Guest experience

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Stir Up This Authentic Mexican Cocktail

Stir Up This Authentic Mexican Cocktail

by David Klemt

Black glass Coca-Cola bottle with black background

A simple, three-ingredient cocktail can make a big impact on guests when it’s authentic and the build is part of the presentation.

A perfect example of authenticity and a wow-factor cocktail build is the Batanga.

During episode 57 of Bar Hacks, Collin De Laval recommends this deceptively simple drink.

La Batanga

When De Laval is creating, it’s important to him that he remains faithful to a particular country, region or town.

As the company mixologist for Código 1530, that means honoring tequila in an authentic way.

Not only is De Laval a “blanco drinker, through and through,” he’s also unafraid of things getting “rowdy.”

So, while he isn’t the creator of the Batanga, he is a big fan.

One reason, as he mentions on Bar Hacks, is that the drink seems like it shouldn’t work. After all, the recipe combines tequila blanco, lime juice, and Coca-Cola.

Now, one could say that this is “just” a Cuba Libre with tequila stepping in for rum. However, that’s far too dismissive; the flavor profiles are vastly different.

In fact, I’m fairly certain that nobody has raised an eyebrow at a Cuba Libre and said the ingredients shouldn’t work together.

Impactful Build

You may find yourself wondering how this simple cocktail can possibly wow guests. Really, what’s impressive about combining tequila, juice and cola, and stirring?

Well, it’s the stirring that’s the secret.

Per several sources, the Batanga’s creator had a trick up his sleeve when he came up with the recipe. And that trick was a big knife with a wood handle.

Don Javier Delgado Corona created the Batanga in 1961 at La Capilla, his bar in Tequila, Mexico. When it came time to finish his build, he stirred the drink with the aforementioned wood-handled knife.

Even better, Don Javier is reported to have explained, if that knife has been used to cut limes, salsa ingredients, or ingredients for guacamole.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that unless they’ve had a Batanga made in Mexico, not many guests have watched a bartender stir their drink with a big knife.

Of course, not just any knife will have real impact, so I recommend using the biggest knife your highball or specialty glassware will accommodate.

The Recipe and Technique

Obviously, you can decide which of your tequilas to use when adding the Batanga to your menu.

Of course, you can also build it with whatever tequila your guest requests.

However, we’re going to use Código 1530 tequila for this recipe. After all, the brand certainly speaks to authenticity.

Additionally, Código 1530 also speaks to consumer desire to drink better and seek out ultra-premium spirits. Tequila is one of the luxury spirits categories benefitting most from this consumer trend, with sales volume increasing 30.7 percent annually since 2015.

La Batanga

Recipe created by Don Javier Delgado Corona at La Capilla

  • 2 oz. Código 1530 Blanco
  • 0.5 oz. Fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • Coca-Cola to top (per De Laval, only Mexican Coke in the glass bottle will do)
  • Salt for rim

Salt rim of highball glass or other tall glassware with decent width. Add ice to glass. Combine Código 1530 Blanco and lime juice. Top with cola. Most importantly, stir with a big knife and serve to wowed guest.

Image: Jeanson Wong on Unsplash

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

What Your Brand Can Learn from LEGO

What Your Brand Can Learn from LEGO

by David Klemt

Assortment of LEGO bricks in different colors, sizes and shapes

When it comes to brands that enjoy nearly universal reverence, LEGO is a company with enviable presence and visibility.

Around the world, it’s difficult to find someone who isn’t aware of LEGO. It’s even more difficult to find someone who outright dislikes the brand.

Of course, we can say the strength of the LEGO brand boils down to them being a toy company that taps into nostalgia.

However, LEGO’s strength was recently revealed by tech columnist Jason Aten for Inc. The company, it turns out, approaches customer interactions in a “freaky” manner.

Fun

“Freaky,” as Aten explains in the Inc. article, stands for Fun, Reliable, Knowledgeable and Engaging.

When you look at those four words in the context of LEGO’s “freaky” approach, you can see the obvious links that can be made to hospitality.

Let’s start with Fun. This should be an easy one—your restaurant, bar or hotel should provide a fun guest experience.

Really, this should go without saying. If spending time at your hospitality business isn’t fun, why would guests return to spend their money on you?

Also, if your business is fun, your guests will become loyal, walking billboards for you. They’ll tell family, friends, and tourists they need to check out your restaurant, bar or hotel.

However, the guest side is only half of the brand equation. A brand that’s fun to work for as well is even more powerful. Your workers will help you recruit rock stars to add to add to the team if it’s fun working for you.

Think about it: If it’s fun to work for your brand, every team member is now a brand advocate.

Finally, think about your mental and emotional health as an operator. Running a business in this industry will always be difficult to some degree. Wouldn’t you be happiest operating a brand that’s fun and loved by guests and staff alike?

Reliable

Replace the Reliable with “consistent” and you can see where I’ll be going with this one.

While lately they never seem to be shy of controversy, McDonald’s is an excellent example for consistency.

After all, there’s a reason the company is the most-powerful fast-food concept on the planet. Not to malign the brand, but do you think it’s because they craft the best-tasting, highest-quality cheeseburgers?

No, it’s because McDonald’s demands consistency from all their locations. For decades, the company has dialed in their processes.

Global perception of the brand is that regardless of where in the world you visit a McDonald’s, the experience will essentially be the same. There may be menu items exclusive to certain countries or regions, but the core menu will taste the same.

