On a typical Saturday night, Toronto’s Thompson Hotel is busy — and not just because a ton of guests have checked in. The Lobby Bar buzzes with people enjoying casual libations, while Colette Grand Café — the hotel’s elegant French bakery and restaurant — is packed for dinner service. Party-goers let loose at Wildflower Nightclub and couples canoodle in the Rooftop Lounge. Teppanyaki master chefs entertain patrons at the newly opened Hibachi Seafood & Steakhouse and The Thompson Diner — open 24/7 — gets even busier in the wee hours, because sometimes you just need Peking duck poutine and a spicy jalapeño Inferno Burger at 3 a.m.
Located in Toronto’s vibrant entertainment district, Thompson Toronto opened in 2010 and quickly established itself as a trendsetting spot, equally geared to locals and guests. “Our strategy is all about driving people from the neighbourhood into our different venues,” says Jeff Waters, general manager and area managing director of the hotel. “When people come to Toronto, they’re looking for something authentic. This neighbourhood is reflective of Toronto today and the hotel being a popular destination for locals makes the experience even more enjoyable for our guests.”
It may seem like each of Thompson’s venues is meant to connect with a different ideal customer, but Waters explains that isn’t the case. “People can look at Colette and Thompson Diner and think we’re catering to different people, but what we’re really doing is offering a different experience. Thompson is a luxury lifestyle brand and the people who come here don’t fit into a mould. We create options to suit time of day, mood, appetite and atmosphere. It’s not uncommon for someone to come into The Lobby Bar for a drink, then have dinner in Colette, followed by cocktails at Wildflower and maybe even an early-morning breakfast in the [Thompson] Diner.”
Another significant food-and-beverage program at the Thompson is room service, with orders up 20 per cent over last year. “Room service has never been more popular than it is right now, especially in the morning and late at night,” Waters says. “We highlight favourites such as hamburgers, salads and fruit bowls — comfort foods with a lot of healthy options.”
The hotel also delivers room service to the more than 300 condo units which are part of the Thompson complex and has a flourishing take-out business from Thompson Diner, which caters to people living in the neighbourhood. “We’re focused on growing by providing great service and the best products. We’re less focused on trying to cut costs, but with the devalued Canadian dollar we’ve adjusted some menu items and pricing. We’re thrilled to see sales continue to grow and our profitability is in great shape,” Waters says.
Room service is an essential part of food-and-beverage operations at Crescent Hotels and Resorts, with 97 locations across the continental U.S. and Canada. For the past 18 months, the company has been reinventing its food-and-beverage strategy, including how to best connect with guests who want to eat in their rooms. “Room service has declined in some markets, but the fact is — people are still eating in their rooms. There’s been an explosion of high-quality, fast-casual options, so guests go out and bring something back. We’re positioning ourselves against that and offering something competitive,” says Greg Griffie, Crescent’s senior vice-president of Food and Beverage.
While Crescent still offers traditional in-room dining, especially at its luxury properties, it’s using new speed-cooking technology and creative menu options to entice guests with dishes such as pork belly ramen, which arrives in a thermos (so it stays hot) along with a bowl and all the right fixings. “We’ve focused on creating that casual experience the guest is looking for, rather than rolling in a table. What we’re offering is more interesting, relevant and profitable. People might not want to go out, but they also don’t want to wait 45 minutes for a $45 steak.”
Beyond room service, Crescent’s reimagined food-and-beverage strategy includes doing away with brand-standard programs and creating a fun experience for guests with approachable food and more bar-forward, cocktail-driven options. “Business travellers are looking for something recognizable, but well-executed — a great Caesar salad, burger or taco — and they feel good about spending their money on that,” Griffie says. “We know there’s a lot of competition outside of the hotel, but there’s a huge opportunity for incremental sales. For example, if guests meet at the bar to try our espresso and tonic cocktail before they go out, we’re offering great appetizers to enhance that experience for them.”
