As industry stakeholders shape their food-and-beverage (F&B) strategies with an eye to the post-pandemic future, there are a lot of factors to consider — from safety procedures to shifting guest behaviours and increased labour challenges.
“The pandemic may have changed travel, but even more important is recognizing that the pandemic changed people,” stresses Adam Crocini, senior vice-president and global head, Food and Beverage Brands, Hilton. “And, as a result of changing consumer lifestyles, we’ve seen an evolution in consumer demands as it relates to food-and-beverage services.”
Crocini points out that Hilton’s recent trends report, The 2022 Traveler: Emerging Trends and the Redefined Traveler, identified a number of larger consumer trends that will influence travellers’ F&B expectations. These include a desire for wellness offerings, desire to connect to the communities they are travelling in and a focus on sustainability.
Heeding these insights and guest feedback collected throughout the pandemic, Crocini says, “We’ve evolved our food-and-beverage offerings to focus on wellness; prioritize sustainable and locally sourced food options; and provide unique, on-property culinary experiences that weave in local lifestyles and fare.”
For the team at Choice Hotels Canada, “The main thing that we’ve learned is that we need to be flexible and creative,” shares president Brian Leon. And this is especially true at a time when regional restrictions and personal comfort levels vary. “The demands in one market are not the same as another. To respond to that, we have a program with consistent brand standards, but with flexibility so it can be adapted slightly by market as needed.”
“The main focus, across all the brands, is guest demand — giving the customer what they want, without paying for things they don’t want,” Leon adds.
With complimentary breakfast being a key part of the value proposition for many hotel brands, how best to adapt these offerings has been a significant concern for many. “We weren’t sure if the traditional complimentary breakfast was going to come back post-COVID, as the industry moved to brown bags and limited offerings,” shares Brittany Hattingh, director of Operational Standards for Newton, Mass.-based Sonesta International Hotels Corporation. “Although we don’t see the same large buffets of the past, a robust breakfast offering is making a comeback in the upscale extended-stay segment.”
This has led the company to pilot a new complimentary breakfast offering at its Sonesta ES Suites hotels. Served in the hotels’ marketplace, the offering will feature “a wide variety of cold and hot items such as yogurts, cereals, oatmeal, pastries, waffles and breakfast sandwiches.”
At Choice, Leon shares, “We have a breakfast task force that includes a number of our franchisees, [which] is currently looking at our breakfast offerings to make recommendations for adjustments based on guest demands.”
The company has found that while guests have responded positively to grab-and-go breakfast offerings introduced during the pandemic, they still miss the traditional offerings. “We’re noticing that many guests are asking for the return of the full breakfast buffet,” says Leon. “We will likely see a shift back in areas where it complies with local health regulations.”
Looking more broadly, convenient F&B offerings that guests can enjoy in the comfort of their room are being leveraged to meet guest needs across segments. “During the pandemic, mini bars were a success and saw a real resurgence in guest use,” says Hattingh.
Leon also notes that pantry and marketplace solutions “have been very well received by our guests.” In fact, due to their success at Choice’s Clarion Pointe properties, “Even our legacy brands like Comfort and Quality are looking to include these options moving forward,” he adds.
And, while pandemic-driven market shifts have driven the evolution of offerings, they’ve also led operators and brands to consider entirely new approaches.
“Previously, we’ve not been overly involved in the operation of hotel restaurants, but we know how great foodservice can elevate our guest experience, so we’ve identified it as an area of opportunity to provide more value to our franchisees,” shares Leon. “The situation involved us looking into different areas than in the past…For example, working on developing relationships with foodservice companies that could be a good fit with our hotels.”
Hilton has already made strides to leverage the power of existing foodservice brands. In October, the company announced a unique new partnership that could shape its F&B strategies going forward. Tempo by Hilton has partnered with Australian-inspired, U.S.-based café brand Bluestone Lane to co-create unique on-property F&B experiences.
“This unique collaboration unites two lifestyle brands to enable an elevated on-property food-and-beverage experience that will meet the evolving needs of today’s guests who are seeking more progressive fare with healthier options,” says Crocini. “Through the partnership, Bluestone Lane will develop the comprehensive program operating model; training and staffing guides; and design development guidance to deliver easily executable yet thoughtfully presented food and beverage.”
Crocini also points out that Bluestone Lane’s “made-to-order menu focused on sophisticated, clean and natural foods that can be consumed all day,” makes the brand an ideal fit for Tempo and Hilton’s F&B strategies. “The collaboration combines the knowledge of an on-target, cutting-edge industry expert with the exciting development of Hilton’s youngest brand,” he adds. “[And] from a strategy perspective, both Bluestone Lane and Hilton brands target ambitious, digital-savvy consumers seeking delicious, fresh, clean food and premium beverages.”
Leon also notes that the rise in online ordering within foodservice has the potential to influence hotel’s F&B operations. “We could see F&B facilities in hotels being used as delivery hubs for the local area,” he explains.
And, as Hattingh shares, Sonesta is already making strides on this front. The company’s Sonesta Select brand is piloting mobile-ordering technology — powered by Crave Interactive — that allows guests to order and pay for F&B items through an app.
Hattingh also notes Sonesta plans to leverage the growth of delivery platforms and virtual kitchens. “We’ll be exploring our own virtual F&B brand at Sonesta Select and our two full-service brands, which will allow us to serve new customers utilizing the outlets and staff we already have in place,” she explains. “Our virtual brand will deliver via a third-party-
delivery platform and, in many cases, be able to operate late into the night, piggybacking off of our existing in-room dining programming.”
Sonesta also sees the potential to leverage delivery within the meeting-and-events space. “We’re exploring a catering partnership, where you can order food for your events via an app and have it delivered to the meeting space or lobby,” Hattingh adds.
Overall, Leon sums up, “We believe what we’re going to see long term is a continuation of the trends we saw pre-pandemic,” pointing to an increase in branded F&B and third-party operation of F&B outlets. “Hotels are going to continue to look for opportunities to drive up ROI and, in some cases, the best way to do that is to rent their spaces to restaurant operators.”
Written by DANIELLE SCHALK