One of the most effective ways to convert a person into a loyal guest is to ensure your experience is consistent.

The food, the service, the atmosphere, the energy… If it’s consistent—also known as reliable—your guests will return (if it’s consistently great, of course).

Knowledgeable

When of the most effective ways to turn a small guest issue into a huge one is to utter the following: “I don’t know.”

Guests hate those three words. Whether it’s a question about a menu item or one that’s about a problem, being told “I don’t know” is frustrating.

According to many reports throughout the years, Disney prohibits guest-facing staff from saying those three words. Instead, if they don’t know the answer to a question, they’re supposed to say, “I can find out for you,” or, “That’s a good question.”

And that’s just one example of ensuring you and your staff are knowledgeable.

Another example is educating your guests.

It’s fair to say that due to the nature of their positions, your bartenders and servers spend the most time engaging with your guests.

Sharing their knowledge of your menu items is a great way to upsell and create loyalty. It’s one thing to be able to rattle off a menu description; it’s quite another to be able to go deeper and share information beyond a short menu blurb.

Bartenders in particular are integral to educating guests. In a few moments, a knowledgeable bartender can introduce your guests to new spirits, beers, wines and cocktails.

That sharing of information demonstrates being Knowledgeable and Fun. And if guests return because of that element of the guest experience, it also embodies being Reliable.

Engaging

Put Fun, Reliable and Knowledgeable together. What do you get? A hospitality brand that’s Engaging.

Of course, that’s not all there is to building an engaging brand.

Social media, it should go without saying, leverages engagement. Your guests—and potential guests—can interact with your brand when they’re not physically at your location via your social channels.

Wendy’s is a compelling example of being Engaging. The brand’s Twitter account is famous for engagement and interaction. It’s also Fun (for their audience, not always so much for their targets) and Reliable (in the sense that we know what’s going to happen if you step to the Wendy’s Twitter admin).

However, I caution against attempting to copy what Wendy’s does on Twitter, lest you draw their ire. Like battle rappers had a long-standing rule against challenging KRS-ONE, hospitality and foodservice accounts should heed the rule against trying to battle Wendy’s on Twitter.

Guest-facing staff with great personalities, informative and fun tastings, special promotions, F&B-focused membership clubs, loyalty programs, and live entertainment are also examples of how you can build an Engaging brand.

They’re also examples of being Fun, Reliable and Knowledgeable. That’s because all four elements feed into one another.

So, take some time to consider what your brand communicates to your guests and staff. If it’s “freaky,” you’re on your way to being as beloved as LEGO.

Image: Xavi Cabrera on Unsplash

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Extend Your Reach with a Loyalty Program

Extend Your Reach with a Loyalty Program

by David Klemt

McDonald's French fries close up in package

It’s increasingly important to stay top of mind with your guests. Now more than ever, that means finding yourself on their screens.

For likely the one-billionth time, allow me to point out something we should all know by now: We’re all on our phones and tablets all the time.

From texts and emails to app notifications and social scrolling, there’s always a reason to check screens.

So, how can operators invade people’s devices? By collecting guest data via a loyalty program.

Fluctuating Support

Not so long ago, industry experts bristled against the mention of rewards and discounts.

Guests, the thought was, had zero interest in signing up for loyalty programs. People would soon frantically seek out “unsubscribe” links after receiving one too many marketing emails.

However, people are quickly thawing, warming to the idea of loyalty programs. Once thought of as too invasive, now marketing experts believe “too intrusive” doesn’t exist.

After all, businesses need to ensure they’re highly visible. Operators must meet guests where they are. Where are they? Their devices.

Rewarding Loyalty

Your staff aren’t the only people engaging with the incentive economy.

Today, it appears that a guest liking your brand isn’t good enough to ensure their loyalty. They want rewards beyond experience, consistency, and delicious food and beverage.

With so many brands competing for your guests’ dollars, you have to stand out to keep them coming back.

Now, there are still industry experts and operators who will tell you to avoid discounting at all costs. Offering a discount, they argue, starts you down the road of devaluing your brand.

Well, the great news is that when creating your own loyalty program, you can offer whatever you see fit. If you fall into the Never Discount camp, none of your rewards have to be discounts.

Free is Better than a Discount

So, let’s remain in the Never Discount realm. What else will encourage guests to sign up for your loyalty program—and actually engage with it?

We can use the loyalty program launched in July by a global fast-food juggernaut as a great example.

Over the summer, McDonald’s launched MyMcDonald’s Rewards. How successful was the launch? More than 12 million people opted into the program.

In exchange for signing up, agreeing to receive alerts, and handing over their data, guests received a free medium French fry.

McDonald’s selected 66 loyalty program members to receive one million MyMcDonald’s Rewards points. One lucky member also received free French fries for life.

Create Your Program

“But David,” I hear some of you arguing, “isn’t free even worse than a discount?”

The short answer is no. A discount can devalue a brand because guests get used to paying less for select items or entire visits. Over time, they perceive the lower price as the standard price. Soon, they’ll wonder when the next discount is coming. You’ll have to either further discount your food and beverage or work harder to re-engage your guests some other way.

If a rewards program is structured correctly, members will have paid for any free item they earn several times over. Most commonly, guests receive points in exchange for dollars spent. They can then exchange those points for a free menu item. This doesn’t devalue the brand, it incentivizes program members to become loyal, repeat guests.

