Though not typically seen as innovators in the foodservice arena, on-site hotel restaurants can boost a property’s appeal, both to prospective guests and locals.

Fresh Salt 1Fresh SaltFull-service restaurants make up about a quarter of a lodging’s total food and beverage revenue, while banquet and catering encompass 41 percent, according to Chicago-based Technomic. In comparison, the adult beverage piece represents 19 percent of total revenues within all hotel operators, although the figure is higher for luxury and upscale properties. The data seems to show there is room to expand some of that beverage piece to include food.

In fact, the hotel food and beverage space continues to show growth, according to Technomic, with overall consumer spending increasing 4.9 percent in 2017 and showing a robust 5.5 percent annual growth since 2011. Total spending by consumers within hotels, which includes all restaurants, bars and lounges, banquets and catering, room service, in-room minibars and other areas, totaled $48.7 billion in 2017.

“Lodging operators are using F&B [food and beverage] as a differentiator,” says David Henkes, senior principal at Technomic. “In particular, there are restaurants in boutique hotels that are fashion forward.”

Innovative lounges and grab-and-go programs also build quality perceptions of foodservice operations, but it’s the banquet and catering operations that drive the bus in this segment. “Banquets and catering represent 40 cents of each dollar with hotel F&B, but can be as much as two-thirds or three-quarters of a luxury resort’s revenue,” says Henkes.

A Changing Landscape

Marcus Hotels Burdock and Bitters Omaha Marriott Downtown 2Small bites and shared dishes are a hallmark of many hotel restaurant menus.There has been a notable shift in hotel restaurants, from swanky white tablecloth fine dining to more flexible, all-inclusive spaces that can transition from breakfast dining to a casual lunch spot to a nighttime lounge/bar.

“Underutilized or unused hotel spaces are being reclaimed for revenue-producing purposes, and F&B is driving this,” says Henkes. This translates into more casual atmospheres that promote socializing, more bar-and-grill type concepts and an emphasis on higher margin food and alcohol.

Technomic reports a growing number of hotel operators now prominently feature grab-and-go menu items. Offerings that were previously part of in-room minibars have now shifted to existing or new service areas, such as lobbies/pantries, marketplaces or grab-and-go carts and kiosks. Also, yesterday’s packaged snacks now make way for freshly prepared items.

“As people’s dining habits changed, hotel restaurants have needed to adapt,” says Guy Rigby, president and founder of Octopus, a Toronto-based foodservice consultancy. “The expectation is that every aspect of the hotel is profitable, and management wants to see that the restaurant is holding its own.”

Keeping pace with food trends can also present a challenge for hotels, says Rigby. “Hotels generally need a restaurant that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, so it’s difficult to offer ethnic or adventuresome cuisine and still appeal to a broad demographic.

“So many hotels are now doing grab-and-go, getting into specialty coffee with espresso and cappuccino machines and renovating kitchens to be more flexible with equipment like combi ovens,” says Rigby. Today’s multifunctional hotel kitchen must accommodate full-service dining, room service, banquet and catering services, and grab-and-go retail options.

The challenge lies in the balance between accommodating hotel guests and attracting locals to hotel restaurants. This especially is the case with urban hotels, which are more likely to include hip and trendy eateries for this reason.

In this same realm, Rigby says hotels began adding celebrity chef-driven restaurants in an effort to be taken more seriously about their food offerings. “Hotels were fighting the fact that people didn’t go to their properties to dine,” he says. “These well-known chefs legitimized their restaurants.”

Yet, some contend the era of celebrity chef-driven hotel restaurants appears to be coming to an end, albeit not so much in the big cities. The issue with these types of operations is the profit-sharing factor — hotels in these partnerships typically have to pay the chefs a fee for use of their name or give them a share of the profits.

“A restaurant would have to be extremely busy to share the profits,” says Rigby.

Comprehensive Components

When it comes to menus in this segment, operators continue to emphasize local and regional foods as well as small plates and shareable meals that appeal to many. Like the foodservice industry as a whole, locally sourced ingredients and food transparency are both trending in hotel foodservice.

“People want to know where ingredients come from, and it’s a good reflection on the community’s local businesses to provide this information,” says Rigby.

Large hotel chains like Marriott look to F&B to drive value for customer loyalty programs, for example, by providing top-tier guests access to a private concierge lounge with free food and beverage.

Marcus Hotels Burdock and Bitters Omaha Marriott Downtown 1Burdock & Bitters at the Omaha Marriott provides a contemporary dining environment with a casual vibe.Milwaukee, Wis.-based Marcus Hotels & Resorts’ Marcus Restaurant Group, which develops and operates concepts that range from casual to fine dining to lounges, seems to have hit on a successful formula. Its award-winning restaurants include the city’s Miller Time Pub & Grill, ChopHouse, Mason Street Grill and SafeHouse restaurants. It’s the morning daypart, however, that takes precedence at the nearly 40 F&B operations inside its 21 U.S. hotels.

Breakfast serves as the primary touchpoint for hotels trying to reach the majority of their guests, according to Technomic. As such, it is the largest revenue driver (from a daypart perspective), accounting for 37 percent of total revenues (and higher among midscale and economy properties.) It remains the one daypart that provides a captive audience for hotel F&B programs and operators increasingly view it as a differentiating factor.

