F&B in 2017: Guests want localized food, flexibility
F&B in 2017: Guests want localized food, flexibility
11 NOVEMBER 2016 9:59 AM

Going into 2017, food-and-beverage experts at hotel companies are focusing on hiring local talent and serving local food, while accommodating guest meal location requests, such as eating breakfast poolside.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Just serving up an appetizing dish within a hotel’s restaurant or delivering comfort food to the guestroom isn’t going to cut it when it comes to providing excellent food and beverage service at hotels in 2017.

Industry F&B experts said guests are looking now for healthy options and savory meals, and they enjoy having the option to eat where they’d like in the hotel. Chris Green, principal and COO at Chesapeake Hospitality, refers to the concept as “unconstrained dining.”

“You can eat what you want where you want . . . whether you want to experience the restaurant menu in your guestroom or in the lobby at an occasional table with friends,” he said. “You’ve got to be prepared to let people be free in their stay. And so we’re trying to work on allowing options and providing spaces for people to get together and either have some handheld food or craft cocktails, wherever they’re most comfortable in the hotel.”

Michael Lindenbaum, EVP of operations and development at Dream Hotel Group, said the F&B staff at Dream properties is also allowing guests to eat meals in areas other than the restaurant or guestroom. 

“We are in the business of saying ‘yes,’” he said. “If the pool opens at 7 a.m. but breakfast is served in the café downstairs, we need to be able to execute a simple request and bring up some coffee or some breakfast.”

Justin Harkey, director of food and beverage at First Hospitality Group, said guests are no longer looking for a specific meal outlet.

“An experience is sought after almost every meal. Something that’s memorable, especially in a hotel environment,” he said. “You see everybody kind of moving away from these cookie-cutter outlets. You even see Hilton and Marriott supplying hoteliers with concepts out of the box. Anything to make it more memorable, more detailed … In a lot of cases, folks won’t eat in the hotel if they don’t find what they’re looking for.”

Popular meals, ‘foodie’ markets
As far as what guests want to eat, sources said they lean toward healthy, local options and bigger flavor profiles.

“I think you have to be really careful about the types of produce and salads you’re offering,” Lindenbaum said. “That’s something that’s pretty much a go-to that’s an expectation at this point.”

Green said Chesapeake has updated its menus a bit to accommodate a change in guests’ taste profiles. 

“We’re really seeing people move away from sweet and heading toward savory and spice, and so it’s something we’ve had to do a lot with menus,” he said. “Obviously, people still want desserts, but they’re looking for these big flavor profiles that caused us to kind of rethink what we’re doing.”

Harkey said First Hospitality Group is working on creating dishes that have bold flavors that are sourced locally and regionally, as well as smaller plate offerings.

“It’s a fun time to be in food and beverage right now with the willingness of the millennials or Generation Z behind them to try new things,” he said. “And you kind of see American cuisine becoming this melting pot of different cuisines.”

Sources identified five current “foodie” markets:

  • Chicago
  • Nashville
  • Atlanta
  • Memphis; and
  • New Orleans.

“Chicago has really established itself as this melting pot of the culinary world, especially here in the states,” Harkey said.

Green said Chesapeake currently sees Memphis and Atlanta as its main foodie markets. Localized meals are served at Chesapeake properties in both areas.

“For example, in Atlanta, we heavily incorporate all of the Atlanta food scene,” he said. “We’re in the Midtown market down there, so we work hard to incorporate things that you would see in the Atlanta market. Whether that’s … doing special things with biscuits, doing things with grits on the plate, adding fried chicken, barbecue. Even in upscale ways, because our hotel is a four-diamond hotel down there, so we have … kind of an upscale take on the Atlanta food scene.”

Green said his company is also partnering with vendors to “extract more value” from the F&B space, which is “something we’re going to need to do as an industry in the next 24 to 36 months.”

“I think that going into a softening period of revenue per available room when everybody is going to be looking for every dollar of performance in their hotel, there’s so much opportunity in the food side,” he said. “Just attacking it and being thoughtful about not only delivering something that’s great, but then refining your processes to make money.”

What’s trending, what’s fading out?
Steven Kamali, CEO of food and beverage advisory firm Hospitality House*, said he’s seeing three themes centered on an overarching local trend in F&B.

“So to me, the three pillars that hotels are currently looking for, they’re looking to be the neighborhood restaurant with local product and local talent,” he said, adding that localized F&B wasn’t what guests were looking for four or five years ago.

Green echoed Kamali’s thoughts on local F&B.

“I think farm-to-table is on its way out, and it’s really next-door-to-table now,” he said. “Hyperlocal is the thing for when you’re visiting a hotel, you want to know what’s going on, what’s available in the marketplace to do. Now, people want to eat from that market. They literally want to experience everything about their stay that’s relevant to that market.”

Dream Hotel Group’s Lindenbaum said foodies don’t exist only in specific markets.

“I think being a foodie, that’s trending,” he said. “Every market has foodies. Culinary exploration is a big part of life, right? Where are we going to eat tonight? That’s what everyone wants to know. Or even better yet, what we love is brand advocacy where our guests are our best advocates.”

Kamali said celebrity chefs at hotels are on their way out.

“I don’t think that all of the ‘celebrity chefs’ have performed in the manner in which developers and hotel owners would have liked, and for that reason, I think you find people shifting their attention to local talent,” he said.

He added that food halls at hotels are also a big trend in the F&B world right now.

Correction, 14 November 2016: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect title for Steven Kamali. 

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