Operators not quite ready to build their own apps can utilize text messages and emails. Of course, the former is the most intrusive (in a good way). Texts can inform members of promotions and encourage them to visit or place an order online. Emails can let members know their current balance and what incentive their close to earning.

Additionally, be generous. Don’t exclude your guests’ favorite items from the program. Why would a loyalty program member remain loyal if they can’t exchange their points for “the good stuff”?

Structure your program correctly and you’ll increase visits per guest and spends per visit. Couple your guest data collection with a platform like SevenRooms and you’ll truly supercharge your revenue.

Image: Brett Jordan on Unsplash

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

What’s a Marketing Fund?

What’s a Marketing Fund?

by David Klemt

Vintage cash register in black and white

Do you know what a “marketing fund” is?

Moreover, if you know what I’m talking about, do your managers and staff have access to it?

A marketing fund—not your marketing budget—is a useful tool that can solve guest experience issues quickly.

What it Is

Both Doug Radkey and I mentioned marketing funds last week.

First, I brought it up in my article about communication and staff empowerment. Next, Doug included the marketing fund on last week’s Bar Hacks bonus episode, titled “Empowerment.” There, he shared the story that inspired my article.

Simply put, a marketing fund is a bit of cash kept on hand for use in a variety of situations.

Some people call it petty cash. Others refer to it as an “emergency” fund. We call it a marketing fund.

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s a small amount of cash most accessible by a manager or, often times, a bartender.

How to Use It

Operators will have to decide on the amount set aside; how often to replenish it; and who has access to the marketing fund.

For some, $40 may be feasible. Others may find that setting aside $200 for the week may work best.

In most cases, a register behind the bar serves as the marketing fund’s home. A manager or bartender knows where it is and can find it quickly.

Now, you’re likely noticing the word “quickly” is coming up a lot in reference to the marketing fund. That’s the point—quick, smooth problem solving.

So, come up with your rules and expectations regarding the marketing fund. Communicate those expectations. Then empower specific team members each shift to access it.

Of course, this requires trust in the team, their integrity, and their sense of what is and isn’t reasonable.

When to Use It

Again, this is about what’s reasonable and acceptable to an individual operation.

Will buying a round ease tensions and put a guest’s experience back on a positive track? Use the marketing fund.

Is there a promo that’s going wrong for a guest that a manager can solve with cash (a gift card problem, for example)? Access the marketing fund.

Will running across the street to grab an item solve a guest problem? The marketing fund can help.

This works for several reasons:

  • Staff can solve a guest’s issue quickly. This eases tensions and improves the guest experience.
  • Guest-facing or other issues can be solved smoothly. In some instances, the guest won’t even catch on that there’s really a problem.
  • Marketing fund transactions are traceable.
  • The marketing fund holds the operator and staff accountable. Are issues consistently arising during certain shifts or with specific team members? Something needs addressing.

The marketing fund is a practical, useful tool. Its use is trackable and ensures accountability. Consider implementing this fund today.

Image: Evergreens and Dandelions on Unsplash

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Why Communication and Empowerment Matter

Why Communication and Empowerment Matter

by David Klemt

Employees at front desk in hotel lobby

To truly embody the spirit of hospitality, internal communication and empowering staff must be part of your operation’s culture.

A situation KRG Hospitality president Doug Radkey found himself in recently could have been resolved quickly and smoothly.

However, it’s clear the staff lacked communication from the top. Nor did they have the ability to solve problems as they arose.

Let’s dive in.

Guest Experience

First, I’m not going to reveal where this incident took place. In fact, I’m not even going to provide the location.

Second, the problem arose at the front desk of a hotel. A well-staffed front desk—there were four team members working.

The issue was fairly minor but impacted the guest experience.

So, Doug and Jennifer Radkey booked a hotel over the weekend. They made their decision in part because of an available package. Among the perks of the package was a $50 gift card for a nearby restaurant.

Stopping by the desk on the way up to their room, Doug asked for the gift card. The desk clerk he asked had no idea what he was talking about.

In fact, none of the four front desk clerks knew about the promotion. Doug pulled up the hotel’s website and promotion on his phone, and showed the clerks.

Doing so jogged one clerk’s memory. However, details were still mostly unknown. There was no manager on duty and the staff searched through drawers looking for the restaurant gift cards.

After about ten minutes of searching, Doug said he and Jennifer were headed up to their room to get ready for dinner. They’d be down in an hour for the card (hopefully).

A Resolution, Kind Of

True to their word, Doug and Jennifer returned to the front desk for the gift card.

Miraculously, the front desk clerks had found one. (However, Doug thinks one of the team members ran over to the restaurant, bought a card, and brought it back to the hotel.)

One more note: A housekeeping team member had overheard the incident at the front desk as it was unraveling. She chimed in to suggest the front desk just knock $50 off the hotel stay or give Doug and Jennifer $50 cash to take to dinner.

Instead, as I just explained, the front desk clerks got their hands on a gift card.

But let’s look at what wrong here:

  • The guest encountered a service issue and waited more than ten minutes for any sort of resolution.
  • That resolution didn’t come for more than an hour.
  • It’s clear the staff received insufficient notice and details about the promotion.
  • The staff was also most likely not empowered to provide quick resolutions to guest problems.

Doug’s incident could have been resolved quickly and smoothly through communication and staff empowerment.

Communication

Clearly, communication is key for any business to operate smoothly. That’s not limited in any way to hotels or hospitality—all businesses in all industries need to value communication.

