Due to the nature of the pandemic, various regions and types of hotels have been impacted very differently, resulting in a wide mix of approaches to evolving food-and-beverage (F&B) offerings and, in some cases, an increased focus on in-room dining.

In the early days of the pandemic, Philippe Gadbois, SVP Operations at Atlific Hotels, says the national management company’s F&B was heavily restricted and largely focused on simple breakfast offerings. “Over time that has evolved into a patchwork of solutions across the country, depending on what you’re allowed to do,” he explains. “As customers started trickling back in, depending on the hotel, brand [and] location, you then try to match the basic needs of those customers with the services that you’re going to provide.

As an example, he points to bagged breakfasts that were offered at hotels such as Holiday Inn Express. These featured items typically found in a continental breakfast, such as fruit, muffins and yogurt, and made available for guests to pick up and take back to their rooms.

F&B offerings expanded through the summer and early fall, while restrictions were lighter, but the second wave of lockdowns once again created significant limitations in many parts of the country. “Because of the demands on our business, the focus continues to be primarily coming up with breakfast offerings that meet or exceed what our guests expect,” says Gadbois.

Looking at other dayparts, Gadbois notes Atlific’s hotels don’t have many evening options open and third-party delivery services have been “picking up the slack” in this area. “Classic room service is fundamentally non-existent,” he says. “Instead of asking customers to come down and pick [meals] up, in some cases, we actually deliver it to the room, so it’s a modified room service, but it’s nowhere near what I would call classic room service.”

The events of the past year have brought the future of hotel F&B into question, especially given that these offerings are typically not revenue generators. “It will be interesting to see, once we resume more or less normal operations, what the future of hotel food and beverage is. I think it will be very different than what it has been,” says Gadbois. “With the exception, perhaps, of true luxury hotels, I think we’ll come out of this pandemic with room service gone.”

High-end hotels are indeed more bullish on the future of room service and in-room dining offerings. In recent months, Germain Hotels has begun offing packages focused on providing unique in-room culinary experiences, in addition to its traditional room service.

Each hotel offers a unique, seasonal menu created by the chef of its on-site restaurant and special menus have been offered for occasions such as Valentine’s Day. For example, the in-room gastronomy package at Le Germain Hotel Calgary features a four-course dinner for two from CHARCUT Roast House, a bottle of wine to pair with the meal and a continental boxed breakfast for two.
“The idea is to bring the experience you had in the restaurant into the room,” says Marie Pier Germain, VP of Marketing, Germain Hotels. “What we’ve managed to do is really turn the [in-room dining] experience around into a real experience. Whereas before, it felt to me that room service was something that was necessary — it was something you did because you had no other option.”
The packages are designed to engage locals and provide them with a way to safely have a special night out. And, Germain notes, there is an apparent appetite for these experiences. She explains that, while the industry has now become used to the wave of cancelations that occur every time cases surge or restrictions change, “People that actually have a reservation for a foodie [package] don’t cancel. Before [the pandemic], the reason you went to a hotel was because you were visiting friends, going to a business meeting or to see a show. Now, the reason you go is to have this experience in in-room dining.”

The Four Seasons Hotel Toronto has also introduced new in-room dining experiences in response to the pandemic. “The goal was always to make sure we continued providing the service somehow,” explains the hotel’s general manager, Konrad Gstrein. “As a five-star [hotel] it’s something that’s expected from Four Seasons.”

After the hotel had re-opened, “We quickly realized that there was a trend for people to have micro weddings and small gathering [for] milestone birthdays, wedding anniversaries, engagements,” Gstrein adds. “We’ve booked several small events in our smaller suites.”

For these events, the hotel has created a number of offerings, such as bespoke cocktails and afternoon tea.

Gstrein also points to “chef-prepared meals in the privacy of your own room or suite,” as a key offering that was very popular during the summer. “Our regular guests who didn’t feel comfortable, even though patio dining was available, to go out [to eat], could book, prior to arrival, a three- or four-course meal from the chef,” he explains.

Overall, demand for room service and in-room dining has shifted as a result of the pandemic. Gstrein points out that, during the weekends, the high-demand periods have remained similar. But, he adds, “We don’t have the typical business travellers from Monday through Friday,” which has changed weekday demand. “But, the capture rate is much higher than what we’ve ever had for room service,” he notes. “Of course we’ve had fewer guests, but we’ve had a lot of guests who would order, everyday, two meals a day.”

For the sake of safety, new approaches to delivering room service have had to be implemented, says Germain, explaining that, at Germain Hotels, staff don’t enter the room to deliver the meal. “There have been a lot of challenges,” she adds. “Servicing 100 people on 20 floors is really different than servicing 100 people in a dining room.” But, she notes, “Guests — the ones that actually do come — really enjoy the service and the food, so they’re able to kind of look past the challenges.”

At Four Seasons Toronto, reduced occupancy led the hotel to reduce its room-service menu and adjust it to take advantage of the items offered at d|bar, its on-site restaurant, in order to minimize food costs and waste. The hotel also had to determine how best to offer the service while ensuring guests felt comfortable. Physical in-room menus were removed in favour of the Four Seasons app and in-room tablets and it adopted a ‘knock-and-drop’ service model.

“Room service and in-room dining have been just as drastically changed as anything else in our industry,” adds Gstrein, who notes a key challenge to adapting service was learning the behaviour of guests.


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