F&B is an opportunity, not a necessary evil
F&B is an opportunity, not a necessary evil
27 APRIL 2017 7:40 AM

Food-and-beverage service can drive revenue and guest satisfaction, but only if approached with creativity and commitment.

My current lifetime Million Miler balance on my AAdvantage account is 13,912,658. So I bet I have eaten in more hotel restaurants than almost anyone reading this column. What did I learn? Generally, full-service hotel food and beverage sucks! But the good news is opportunity!

Same-old, same-old just isn’t very exciting, which is why they are historically unsuccessful. Part of that has to do with the perception of F&B within our industry. Most hotel pros I’ve worked with still look at F&B as something that’s a necessary evil. (I’ve heard it described as a source of “20% of the profit and 80% of the headaches.”)

A lot of hotels owners and hotel management companies underestimate the financial upside of F&B—and it shows in the lack of investment and creativity. As an industry, we’ve devoted more dollars into perfecting the bedside tables than we have what goes into our guests’ stomachs.

To me, that’s a big mistake—and a lost opportunity.

  • For more ideas on how to make F&B great again, read HNN Editor Stephanie Ricca's take here

And what an opportunity! Your restaurant is really the most personal, experiential feature in your hotel. And it can drive profit by giving your property a memorable differentiator. That differentiator can also be a difference-maker: F&B is one of the most underrated and underutilized sources of revenue. But only if you approach it with creativity and commitment.

And, let us not forget the social media impact of offering great food in your hotel. We know that millennials absolutely love taking and sharing photos of their dining adventures. It’s simple—a great F&B experience drives social media engagement, which drives guest trial, ultimately driving revenue and profit. Bottom line? This impacts your bottom line.

The big question, of course, is what that looks like. How do you go about turning a boring hotel restaurant into something guests are drawn to—and something that’s an asset instead of a liability? Here are a few lessons we’ve learned with some recent successes:

Opening up
Open kitchens and floor plans are very popular these days, and there’s a good reason for it. Your restaurant can be a source of social energy and a place that shapes the way guests remember your hotel. Even for guests who want to dine alone, open layouts allow diners to “be alone together” and still enjoy the atmosphere. Our corporate director of F&B, Lori Crowley, says that “people want to eat with their eyes first, and want to be where the action is.” I couldn’t agree more.

Warm eggs and cold martinis
Nothing gets a day started on the wrong foot like cold eggs and soggy toast. Details matter. Little things make a big difference, whether it’s taking the time to train your team and make sure they’re ready to go the extra mile on service; committing to using local and high-quality ingredients; picking out some interesting glassware; or simply not putting 180-degree eggs on a 60-degree plate and expecting them to not get cold.

Place matters
One of the best ways to make your restaurant stand out is to give it a real sense of place. The Unity L.A. concept at the renovated Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is a perfect example.

The Unity L.A. concept at the renovated Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport is designed to embrace local flavor and traditions. (Photo: Prism Hotels & Resorts)
  • Click here for more examples of resorts that rely on local flavor to differientiate themselves.

Unity comes from community, and everything about the restaurant, from the menu to the décor, is designed to give guests a sense of regional flavor. Unity L.A. embraces the region’s rich Latin and Asian cultural and culinary traditions, and brings those flavors to the menu in a way that’s distinctive but still accessible. From dishes inspired by Peruvian street food, to traditional recipes that literally came out of the family kitchens of restaurant employees, the result is a menu (and an experience) that guests just can’t get anywhere else.

Another example worth noting is the work our team is doing at our Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Resort. They have leveraged creativity in a great way. The property uses ingredients from its onsite salsa garden and inspires us with the way they incorporate the flavors of the southwest into their dining options.

Now trending
It’s important to stay on top of the latest dining trends and consumer preferences, but you also don’t want to be a slave to them. Don’t be formulaic. Guests see through that. Use trends as a source of inspiration, not as a guidebook. The idea is to give people what they want, but do your best to make sure it’s something they can’t get at every other hotel restaurant.

Take it to the banquet
At the Unity L.A., the same successful dining experience has been taken into the banquet facilities and room service menus. I don’t even like to call it room service; in-room dining is a better phrase. Because of this strategy, it’s no coincidence that in-room service at the Hyatt Regency LAX is up significantly. And we’ve seen the same bottom-line boost across the board: Our RevPAR is higher than our competition, and our restaurant is 40% above the market average on revenue per available seat.

A strong management team with F&B experience can do something really special, and double the average meal ticket in the process. And, if the quality is there, we’ve seen that people will pay. At the end of the day, it’s about making the most of your square footage, so give it the attention it deserves. A full-service hotel has to have a restaurant anyway. In my opinion, you might as well do it right.

Steve Van, president and CEO of Prism Hotels & Resorts, founded the Dallas-based company in 1983. He serves on a number of industry boards, including the Hilton Doubletree Hotel Owner’s Advisory Council, and also served on the Starwood Hotels Owner’s Advisory Council for the creation of Aloft Hotels. Since 2008, he has been a founding director of AHMSA, a nonprofit based in Bogota, Columbia, that teached internal refugees entrepreneurial skills to lift their families out of poverty. Among many other accolades, he was the youngest director of NATO’s U.S. Arm, the Atlantic Treaty Assembly, and was presented with the Vincentian Ethics Scholar Award in 2006 in recognition of his valuable contributions in fostering business ethics research. He also co-founded the Texas Lyceum Association.

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