Hotel Food & Beverage in a Post-Pandemic Landscape
By Doug Radkey – 07/22/2020
Nearly all of our favorite and most popular travel destinations around the world have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in a horrendous financial loss for hotels, resorts, and the entire hospitality industry alike.
Research by the American Hotel & Lodging Institution suggests that hotel recovery to pre-COVID-19 levels could take until the year 2023—or perhaps even later with the expected ‘long-term’ loss of business travel and international leisure travellers.
Sadly, many properties have not survived and will not be opening their doors again. Some of those who rely on international travel see little benefit in resuming service while many borders remain closed. And those who are ready to reopen face a very different business environment to the one they were once accustomed to.
There are numerous strategies and alterations to consider moving forward for the operation of a hotel property post-pandemic; but one area that can help properties to regain their guests’ trust plus revenue and profits is that of the food & beverage program.
For years, one could rely on a hotels restaurant and bar for a steady supply of traditional fare. Hotel food wasn’t necessarily an after-thought, but menus lacked (and in some cases continue to lack) inspiration.
However, in today’s global hotel market; both pre-covid and post-pandemic, a cities best and most innovative and creative food & beverage menu could be found in a hotels restaurant and bar.
But it is not longer just about the food. Hotels obviously have their chef(s) – but moving forward they must also consider a ‘director of mixology’ – even for smaller boutique properties.
Consider for a moment, instead of creating cocktails to match the food menu, doing it the other way around and starting with the beverages. You may be surprised by the results.
This is a secret to a successful, high-profit full-sensory on-premise (and off-premise) program.
While there is significant social and economic changes expected (post-pandemic), there will be a growing and potential multi-billion dollar opportunity for hotels to better cater to guests through their food & beverage options – if the venue can weather the current storm.
As the population regains their confidence to book a hotel stay, guests who visit for either business or leisure may be reluctant to travel to too many spots around town due an ongoing fear that it may not be 100% safe to do so.
Furthermore, many (potential) guests will find their finances dramatically affected by the economic downturn which is now inevitable throughout most of the world, and this will also lead to demand for more affordable cuisine and experiences.
Therefore, a food & beverage program with multiple revenue streams including a balance in pricing found within a trusted hotel that provides a consideration towards a full sensory experience for multiple day-parts is critically important.
Hotels today must increasingly try to attract local residents partly because today’s visitors increasingly want to eat where the locals hang out and secondly – because that noted business & leisure travel is expected to be slow for the next 12-18 months.
The food & beverage programs and experiences must shape guests’ understanding of the hyper-local region by supporting local farms, vendors, & culture.
Hotels today and moving in a post-pandemic landscape must promote strong relationships & partnerships with local farmers and producers and introduce their products & flavors to guests in delicious and sometimes, surprising ways.
It is anticipated that hotel guests will expect venues to rely less on imported goods while using more locally-produced items within a 75 mile (100 km) radius due to support local initiatives, the need to embrace the local culture, current (and future) supply chain restrictions, and simply more robust, fresh flavors.
Remember waking up at a hotel and strolling down to the lobby for the breakfast buffet? Sadly, that will be just a memory for most moving forward. It’s likely no secret that it will be a long time before buffets come back. Even with sneeze guards, hotels must (temporarily) shift to à-la-carte menus, made-to-order options, and individually packaged grab-and-go items.
The buffet concept (for breakfast and other day-parts) could also opt to switch to cafeteria-style model instead of self-serve stations (with physical distancing measures in place). Even hotel restaurants with self-serve beverage stations, breakfast bars, salad bars, and a toppings bar will likely need to eliminate these self-serve stations in order to comply with guidelines from both a government point of view and guest sentiment point of view.
These “serving stations” could be individually prepared & plated in real-time by staff from behind the counter which likely means more labor – but providing a safe experience which will win guests over – providing opportunity for further awareness, revenue & profits.
Many hoteliers and hotel brands around the world have begun to shift their food & beverage operations amid the pandemic, catering to locals by launching both takeout and curbside pickup options.
With the introduction of this new revenue channel, it is anticipated that it will stick around for quite some time.
Hotel F&B programs must also offer access to more premium grab & go options and also meal-kits. Whether for a day out exploring the city (remember they may be hesitant to stop in a restaurant they don’t know), or on the way to a business meeting, hotels are uniquely positioned to meet guest needs by leveraging their full-service kitchens to supply pre-made meals, snacks, and even F&B experience kits.
From mid-scale to luxury, some hotel brands are taking the resurgence of “at-home” dining to the next level by creating unique F&B packages for micro-groups at the hotel itself.
As an add-on at booking, guests for example can upgrade to a private dining package that includes customized tastings, cooking tutorials, wine pairings, and cocktail making – all in a private space.
For some hotel & resort properties, the often abundance of outdoor space can also provide ample opportunity for seasonal or year-round food & beverage experiences. Picture open-fire kitchens, bar pavilions, and an atmosphere complete with comfortable seating, temperature control systems, and (hopefully) impeccable views for couples, families, and small group gatherings.
There are a lot of ways technology will enhance hotel operations and experiences moving forward, both in and outside the food & beverage department.
Inside the kitchen, remodels are expected to happen over the next 1-3 years to adhere to the quick-service demand, the demand for the noted new experiences, and the potential lack of qualified staff. This means more self-cooking oven stations, simplified processes, smaller footprints, and smart kitchen technology.
A high level of convenience and contactless service will also be critical on the consumer side, when it comes to on-premise (F&B) room service.
One way to ensure a frictionless experience is through the use of technology.
Approximately one in four hotel guests surveyed by the American Hotel & Lodging Institute, think it’s important for hotels to have 24-hour room service. They want the option to have incredible food and beverage, no matter the time of day.
Post-pandemic, this will still hold true but the service sequence needs to change so that it includes the use of technology and contact-less service, both in the hotel restaurant(s) and in-room. The data shows that one in five guests also want the convenience of ordering with technology – via the hotels app on their phone or even through the TV in their room.
The order can then be packaged & delivered to the outside of the room, to their table in the restaurant, or by having a technology-driven “pick-up locker” in the lobby with mobile phone use to access the food delivered via the hotels kitchen or any third-party delivery partners.
And when it comes to customizing mini bars, 14 percent of guests would choose a hotel where the mini bar is personalized to snack and drink preferences based on the historic data from previous stays or allergies. While some argue the mini-bar is done due to the pandemic – we think hotels just need to personalize it and then make it a point of sanitation between stays.
Quick summary; hotel food & beverage programs must continuously react, adapt, and execute as consumer demand and sentiment fluctuates; both short-term and long-term while providing both unique one-of-a-kind experiences and brand activations.