Adapting F&B offerings helps hotels maintain a connection to their communities and staff while contributing critical revenue.
GLOBAL REPORT—While the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is shutting many hotels completely, some hoteliers are finding revenue, marketing and even public relations opportunities through food and beverage.
The world has seen many restaurants in recent weeks adapt their operations to carry-out or delivery formats only, and many full-service hotels have followed suit. The difference is that while hotel restaurants typically drew business primarily from guests, now they’re connecting more with locals, who are happy that food carryout and delivery is still on the list of permitted activities under pandemic restrictions.
For Bill Nassikas, president and COO of Westroc Hospitality, keeping Westroc’s three Phoenix-area independent hotels open is more of an investment in the future, he said.
“We’ve gone from a service business to a support business,” he said. “We might be better closing from a pure financial position, but there are intangibles, and our hotels play a role in the community.”
Despite low occupancies of guests and even among residents (two of the Westroc portfolio have condo units), Nassikas said keeping some F&B elements, as well as promoting carryout and delivery, “is keeping a core group employed, and it’s serving the community.”
“The goodwill we see will be an investment in the future,” he said.
Adapt what you have
Adapting current menu items, service standards and staffing is the first step in deciding whether this can work, sources said.
Salish Lodge & Spa GM Alan Stephens said via email interview that it wasn’t hard for his hotel, located in Snoqualmie, Washington, to make the pivot, because it already had a robust carryout service from The Attic, its casual pizza-and-sandwiches restaurant on-property.
Stephens also is director of operations for Columbia Hospitality, which operates the Salish Lodge & Spa.
“It made perfect sense to expand on the menu and provide additional options for the community and guests who love coming to the Lodge,” Stephens said. “We reviewed offerings from The Attic and The Dining room to create a new menu that included a selection of favorites from each restaurant. We also made sure that the menu items selected would transport well and provide the same level of quality that our guests expect from Salish Lodge.”
At Westroc’s Hotel Valley Ho, guests can order from an abbreviated roomservice menu, but where Nassikas sees the most opportunity is in carryout and delivery within a 5-mile radius of the hotel, which benefits from sitting in a residential neighborhood west of Old Town Scottsdale.
The hotel partners with GrubHub and Postmates, but employees do free delivery to the immediate neighborhood—another way to strengthen that local connection, albeit at a safe social distance, Nassikas said.
Salish Lodge & Spa also offers a grab-and-go cart in the front of the hotel to facilitate easy and safe walk-up business from locals.
Both Stephens and Nassikas said it helps to have an easy drive-through-style layout for customers to pick up their food.
“Guests drive through our porte-cochere, and we have staff with gloves on, maintaining distance and able to pass over the to-go food that’s been packaged (in disposable packaging) safely,” Nassikas said.
Leaning into this new F&B service offers some fun opportunities for promotions too, sources said.
With many areas adopting relaxed liquor licensing laws, delivering packaged wine and beer as part of orders—and batched cocktails, in many cases—provides a good add-on to food carryout and delivery.
The Salish Lodge & Spa adapted its popular date-night menu to carryout, offering a special package including two entrees, sides and a bottle of wine.
Family-style packages that feed four to six people are other popular options, and at Hotel Valley Ho, guests can order packaged meals that they finish cooking at home, whether that’s grilling steaks or baking cookies from dough.
Hotels also are using F&B to stay connected via social channels.
The Hilton Colon Guayaquil hotel, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, remains open with limited existing guests and no new bookings, but it has expanded its social outreach through fun videos, including step-by-step cooking tutorials posted to the hotel’s Facebook and Instagram platforms.
PR Director Zaide Manzur spearheaded an effort at the hotel called #HiltonTips, which reinforces stay-at-home guidelines while sharing “content with value from our experts that truly can help you at home,” she said via email interview.
For the Hilton Colon Guayaquil, that means social videos showcasing easy recipes, laundry secrets and cleaning tips, as well as videos of team members from home that show more tips, like cooking or kids’ activities.
Manzur herself shoots the videos—while maintaining strict social-distancing protocols that align with Ecuador’s guidelines—and edits and posts them from home.
“We’ve been getting a great response from our followers, team members and society in general,” she said. “We even receive pictures of the results (people) have gotten with our recipes, and we have also been asked for specific recipes and more cooking content, which is great.”
Additional positive benefits
In addition to revenue and staffing benefits, F&B also is allowing hotels to support their communities and employees in different ways.
All sources said that once it became clear hotels wouldn’t be hosting the typical volume of guests, they saw opportunities to donate food to local food charities and to furloughed employees.
Hotel Valley Ho has a standing partnership with Ronald McDonald House and made food and supplies donations. Now, the hotel donates a percentage of its F&B sales to the charity.
The Hilton Colon Guayaquil donates to healthcare professionals through a foundation called Manos por la Vida (Hands for Life), and Salish Lodge & Spa donated to the FareStart food bank in Seattle.
Nassikas said Westroc also does care packages for staff and allows purchasing at cost for products like toilet paper and tissues.
“We’ve become as much of a support service for staff as we are for the community,” he said.
Sources said they acknowledge the day-by-day fluidity of operating in the current environment but need to stay true to their standards.
“We are focused on delivering a quality meal that aligns with our incredible offerings here at the Lodge,” Stephens said. “We continually review sales, menu items and make sure we are exceeding the expectations of our guests.”
Nassikas said keeping F&B running now is one way to ensure a smoother transition to more typical business.
“We like to think there’s an economic benefit, but at the end of the day, it’s keeping the engine running for us so that when things do start to come back, we can be ahead of the curve, at least as far as having some staff here to re-energize the hotel,” Nassikas said.
Sources said the F&B-related services they’re providing now serve two important purposes: connecting with community needs and reinforcing brand and values.
“We encourage each member of the service industry to look deep into the current situation of their hometown,” Manzur said. “Get your team together, listen to them, and together search for the best thing you can share from your core to the society, without thinking of the revenue, but the value you are going to give them (in) these hard times.”
Stephens agreed. “This truly shows that we are all in this together and will do whatever we can to help each other out,” he said. “What you are doing now must ensure guests will come back to experience ‘the real thing’ when your restaurants open back up.”