As part of the Foodservice Consultant team you may be aware that we travel a lot. When on ‘tour’, our team always looks to stay in new, interesting and different hotels. As the point of contact with our JLL Hotels & Hospitality colleagues I always push for us to visit the newest concepts in hotel foodservice. A few weeks back I had the long overdue opportunity to stay at a MAMA Shelter hotel. A design-oriented lifestyle hotel chain with a heavy foodservice presence.
With 6 hotels already in operations and another 14 in the pipeline by 2020, the question being asked is ‘Why MAMA Shelter works?’ In difference to most hotel brands, MAMA Shelter focuses as much on foodservice as it does on rooms. A concept that has clearly worked in the eyes of the Accor Hotel group, since it bought 35% of MAMA Shelter.
I checked-in at the hotel on Thursday early evening and got a chance to sneak a peek at the room and the common areas. Upon arrival, my first impression, as expected, was that everything looks different, fun and funky. At arrival the restaurant/bar was quiet, but the vibe was definitely present. I really wanted to stay and have a drink and take a better look but I was heading out to a Client event which we had organised with the JLL France team, which I was thoroughly looking forward to.
This event was organised by the Foodservice Consulting team along with the French Workplace & Design and French Capital markets teams to show how we all work together to provide our clients with the most complete set of services on the market. The event was a great success, we had a brilliant time with some of our favourite clients, we missed the ones who ‘no showed’ , but with those who could make it we drank, cooked, ate and mingled until 11pm at which point it was time to call it a night. I was really looking forward to getting back to the hotel. Not just because the event was coming to a successful end (and I could have a drink) but also to be back in time to catch the restaurant when it was busy. We all know how hotel bars are, you get back at 11pm from a busy day and, at best, you will find one lonely traveller having a late night drink alone, until you show up
What I found was a vibrant top of the line restaurant/bar that works! Most people coming in and out are wearing coats, suggesting they are not hotel guests, and there were 4 people working valet parking up front. I quickly realised this is not just a hotel with a great restaurant but rather an amazing restaurant within a good hotel. MAMA Shelter did not stop there, the hotel also has a rooftop bar/restaurant, closed for the season when I visited, but when open it increases the percentage allocated to foodservice even more.
This brings me back to my earlier question; what the MAMA makes this work?
I believe the reason this hotel concept is so successful is because all the parts come together to tell a great story, it is about the overall experience. The hotel business has historically stayed away from foodservice. I have heard everything about foodservice in hotels, from “it’s a lost cause”, “it will never work”, “it will never make money” to “no one cares about foodservice”. With an attitude like the above, its easy to see why foodservice in most hotels is terrible. MAMA Shelter took a different approach. My belief is that the owners wanted a fun, vibrant and averagely priced room that stands out. Looking at the market they quickly realised that the competition is high and good is not good enough. So what do you do?
You differentiate using foodservice. In the past 10 years, foodservice has been changing dramatically. At JLL Foodservice Consulting, we have led this change in the retail world, for example, take the percentage of foodservice in Shopping Centres, which used to be 5-8% of the gross leasable area (GLA), it is now up at 10, 15 or even 20% of the GLA.
It is apparent that MAMA Shelter decided to lead the change and it clearly seems to work. MAMA Shelter Paris, the one I stayed in, is located in the 20th Arrondissement. A part of Paris that has traditionally not been the most attractive. However, the foodservice is so interesting, a segment of the Parisian population are willing to travel to a part of town, they would rarely go to, to eat or drink at MAMA Shelter. In addition to the locals using the restaurant, the rooms use the popularity of the restaurant to look good, increase the average daily rate and differentiate itself. Do not get me wrong, the rooms have been well thought out as well but without the restaurant helping the popularity of the brand the, rooms alone would not be a sustainable business model.
To answer my earlier question, “what the mama makes this work”, the experience does. The story the brand tells its consumers. From the front door to the rooms passing by the restaurant, it all works in great harmony. It is true that this story would be different if the rooms were boring or reception or service was poor, but the reason I wrote this article is to show that a great foodservice offer can make a huge difference to a Hotel Asset. Accor saw this and acquired into it to learn the story telling skills that MAMA Shelter delivers so well.
After technology, I believe that food and beverage will be the next big differentiator in the hotel industry. It does not mean that all hotel restaurants will look as funky and different as MAMA Shelter, but foodservice will be the added difference that will make a good hotel great. It is the “social glue” that will bring everything together, not only on the guest side, but the profit side will also be exceedingly more attractive to the operators.