In fact, clear communication is a foundational value. Communicating clearly needs to be part of every operator’s core values and ingrained in their brand’s culture.

If there’s a promotion, if there’s a special, if there’s anything “unique” happening at a hotel, restaurant, bar, entertainment venue, etc., the staff needs to know.

Operators should email the details to staff members. Managers should share the details of a promotion or special during shift meetings. Staff should know how to enter promotions into the POS.

It’s doubtful that Doug would’ve encountered this gift card issue if clear communication was an important element of the hotel’s culture.

The front desk clerks would’ve known about it, and likely would’ve handed over the gift card upon check-in. Barring that, they would’ve known where to find the cards quickly and easily so they could’ve handed one out upon request for those guests who booked a room via the promotion.

Empowerment

There’s a second element of this particular guest experience equation: empowerment.

Had the front desk staff been empowered to correct mistakes as quickly as they may arise, it’s possible Doug would never have noticed there was an issue.

As difficult as it may be, operators and managers need to trust their staff. If that’s not happening, there are deeper issues at play that must be addressed and corrected.

If this hotel staff—remember, four clerks deep—were accustomed to adapting and resolving problems on the fly, that would’ve been evident.

This article wouldn’t exist because Doug wouldn’t have had a memorable negative guest experience to share with me.

Up to a reasonable point, guest-facing staff need to be empowered to solve problems quickly. It’s up to individual operators to decide what’s reasonable.

Upset guests don’t like encountering issues, obviously. Do you know what they really don’t like? Having to repeat themselves or watch staff flounder to reach a satisfactory resolution.

An empowered staff can assess a situation, target the problem, and resolve it without involving anyone else. And they can do so quickly and smoothly.

A Better Resolution

How could this issue have been resolved faster, accounting for the poor communication regarding the promotion? A daily or weekly “marketing fund.”

Some operators set aside an amount of cash for bartenders or other front-of-house staff to use at their discretion to solve problems. When that marketing fund is accessed, it’s reported and management can review the who, how much, and why at the end of the night.

In this case, $50 could have been handed over and accounted for with a, “I’m so sorry, we seem to be out of gift cards at the moment, this offer has been so popular,” and Doug would’ve only had a slight inkling of an issue.

Again, there were four front desk clerks present when this happened. Three didn’t know about the promotion. One clerk had a foggy idea about the promotion.

This wasn’t a staffing issue, nor was it a pandemic issue. And 19 months in, as harsh as this may seem, the pandemic can’t be the fallback excuse for every issue that comes up.

The following day, a manager learned of the incident upon Doug and Jennifer checking out the next day. He apologized and knocked $50 off their stay.

That wouldn’t have been necessary had leadership communicated about the promotion clearly. It certainly wouldn’t have been a painful incident had the staff felt empowered to make impactful guest experience decisions.

Today, commit to reviewing your operation’s communication. In all honesty, is it clear? Can it be improved? Have there been issues lately that could’ve been avoided if clear communication was part of your brand’s culture?

Once you’ve reviewed communication, as yourself if your staff feels empowered to solve guest issues quickly and reasonably. If not, that must change as soon as possible.

Image: Rodrigo Salomón Cañas from Pixabay

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Can Luxury be Accessible?

Can Luxury be Accessible?

by David Klemt

Poolside seating at luxury resort hotel in Cabo San Lucas

Can everyone experience luxury or is this category of hospitality inherently exclusive, serving only a small percentage of consumers?

During a panel discussion titled “Brand Identity: The Evolution of Luxury in Lifestyle Hotels” at Hospitality Design Expo 2021, one speaker answered this question.

Moreover, this speaker’s answer was simple and definitive.

What is Luxury?

Blame luxury brand marketing but it seems many people define luxury through the Three Es: exclusive, extravagant, and expensive.

However, as people reflect and rethink their priorities, a new view of luxury appears to be emerging.

Lee Shuman, director of project management at Peachtree Hotel Group, defines luxury through the Three Cs: comfort, convenience and contemplation.

Interestingly, comfort is included in the dictionary definition of luxury as well. (And yes, I know it’s cliché to point to dictionary definitions in articles.)

We’ve been hearing for a few years now that more people, particularly younger Millennials and Gen Zers, favor experiences over material items. Time is more valuable to these consumers than possessions.

Shuman’s Three Cs, then, speak to these consumers:

  • Obviously, people seek out comfort, particularly when it comes to hotels, resorts, restaurants, and travel.
  • Convenience reduces friction and removes pain points, allowing guests to spend their valuable time seeking out memorable experiences seamlessly.
  • When it comes to contemplation, Shuman says this is a design component that provides guests with several opportunities to notice and experience design “moments.” Contemplation also relates directly to experiences.

Operators who embrace and embody the Three Cs will meet guest expectations of luxury.

Can Luxury be Accessible?

Shuman answered this question succinctly: “Luxury has to be accessible.” Not can be accessible, not should be accessible, but luxury must be accessible.

Going further, Shuman said that “everyone in every strata should experience luxury.” There are a couple of ways to interpret this view of luxury.

Looking at this subject through the lens of convenience, one can take Shuman’s opinion on luxury literally. Everyone, regardless of the category or price point of hotel or resort (or restaurant, for that matter), should have access to luxury.

An alternate view that still relates to convenience is that if luxury is too exclusive, too few consumers will have access and the venue won’t be profitable.

Another viewpoint is that luxury needs to be accessible physically. In other words, if it can’t be touched, it’s not luxurious.

