OPINION: Should hotels be delivering F&B as destinations in their own right rather than just an add-on to bedrooms?

Hoteliers should get a second slice of the cake with each customer with destination food and drink offerings. Hotel owners and managers that approach their dining as an afterthought, rather than as a business in its own right, are at risk of missing out on vital business, writes Christopher Kelsey, management consultant at Tricon Foodservice Consultants.

It goes without saying that rooms are what drive revenue within any hotel property. However working on the side-lines are the hotel’s restaurants and bars, conventionally seen as an amenity for hotel guests. Hotel food and beverage outlets are operations which, to many hotels, are a requirement or an additional feature, no different to having a spa or a large outdoor swimming pool.

Hotel F&B operations have historically been about three things: providing a consistent, easy and reliable meal to a captive audience, supporting events and functions in the hotel space, and providing additional value to the overall hotel guest experience.

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But as today’s globetrotters becomes increasingly aware of restaurant and food trends, hotels should really begin to reconsider how they position their food and beverage operations.

The modern traveller has become inundated with information. In a bid to create a unique and personal experience, they will have spent countless hours on websites such as TripAdvisor to customize their trip including planning where they will go out to eat.

That means they will be less content with simply ordering overpriced room service or getting in the buffet line with other hotel guests at 8am to have room temperature scrambled eggs. They want to experience a real piece of local culture and cuisine.

Whilst hotels may put a greater emphasis on their rooms, it does not mean that they are completely ignoring their F&B operations. A quick online search of ‘restaurants in hotels’ will deliver thousands of hits. Catchy words such as ‘Fine Dining’ and ‘Michelin’ are the first to pop up – as you might expect to find within any large metropolitan centre. But is there a middle ground? Are restaurants in hotels destined to be either solely supportive of rooms or “high end” restaurants with [enter celebrity chef name here] restaurants?

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In recent years the source of creativity for new restaurant concepts has shifted. It has moved on from the basement kitchens of luxury hotels in France (the usual breeding ground for classically trained chefs) and is now coming from street vendors willing to take a risk on a niche product.

Customer demands and expectations are shifting rapidly as high street restaurant concepts take on bolder and bolder directions. Customers are looking for something different and the market is responding. Why should they spend any more time in another classic French restaurant when they could be sitting at an alternative restaurant watching chefs prepare North African dishes in front of them? It is an exciting time to be involved with F&B and there is no reason why hotels should be left behind.

It is clearly a missed opportunity. Travelers are increasingly interested in food, and hotels have the capacity to deliver unique experiences. And there is no doubt that hotels can provide gorgeous F&B spaces. Developers building hotels often have budgets for restaurants and bars that your average restaurateur could only dream of.

Perhaps this is part of the problem. Perhaps there is a fear that the hotel experience must extend seamlessly into the restaurant space. Or perhaps there is a need to play it safe given the level of investment. More often than not, your standard multi outlet hotel will include either a French, Italian, Japanese, or Grill/Seafood restaurant. Tried, tested. Copy, paste.

Hotels should re-evaluate themselves and really begin asking who they are targeting with their F&B operation. There is no real reason why a hotel cannot maintain a focus on rooms and at the same time develop a strong and independent restaurant with a unique identity. A solid restaurant concept can be a means of extending the hotel identity beyond its location, beyond its look and feel and beyond its star rating.

A unique restaurant identity requires hotels to develop a separate business plan and strategy – one which has its own positioning and branding. Developing destination concepts within hotels will require more work but hotels have immense support structures and should take full advantage of them.

The opportunity is there for hotels to diversify themselves and avoid restaurants being reliant on the property’s room division for customer footfall. There is plenty of space for hotels to step out into, but the window won’t always be this open. Yesterday’s traveller was comfortable and accepted the mundane. Tomorrow’s traveller won’t be.

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