Crescent’s new approach aims to capitalize on the rise of the cocktail culture, highlighting boutique spirits and prohibition-era classics, such as the Old-fashioned, the Manhattan and the Aviator. The company recently partnered with Perrier to run in-house mixology sessions with its F&B teams to develop refreshing hard and soft drinks. “Soda sales have declined, but people still want something effervescent. We can make a Bourbon Smash and we can also create a fresh lemonade with brown sugar and mint. It’s important to offer something that tastes good even if it’s not boozy,” Griffie says.
Alt Hotel Toronto Airport by le Germain is elevating its guest experience by collaborating with a well-known brand. In March 2016, it began testing a partnership with Boston Pizza, whereby guests can order from a pared-down selection of the full restaurant menu. “We’re experimenting based on customer feedback that it would be nice if we had a full-service restaurant. That’s not our concept, but we want people to be happy, so this is a test to see if we can bridge that gap,” says Alt Toronto’s director of Food and Beverage and Customer Service, Olivier Germain. “We take the customer’s order and deliver it to either the café area or to the room. So far it’s going well,” he says.
Unlike a typical hotel, Alt Toronto’s food-and-beverage operations are busy 24-hours a day with international guests ranging from corporate travellers to people making a connection to another destination and those waiting on delayed or cancelled flights. “We want our customers to be happy at any time. Many of our café customers are not necessarily guests, so our food-and-beverage offering is very important,” says Germain.
The Altcetera Café’s large selection of grab-and-go items is very popular, as are ready-made meals which customers can collect and heat up in an oven any time of day or night. A bartender is always available. “We work with a high-quality caterer and try to go local with our menu as much as we can. So long as the quality is there, we’ll always go local — even if it is more expensive. Serving fresh, local food is not a trend for us, it’s integral to our values.”
Alt Hotels recently introduced another new concept at its Ottawa location, which opened on April 1. Customers at Altcetera Ottawa can choose from three or four hot meals which hotel staff heat and serve, taking the café one step closer to full-service. Dishes range from $11 to $14 and include roasted salmon with seasoned vegetables and beef short rib with creamy polenta. The new location partnered with a local brewery and a local coffee roaster, so guests can get a real taste of the capital. “Our Ottawa location isn’t near the airport, so it’s not a 24-hour operation. They will focus on breakfast, lunch and dinner using simple, beautifully prepared ingredients. I’m excited to see what the feedback will be,” says Germain.
Westin Hotels and Resorts also recently introduced new food-and-beverage programs designed to heighten guest experience. The Westin Sleep Well Menu, launched in March, was created to help people ease into a new time zone or rejuvenate after a hectic day of travel. Menu items include dishes such as grilled wild salmon with walnut quinoa and poached eggs on asparagus with snap peas and shitake mushrooms — foods high in vitamins and minerals to promote rest — as well as a selection of herbal teas.
“The focus on healthy, clean eating is greater now than ever. Consumers want foods made with natural ingredients free of artificial flavours or colours. Our new programs provide guests with healthy, satisfying options,” says Brian Povinelli, senior vice-president and global brand leader for Westin and Le Méridien. The company also has its Eat Well Menu for Kids in the works. In May, staff in 200 hotels began creating new options for the kids’ menu and the 40 best recipes will be provided to each property, giving them flexibility to create a regionally relevant menu. “Having a healthy kids’ menu makes it easy for families to travel without having to worry about finding good food that also appeals to their children,” Povinelli says. While focused on providing healthful meals, the brand is also tuned into guests’ desire for convenience, with many properties offering Westin Fresh by The Juicery grab-and-go options.
“Today’s global traveller has little time to wait and we want to capitalize on that trend. The majority of hotel guests still want on-site food-and-beverage options, whether it’s grabbing breakfast on-the-go, ordering from the comfort of their room or enjoying local cuisine,” Povinelli explains. “Our goal is to create programs and menus that meet our guests’ diverse needs.”
Written By: Lindsay Forsey
Volume 28, Number 4