Per Shuman, guests don’t want luxury they can see but not touch.

Make it Happen

Shuman likes to see how guests are using a given property. Observing guests in situ provides him with insights that can be used enhance their experiences and improve design.

Hotel and resort guests are, from what Shuman observes, trending younger. Although, he said that could be because operators are aging.

As we’ve been learning, many younger guests are after experiences, comfort and convenience regardless of where they’re staying. Ticking those three boxes will help operators attract these younger guests.

Of course, older guests, due in part to a reshuffling of priorities during the pandemic, also have an interest in the Three Cs.

Shuman is also seeing that hotels and resorts must be enjoyable to use. Interestingly, he’s observing pools falling out of favor while the demand for well-designed health centers. His commitment to observing and learning about guests constantly provides these insights.

To make luxury accessible moving forward, operators should embrace the Three Cs, observe their guests continuously, and realize that luxury doesn’t necessitate excluding guests.

As consumer desires and expectations change, operators must adapt more and more rapidly. Increasingly, change is impacting the perception of luxury.

Yes, the Three Es still exist and likely always will. However, the Three Cs are informing a more modern view of luxury.

Image: GaPeppy1 from Pexels

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Meeting Expectations Through Hotel Design

 

Lit neon hotel sign with blue and purple background

During Hospitality Design Expo 2021, the show’s version of a live “Ask Me Anything” addressed meeting and exceeding new guest expectations.

On the design side, firms must meet the needs and visions of clients and brands. In turn, design clients are attempting to best meet their guests’ expectations in the short and long term.

Additionally, agencies are designing for the pandemic-driven new normal. The way guests use hotels and resorts has changed. Hotel and resort operators must adapt, and so must the designers with whom they work.

Gonzalo Bustamante, Executive Vice President, Design and Development, MGM Resorts International

Quick to point out that he comes from the design world rather than the hotel world, Bustamante is proud of how fast MGM embraced the pivot.

The company adapted to meet the needs of guests while also doing what’s necessary for the bottom line.

Bustamante feels we’re all living and working “in the new version of reality.” Therefore, moving forward, MGM properties will feature design based on the new normal.

When collaborating with designers, Bustamante looks for storytellers who can listen and stay on budget.

Kristen Conry, Senior Vice President, Global Design, US & Canada, Marriott International

What was once a guest desire, says Conry, is now an expectation.

For instance, guests expect hotels and resorts to build and operate sustainably; offer health and wellness features; and provide access to outdoor spaces.

Conry is curious about two specific elements of hotel and resort design.

One, she has an interest in how all-inclusive stays and properties will perform and progress.

Two, Conry wonders if hotel groups shrinking their carbon footprints will encourage guests to make more repeat visits. If a guest is motivated to support a particular brand because of their commitment to “green” operations, the hope is that they won’t cut back on hotel stays to shrink their own footprint.

Conry is encouraged by the increase in conversations designers and their clients are having about utilizing indoor-outdoor and outdoor spaces.

Gary Dollens, Global Head, Design / Product and Brand Development, Hyatt

Leisure travelers are returning to hotels, meaning they’re more important now to the bottom line, per Dollens.

However, there are two other developments that seem to have really caught Dollens’ attention.

One is hotel and resort properties operating with smaller teams. The second is that margins are “better than they’ve ever been.”

If groups can operate with smaller teams without impacting the guest experience negatively, why would they return to working with larger teams? Operators, encouraged by improved margins, are now used to new changes and are unlikely to go back to pre-pandemic operations.

For example, Dollens stated that Hyatt’s current RevPAR (revenue per available room) is up 19 percent compared to 2019. The company also acquired all-inclusive luxury brand Apple Leisure Group for $2.7 billion this year.

Helen Jorgensen, Vice President, Design and Procurement, Host Hotels & Resorts

Jorgensen and Host, like so many companies, adapted to working remotely.

Of course, teams used to gather to discuss design projects. Now, they gather digitally to review virtual room models.

However, it seems she’s eager to return to working in person. After all, while we’ve definitely made leaps and bounds in terms of technology, nothing beats experiencing a hotel room physically. There’s no better way—at the moment—to gauge the guest experience than actually touching and seeing everything in person.

Host and Jorgensen, like MGM and Bustamante, have been moving quickly. She expects Host to complete 16 major property renovations by 2023.

Part of those renovations has to do with room size and amenities. For instance, Jorgensen says suites will account for 19 percent of property rooms. That’s more than double current Host inventory, which is eight percent.

In terms of other design trends, Jorgensen expects sustainability to become more important to more guests. Certainly, that’s related to another trend Jorgensen identifies as crucial moving forward: wellness.

Larry Traxler, Senior Vice President, Global Design, Hilton

All-inclusive experiences are the future for hotels and resorts, per Traxler. Given the increased stress guests are experiencing on a daily basis due in large part to the pandemic, this makes sense.

Guests want to show up and know that everything is handled—eliminating friction is a luxury.

Speaking of which, luxury and lifestyle categories are performing very well for Hilton. However, extended stay is the current category leader for the brand.

When it comes to design challenges, Traxler and Hilton are focusing on a few crucial elements: F&B, outdoor experiences, and air quality.

During this session, Traxler said that F&B must evolve. Destination restaurants on property are performing well for Hilton.

That speaks to another crucial element Traxler mentioned: avoiding cookie-cutter design and experiences. Guests want unique experiences, and that extends to all markets. In fact, many guests want access to more outdoor areas, from balconies and pool areas to lawns and restaurants.

