As design trends for hotel food-and-beverage outlets continue to evolve, design experts are focused on comfy seating and combining the restaurant and lobby area to create the right experience.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—A hotel restaurant that stands alone is becoming a thing of the past.
Hotel food-and-beverage design experts said projects they’re currently working on focus on integrating the hotel’s restaurant with the lobby.
In the last decade, “the hotel restaurant has even become more significant and more important for the hotel, and has even become a part of the neighborhood,” said Louie Sison, senior designer at Wilson Associates.
Blending of the restaurant and lobby space plays into this neighborhood feel, as well as making restaurants more approachable.
“That stigma of (the) hotel restaurant” can’t be ignored, Sison said.
“It might be a high-end steak place or a high-end Italian place … there’s still certainly a market for that, but I think we’ve been seeing even our 4-, 5-star clients offering more casual, more approachable concepts to their restaurants,” he said. “And it doesn’t necessarily mean more humble materials, but it’s the type of food, the type of service, the type of seating that we’ve been seeing and how to integrate the restaurant more so into the lobby so people can check in or walk into the neighborhood; maybe (they can) enjoy the lobby for a little bit and then sashay their way into a restaurant into a corridors or grand doors. There’s really been that blending of the two spaces.”
Another part of this trend is downsizing the lobby, said Douglas DeBoer, founder and CEO of Rebel Design+Group.
“Today’s modern traveler has raised the expectation for an authentic local experience,” he said via email. “The old-fashioned, oversized formal lobbies are being downsized and replaced with F&B areas that overflow within the lobby, creating a lively guest experience. This design change urges hotel guests to get out of their rooms, which energizes both the lobby area and food-and-beverage spaces.”
Some hoteliers still want their restaurants to have a separate entrance from the hotel, said Bob Kraemer, co-founder of Kraemer Design Group.
“(We’re) working on three projects: one new construction, one historic and one is a renovation. All three—different clients, different developers—all want to have an entrance to the restaurant from the outside,” he said. “Kind of the standalone feel and look, however, every one of them wants the restaurant integrated with the lobby.
“That’s a departure from five, 10 years ago where every one of the prototypes were looking at trying to create a standalone restaurant experience so that it would be outside guests coming to it; and now it’s really the boutique model as I would describe it … the lobby is integrated with the (F&B).”
Creating the experience
Another key to a successful restaurant is supplying it with good seating, Kraemer said. In the past, restaurant design was focused on cramming in as many seats as possible, but that’s changed, he said.
“There’s been kind of a backpedaling to make sure all of the seats are very good so that the experience is good,” he said. “It’s refocusing on the actual guest experience as opposed to the revenue potential because people are tending to stay longer; they’re reporting the business more, the social media side of it … those types of elements, so we’ve been focusing on those conversations with our clients.”
To create the right experience, you have to be able to set the right mood, sources said.
Tim Freeman, hospitality studio lead and senior designer at Zimmerman Weintraub Associates, said “lighting is one of the most critical aspects of the dining experience.”
“If you get that wrong, it can completely destroy the tone of your entire experience and the tone of your meal,” he said. “It has to be well-balanced, so you have to have proper lighting levels. … Dim ability is very important, especially in a hotel because you need to be able to set this tone throughout the day. So you’re going to need to be able to have adjustable lighting so you can set the morning mood versus the lunchtime mood versus the dinner mood versus the late evening mood, to be everything to everyone.”
DeBoer said a lot goes into creating a “cohesive F&B experience, and the overall design must be aligned with the brand story to properly impact the mood, emotion and drama of the space.”
“Proper lighting choices are important as they set the tone of an F&B concept,” he said. “Considerations include how the space will be lit at different times of day. The latest trend is back to the classics. Edison bulbs and farm-style lighting that has been popular in the last few years are out, and we can expect to see (softer) light sources. The ambient lighting trend is back and can be traced to the Hygge trend, because softer lighting is simply welcoming.”
Hotel restaurants are also moving toward a more residential feel, Freeman said.
“Going along with the idea of mixing and intermingling the lounge and dining possibilities, we’ve been integrating a lot of lounge-type furnishings into restaurants,” he said. “Instead of a booth, you might have a piece that’s actually more like a residential-style sofa with tables that may pull up to it; you may have lounge chairs (and a) more continental height table so it has more of a sort of dining in your home kind of experience.”
Sison added it’s also important to create a feeling of warmth.
“(We’re) using wood in more interesting ways where really the wood that we use, whether that’s in ceilings or in walls, really creates this warmth in the space,” he said.
Hotel staffing plays a role in design
Kraemer said a lot of the F&B projects his company has worked on lately have had to take into consideration back-of-house design, as well as new trends in food services.
“(One trend) is relative to staffing, and the cost of staff and operators really looking to concentrate on the number of employees, what the employees do, so on and so forth. … When we’re out in the commercial world and we look at the limited-service style restaurants, think of … Panera or others where it’s fresh food, but there’s no wait staff … how to incorporate that sort of knowledge into the hospitality has been one of the discussions taking place,” he said. “It’s a little more challenging because, in a sense, a big part of hospitality is being catered to. So there’s a lot of discussion on that, and (in the course of) the next year you’re going to see a lot of experimentation on what that really means in real life.”
Hotels will be trying the kiosk ordering model that’s used in airports now, and will continue to try to minimize staff, Kraemer said. One way hotels are minimizing staff is by combining the kitchen operations for multiple F&B outlets on-property, he said.
“Instead of having three kitchens, (you can have) one kitchen that services three outlets, but it has to do more with storage and duplication of that kind of element,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of that kind of work in our planning exercises.”