads and pizzas.”
Placement of F&B options within the hotel is also important, Rostek said.
“We placed (the Unity LA Restaurant, Open Market and Bar) kind of strategically right next to the elevator, so when you come out of the elevators, or you’re going into the elevators, you’re basically looking right at the market,” he said.
At midday, the market is the hotel’s most popular area, bringing in a lot of workers from local businesses to have lunch at stations serving fresh soups, noodle dishes, salads and sandwiches, Rostek said.
“When we compare the numbers from where we were to where we are now, we’re getting much more than our fair share of the revenue per occupied room during midweek,” he said. “We’re getting much more right now than our direct competitors.”
Creating a community
Sean Potter, director of F&B at the M Beta at Charlotte Marriott City Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, said every initiative, including F&B, is aimed at driving local business.
Most hotels might rely on locals for 30% of their business, Potter said, but at his hotel, it’s the opposite, with locals accounting for about 70%.
“Our belief and our bet is that if we can make ourselves one of the busiest places in the local community, then (locals and guests are) going to want to come,” he said.
The hotel’s coffee shop, Coco and the Director, accomplishes that by offering locals a creative and comfortable space to work in, he said.
“All we ask is that you buy something, (even) if you just buy a cup of coffee. We have free Wi-Fi (and) three different co-lab spaces attached to the coffee shop,” Potter said. “The space was really designed to help people think outside of the box.”
From there, a lot of those same people make their way to the bar around 5 p.m. at the hotel’s restaurant Stoke Charlotte—which also features an open-kitchen style design—to order off of the small-bite tapas menu.
The F&B scene at the SLS South Beach Hotel in Miami also is a mix of locals and guests, said Jimmy Pumarol, director of F&B operations.
“We’re very well known by the locals,” he said. “They know Katsuya (the hotel’s sushi restaurant) very well; they know the hotel … so the locals come and hang out and they enjoy great F&B.”
An experience above all
The team at SLS South Beach offers both hardy and light dishes between its restaurants, The Bazaar and Katsuya, Pumarol said, but the quality of the food is the main priority, which is why he said the restaurants don’t focus as much on grab-and-go options.
The hotel’s restaurants have offered grab-and-go in the past for guests who request it, but Pumarol said he prefers an experience in which guests sit down and enjoy a fresh meal made in-house.
“I think we’re a little bit different,” he said. “I don’t think we can please everybody, so we try to stick to what we do very (well), which is amazing food in a simple way.”
To add a fun experience that the hotel can capitalize off of, the SLS South Beach sets up crystal jars filled with a daily rotation of different candies and desserts at the bar area, Pumarol said.
“We sell the candy by the ounce. We have a little scale and scooper, so it’s very fun,” he said. “What we try to do is offer those things that make them feel at home and bring them back to their childhood.”
At 3:05 p.m. each day, he said, it’s tradition in Miami to have “cafecito time” in which every restaurant breaks for midday coffee.
“That’s what we do; we offer that at 3:05 p.m. every single day, so you can come and have your coffee and pastries that we serve in the hotel,” he said.
Rostek said he tries to keep prices reasonable, but that has to be weighed against the higher cost of higher-quality ingredients.
“The (dishes) are priced where we feel people are buying,” he said. “That was one of our big things in the beginning. We made a couple of iterations in pricing because it was a little too expensive in some areas. … Obviously we still have to be profitable, but we wanted it to be reasonable to the point where people buy—otherwise it’s a waste.”
Potter said prices at Stoke and Coco and the Director are competitive with local restaurants in walking distance to the hotel, and don’t take other hotels’ F&B prices into consideration.
“We’re not cheaper; we’re right in line,” he said.