And while it may seem counterintuitive, Traxler says that hotels and resorts can improve property air quality without a “massive outlay” of money. In fact, Traxler says there’s no better time than now to build hotels, with Hilton projecting five-percent growth but achieving seven percent.

Summary

When it comes to hotels, resorts, and design, there are a few key factors operators should focus on now and for the future:

  • Luxury, extended stay, and all-inclusive categories are performing well.
  • The leisure traveler is returning.
  • Food & Beverage offerings must evolve.
  • The use of outdoor spaces is now integral to design.
  • Sustainability, health, and wellness are important to a growing percentage of guests. This includes air quality.
  • Smaller teams may shift from trend to standard operating procedure.
  • The time to build is now.

Image: Ph B on Unsplash

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

6 Takeaways from HD Expo 2021

6 Takeaways from HD Expo 2021

by David Klemt

Lobby of Crockfords inside Resorts World Las Vegas

Crockfords lobby inside Resorts World Las Vegas

This year’s Hospitality Design Expo in Las Vegas reveals an industry set to undergo seismic shifts that will reverberate for years to come.

While the pandemic certainly plays a role in transforming the industry, it’s not the only factor.

Here are six major takeaways from HD Expo 2021.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Hospitality—indeed, the world—is in the midst of reckoning with inequality. This is both long overdue and nowhere near complete.

Truthfully, we’re just at the start of the process. There’s much more work to be done.

However, many global hospitality brands and their partners are taking steps to be more equitable. The focus on diversity, equity and inclusion is holistic, spanning C-suites to fronts and backs of house.

Refreshingly, this commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion isn’t limited to hotel and restaurant chains. Smaller, independent operators are also up to the challenge of eschewing long-standing inequalities and toxic norms.

We have a lot more work to do but change is in the air.

Sustainability

Another widespread hospitality industry focus is sustainability. Again, global brands and equipment manufacturers to independent operators and small design firms are seeking to operate more sustainably.

Hotels, resorts, and restaurants are committing to design and operations that lessen their impact on local areas and the globe. Equipment manufacturers are doing the same.

While a smaller show this year, the HD Expo floor featured several exhibitors proudly pursuing LEED and other environmentally-friendly certifications.

Certainly, the hospitality industry has been focusing on sustainability, “going green,” and responsible operations for a few years. From what we saw at HD Expo 2021, the desire for sustainability and environmental design is only going to grow stronger.

Return to Nature

Intriguingly, many designers and boutique operators are changing how we think about resorts. Airstreams and intimate cabins that encourage guests to recharge and reconnect with nature are on the rise.

For example, Getaway intends their guests to disconnect and immerse themselves in nature. Ideally, a guest won’t even consider bringing electronic devices and trying to work or spend any time on their phone.

A quick exploration of the Getaway website makes the brand’s mission clear. Slides have titles such as “Getaway from Nashville” and “Getaway from Chicago.” The navigation bar lists Getaway locations under the heading “Escape From.”

Conversely, there’s Yonder. This resort in Escalante (more locations are on the way) also wants guests to disconnect. However, they do offer WiFi and aren’t about escaping from the world.

Rather, Yonder encourages guests to engage with one another. The Escalante property features a communal clubhouse and robust food and beverage program. A massive hot tub spans the length of the pool. There are no showers in the Airstreams or cabins—guests commune with nature when they bathe.

Of course, more traditional hotels and resorts, along with restaurants and bars, are also embracing the outdoors.

In terms of this design change, one can certainly draw a straight, well-defined line from the pandemic to outdoor spaces. Leveraging outdoor areas continues to be one of the most common solutions for navigating and surviving mandates and public health recommendations.

Nearly every panel discussion at HD Expo 2021 at least made a passing mention of maximizing the usage of outdoor spaces. Clearly, this isn’t a design trend—this change is here to stay.

Guest Tech

Increasingly, hotels and some restaurant brands are going out of their way to allow guests to control their stays through technology.

Want to order room service? A few clicks of your phone make that possible. Not completely comfortable? Adjust temperatures, lights, drapes and shades digitally.

From check-in to check-out, a guest can essentially control every aspect of their visit via the little device in their pocket.

This is, in part, a response to the pandemic. It’s also about adapting quickly to shifting guest needs and desires.

Hotel, resort, restaurant and bar, and entertainment venue guests are skewing ever younger. And each successive generation is ever-more technologically savvy.

If something can be handled via phone or tablet quickly and conveniently, a significant percentage of guests feel it should be handled that way.

Additionally, smart increases in tech implementation speak to another guest expectation: If they’re accustomed to having something from home, they want it at hotels and resorts as well.

In fact, Lee Shuman, vice president of construction and design for Peachtree Hotel Group, says guest expectation is impacting hotel pools. According to Shuman, pools “seem to be falling to the wayside” in favor of larger, better-equipped health centers.

Of course, this another change partly fueled by the pandemic. More and more people are focusing on their health. People are working out more and expect hotels and resorts to provide them with convenient ways to work out when away from home.

After all, a hotel is intended to be a home away from home.

Local Culture

As trends, locality and hyper-locality are growing stronger and stronger. Interestingly, a focus on local culture is impacting all areas of hospitality, not just F&B.

Several hotel, resort and design groups spoke to the importance of embracing locals in as many ways as possible.

