Hotel Foodservice, a Hassle or an Opportunity?

Since I joined JLL I have been on a crusade to galvanise hotelier’s attitude towards foodservice. I was lucky enough to have the chance to join the rest of our JLL family at IHIF in Berlin, the largest hotel investor conference of the year where I concluded on two key facts. Hoteliers either get foodservice or they don’t and people demands are dramatically changing.

Every person I met at the conference, whether an operator, owner, guest or manager, had a foodservice story to tell. As most of these were about hotel foodservice, a larger proportion of stories were regarding how much of a pain foodservice is for hoteliers. In my mind, this makes sense because traditionally, foodservice in hotels has been seen as a necessary evil that is needed, but will never make a difference to the bottom line. With that attitude, how can anyone believe a restaurant could affect the bottom line or even better, the people’s choice of hotel? This is no longer true, hoteliers slowly come to realise the importance of foodservice within their establishments. If you don’t believe me, look at what the customer reviews are talking about for Mama Shelter, Dream Hotels, Kimpton and 25 Hour Hotels – foodservice.

Now, how do we go about creating a great offer that will not only please the guest, it will please the entire community and generate profits?

In my book, the first question anyone should ask is “Should we do F&B right or not?”. If the answer is yes, then the next questions should be “What is the added value that comes from offering food and beverage?”, “Do I focus on making money from the restaurant or do I add value to the entire offer?”. If the reason you are offering food is because you think you have to, don’t do it. Why you ask? Just remember, your guests will be more satisfied if you gave them £20 to have dinner at a great, local restaurant than dining in a mediocre hotel restaurant. This will also be cheaper than running a mediocre offer in the lobby. If you run it yourself, having a management contract or leasing it out is irrelevant at this point, that is a purely an operational decision that comes once the vision and offer have been well defined.

The final question you should ask yourself is who the target group is. Is it your guest or is the community? For this question, I always advise the community. It will lead to a buzzing, full of life restaurant that will appeal to any hotel guest. The community are a more frequent guest that will provide return visits, good reviews (hopefully) and an image that will charm your guest when they google your hotel.

Conveniently, this brings me to my second point, and this goes much further than the hotel world. We need to stop thinking, talking and focusing on Generation Y, Z or Alpha. Your guests belong to multiple age groups, demographics and backgrounds. They all have unlimited information in their hands and infinite knowledge. Yet, they are all chasing down experiences. Let’s call this group “experiologists”.

In today’s world, everyone wants to be an “experiologist”. This is a group that cannot be easily defined, it’s not tied by age or origin, they are storm chases, experience junkies, following the next big think in random patterns and if you think they are important now. Wait until they become the majority.

Whether it’s a Four Seasons Hotel, where the doorman checks the nametag on your bag to address you in person, from your first visit, or HomeAway offering a traditional, local, “home” experience, hotels don’t just offer a bed and a pillow, they offer an experience. All hotel brands have worked very hard to define this experience and sell it to their customers. Until now, very few have used foodservice to reinforce the experience.

Take a look at the iconic Waldorf Astoria in New York, inventor of in-room dining (room service) in the 1930’s or the Hilton Hong Kong, inventor of the refrigerated minibar in the 1960’s. According to The Atlantic, the minibar invention was said to have led to a 500% increase in sales and a 5% boost to the company’s net income that year. Picture this, you invented the minibar and your guest walked in the room holding a phone packed with social media apps. What do you think this would do for your brand?