Hotel and resort owners and groups are retaining the services of local designers. In turn, those designers influence exterior architecture, interior design, artwork, and a specific project’s color theory.

Who better, after all, to ensure a property fits within the landscape and speaks to locals? It’s only logical to work with local designers and artists—they’re immersed fully in a location and and its culture.

Local artists and artisans also imbue a property with its personality. They also help to attract local support.

We expect more hotel and resort groups to focus on differentiating one property in their portfolio from the next. Indeed, there are groups with portfolios wherein every property is unique.

F&B Focus

It’s fair to say that, traditionally speaking, many hotel groups treated their F&B programming almost as an afterthought. In fact, some groups made it clear F&B was unimportant to them.

That’s changing.

Locality and hyper-locality are permeating F&B programs, and hotels, guests and locals are better for it.

It’s no longer uncommon to find local food items, beer, spirits, wine, and soft drinks on hotel restaurant and room service menus.

The pursuit of the local is very real and very effective. Locals are encouraged by some hotel operators to work, relax, play, dine and eat at their properties. In fact, many groups seek to make their hotels and resorts a part of everyday life for locals.

Interestingly, hyper-locality isn’t new to today’s restaurant operator. We expect this “trend” to gain a stronger foothold throughout the hospitality industry.

Image: Crockfords / Resorts World Las Vegas

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

How SevenRooms Improves Operations

How SevenRooms Improves Operations

by David Klemt

Reviewing and analyzing customer data on a laptop computer

It’s true that SevenRooms is a reservation management platform. However, it’s so much more powerful than that.

Simply put, if the platform wasn’t simple to use and integrate with other systems, they wouldn’t be celebrating their tenth year.

A recent interview via Clubhouse highlights why now, more than ever, operators need to seriously consider SevenRooms.

Background

Guy Clarke, founder of Sizzle Dining, spoke with two key SevenRooms team members in a casual but informative Clubhouse chat.

Allison Page, SevenRooms co-founder and Chief Product Officer, and Marybeth Sheppard, senior vice president of marketing, fielded Clarke’s questions.

Interestingly, Page admits SevenRooms took five to seven years to really fine-tune operations. In fact, she says that the team didn’t quite know exactly what they were offering for the first year or two.

Now, the “reservation” platform has truly hit their stride. The company doesn’t just manage reservations, it provides powerful solutions: a full suite of operational tools; table management; and guest experience and retention capabilities.

Of course, many tech platforms claim to help operators. However, SevenRooms is now enjoying a decade in business.

Their longevity is, in part, due to their approach to hospitality. As Page tells it, the founders didn’t just enter the industry believing they could “fix it” with tech.

Plenty of tech folks have identified problems in hospitality, boasted about their “common sense” solution, and exited after finding out how challenging the business is.

Instead, the SevenRooms team spent time in the trenches. According to Page, they took reservations, checked coats, and more. They spent time with hospitality workers after hours and got to know them.

What’s with that Name?

I’ve written several articles about SevenRooms. However, I’ve never addressed why the founders chose that name.

When asked by Clarke during the Clubhouse chat, Page provided the answer.

Turns out, the name is a loose nod to Graydon Carter’s “Seven Rooms Theory.” The theory speaks to navigating social status in New York City. In short, it posits that the NYC social scene consists of seven consecutive “rooms,” each with a secret door. Find the secret door, move to the next room.

Of course, SevenRooms isn’t about exclusivity. Instead, SevenRooms is helping operators reach the seventh “room,” which is a lasting relationship with a guest. The six previous rooms are a journey toward understanding that guest and making them loyal by delivering incredible guest experiences.

Why SevenRooms Works

If this seems like a shameless plug for SevenRooms, well, it sort of is. They didn’t pay me, Doug or KRG Hospitality to promote the platform; we just like what SevenRooms can do for operators.

In an industry that has until recently been slow to innovate when it comes to tech, the platform has been improving restaurant and hotel operations for years.

According to Page, SevenRooms has a simple operating philosophy that drives the company: “Make small big, make big small.” SevenRooms is driven to help small, independent operations punch well above their weight class. The platform gives independent operators the same capabilities as their large chain counterparts.

Conversely, SevenRooms gives enterprise operators an effective way to deliver the engaging experiences that independents offer their guests.

However, there are other reasons SevenRooms is so worthy of consideration: simplicity.

SevenRooms is all about collecting data. Of course, data does no good if an operator doesn’t know what to do with it. If they had to analyze and leverage it on their own, they’d need to employ data scientists and an entire marketing team.

Well, SevenRooms employs those people instead so operators don’t need to. An operator doesn’t need to be a data scientist to use the information they collect through the platform. Marketing campaigns are automated and engaging, and require little effort from the end user.

Reduce Costs, Increase Revenue

As Sheppard explains, SevenRooms manages and, more importantly, helps maximize a restaurant’s floor.

Looking to increase turns? Done. Want every seat to generate revenue? Smart seating makes that possible. According to Sheppard, SevenRooms’ auto-assign seating functionality is worthy of operators’ trust. Additionally, the platform’s CRM, table management and marketing tools help staff upsell guests.

Speaking of automated functions, Sheppard provides insight into SevenRooms auto-tagging. The platform assigns automated tags that make it simple for staff to understand the guests they’re serving. Some examples are:

  • Burger lover
  • Red wine lover
  • Big tipper
  • Loves expensive wine
  • No-showed twice

Just those five examples show how SevenRooms helps operators and their teams maximize the guest experience to generate revenue. So, how does the platform reduce costs?

First, investing in SevenRooms reduces an operator’s overall tech stack investment. It integrates with around 50 POS systems and offers several tools (modules), meaning an operator doesn’t need to purchase several platforms that may not integrate with one another.

Second, the reservation and table management tools streamline an operator’s business. When team members are focusing on revenue-generating tasks, the floor is being sat more efficiently, and guests are being wowed, costs are driven down and revenue is driven up.

Then, there’s the “hidden” benefit. As Sheppard says, hospitality is a passion-driven industry. Unfortunately, there are many “non-passion” tasks that must be accomplished for operators to make money and keep their doors open.

Those tasks can take a toll, leading to an operator to fall out of love with the industry and their own concept. Well, SevenRooms takes several of those tasks (sifting through data, creating marketing campaigns, figuring out how to maximize the floor, etc.) and automates them.

Therefore, operators have more time to program menus, mentor team members, forge relationships with guests by touching tables, and more.

To request a SevenRooms demo, click here.

Image: John Schnobrich on Unsplash

by David Klemt David Klemt No Comments

Bar Hacks: Dueling Axes Las Vegas

Bar Hacks: Dueling Axes Las Vegas

by David Klemt

Two people throwing axes at Dueling Axes Las Vegas inside Area15

Dueling Axes Las Vegas general manager David Peterson drops by the Bar Hacks podcast to chat about this unique venue.

Interestingly, Dueling Axes Las Vegas is located inside of another unique venue, Area15.

Peterson describes the axe-throwing business he manages as upscale, approachable, and one of a kind. He describes Area15 as “an adult playground.”

So, what we have here is a one-of-a-kind venue inside a unique adult playground in America’s Playground.

Additionally, this business is leveraging one of the fastest-growing and most-popular forms of entertainment sweeping the US.

A Disclaimer

Before we get into the important details Peterson shares in episode 41 of Bar Hacks, a bit of housekeeping.

To be totally transparent, the audio is a bit muffled. It’s one of the occasional byproducts of recording via the Internet. We feel it’s worth being patient to take in all the information Peterson shares. And, of course, we thank all of you who have been patient and listened to episode 41.

However, try as we did to clean up the audio (running filters, using tools, adjusting frequencies, etc.), we understand muffled audio can be frustrating. In other words, we can’t blame anyone deciding to read about this episode instead. So, we’ve chosen to share Peterson’s insights here, on the KRG Hospitality website.

The Experience

Dueling Axes Las Vegas is one of three locations. The other two are in New Albany and Columbus, Ohio.

Per Peterson, the Las Vegas venue is 6,700 square feet. That’s huge for an axe-throwing operation.

There are 18 lanes, four of which are VIP. Guests wishing for a more intimate experience will appreciate the VIP lanes. These lanes come with their own server and axe-throwing coach.

However, VIPs aren’t the only guests who will find the venue special.

Dueling Axes Las Vegas offers everyone an upscale experience that’s comfortable and approachable: The cocktail bar inside the venue is high end, the seating in the lounge area is plush, and the lanes themselves are a notch above what most axe-throwing businesses offer.

Much like a firing range has range safety officers (RSOs), Dueling Axes employs coaches. These team members ensure everyone is being safe and, equally as importantly, having fun.

Not sticking the target can be incredibly frustrating for a guest. So, Peterson’s coaches are the lookout—and also listen—for people missing their throws. They can usually help guests correct their technique in short order, thereby ensuring they have a great experience.

That’s a crucial component of this operation. If the guests are feeling frustration rather than fun, the team has failed. According to Peterson, team training is key to Dueling Axes.

By the Numbers

If you’re reading this, you’re likely interested in starting up an axe-throwing venue. Or, perhaps you’re wondering about adding it to an existing business.

Before you run out to grab lumber and axes, there are some things you need to know.

First, this an organized sport. Therefore, Dueling Axes uses World Axe Throwing League (WATL) axes. At the Vegas location, these are 1.25 pounds.

Second, the distance to target (or boards) is the same as WATL participants throw. However, the league has made their bullseyes smaller. Peterson says there are no plans to shrink the bullseye for their everyday guests.

Third, prepare to go through a lot of boards. According to Peterson, Dueling Axes Las Vegas goes through about 20 boards a day. Replacements can be needed every three to five hours. He says his team can get boards replaced in about four minutes using drills or, in the case of bent screws, pliers.

Which brings us to the fourth point: another cost for axe-throwing venues is the axes. Sometimes, axes break. This is down to several factors, such as the grain from the manufacturing process of a particular batch; the temperatures of the market; and guests hitting the screws in the boards.

Fifth, and Peterson finds this fascinating, women “drive and dominate axe throwing.” At least, he says at the Las Vegas outpost of Dueling Axes. He estimates 60 percent of their guests are women.

Also, he says women tend to be more precise. Perhaps, as he theorizes during episode 41 of Bar Hacks, this is because he’s noticed that they listen more during the 10- to 15-minute safety and technique training portion of the experience. (The training takes place before guests begin their hour of throwing and isn’t counted against it.)

Connect with Dueling Axes Las Vegas

To learn more, be sure to check out the Dueling Axes Las Vegas website and the site for their Ohio locations.

You can also connect with them on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Of course, you should definitely connect with Dueling Axes on YouTube and watch their vides for a more immersive look into what they offer.

Image: Dueling Axes Las Vegas (Facebook)

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