“Health, wellness and global food trends are having a significant influence on breakfast menu offerings; breakfast is a very important part of our operations, as we see more guests at breakfast than lunch or dinner,” says Joe Jackson, Marcus Hotels & Resorts’ corporate director of food and beverage.

Earlier this year, Marcus Hotels hosted a breakfast-focused workshop for some of its chefs and operations directors. “We focused on creative breakfast beverage offerings, including introducing cold brew and nitro coffee to the menu,” says Jackson. “Our teams are, if they don’t already have it, now adding cold brew or nitro coffee to our menus, which will be available all day, not only at breakfast.”

Flexible Equipment

When it comes to the back of the house, space conservation remains a key consideration. Multifunctional equipment that fits into a small footprint takes priority. “In our business, we need big results from small equipment,” says Jackson. “From speed to combi ovens, we like equipment with cooking diversity, quick prep times and most importantly, equipment that is easy to use.”

Marcus Hotels’ restaurants also seek equipment with technology that provides the flexibility to deliver meals on time. “Programmable and smart ovens are becoming more and more prevalent in kitchens and in our markets, too,” says Jackson.

Like other hotel restaurants, the line in many Marcus Hotels’ kitchens does many things in addition to the regular restaurant menu, like supporting the banquets, bar and lounges, room service and the pool. And in some cases, the line supports two separate restaurant concepts.

A Refresh Makes a Statement

Independent hotels find foodservice provides a point of differentiation in a competitive environment. That’s precisely what lead the owners of Saybrook Point Inn & Spa in Saybrook, Conn., to open Fresh Salt restaurant in 2011. Siblings Stephen, Tricia and Louis Tagliatela, whose parents bought the property in 1980, run the inn. It opened in 1989 and includes 105 rooms, plus villas and guest houses across the street.

Fresh Salt 4Seafood is a staple at Fresh Salt, where seasonal menus change quarterly to reflect food availability. The restaurant was formerly Terra Mar, a formal fine-dining concept. People wanted something more approachable, says Greg Wool, the inn’s director of operations. “We’re on the water with a marina, so it’s both casual and high quality,” he says of Fresh Salt.

New York designer Peter Niemitz decked out the space in blues and browns to simulate a seaside luxury yacht. A separate room, dubbed Terra Mar, pays homage to the former restaurant. A lounge area with a bar leads to the main dining room that seats 100 and overlooks the water. An outdoor patio seats 60 and a marina bar, open May through September, seats another 50. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Room service hours mirror the restaurant’s, and customers can order the same dishes from both.

“Our room service items need to be the same quality as if they’re served in the restaurant, which comes into play during the menu-planning stage,” says Wool. “It helps that we source fresh, seasonal ingredients and that our dishes are prepared a la minute.”

Because guest rooms are not far away, simple covered plates maintain food temperatures. Saybrook Inn’s guest houses don’t have access to room service, but carryout is an option.

Fresh Salt recently hired a new chef de cuisine, Lou-Anne Langlois, a native to the area, who completely revised the menu to emphasize local and sustainable products. The restaurant features seasonal menus, revising them four times a year.

Along with the area’s staple seafood and raw bar, Fresh Salt’s summer menu included an ahi tuna poke bowl this year, in addition to pan-seared diver scallops with sunchoke puree, risotto caprese and certified Angus filet mignon.

Fresh Salt’s back of the house accommodates a thriving banquet business and Sunday brunch with a separate area in the kitchen that supports those areas. The Fresh Salt line includes several fryers (including one dedicated to gluten-free items), a grill and two saute stations with a separate pantry station for producing cold items.

“One innovation we instituted last year was our computer-based ticketing program,” says Wool. “This includes a computer monitor at each cooking station that shows the dishes that need to be created in the appropriate order to ensure they come out at the correct time.”

The system knows how long each item needs to cook, so if a dish takes longer, it shows up first on the list. The expediter just needs to keep their eyes on the screen.

“This program has been a big boon for productivity, has shortened wait times and allowed us to handle a higher volume of business with fewer mistakes,” says Wool.

Fresh Salt’s business demand rises and falls differently from non-hotel restaurants, as it’s more tied to how busy the inn is. Yet, it has become a local hot spot, as well.

This is what today’s hotel restaurants strive to become — a beacon for guests and a draw for the locals. Both ensure a recipe for success.


 Hotel Restaurant Equipment

Buffetware

  • Primarily designated for a hotel restaurant’s front of the house, buffetware includes chafing dishes; double-wall bowls; display cookware; induction equipment; chafers; upscale steamtable pans; carving stations; warmers; stands; bowls; servingware; and utensils.
  • Hotel operators can choose from different quality items in the ‘good’, ‘better’ and ‘best’ categories. For example, on the lower end, economy chafers consist of a lighter gauge or lower quality stainless steel at a more economical price. On the other end of the spectrum, high-end buffetware consists of more durable materials with upscale features, like chafers with self-closing lids rather than the lift-off type.
  • When it comes to these products, hotel restaurant operators can choose more elaborate materials that are sturdier for high-volume use. These are made of wood, metal and melamine, rather than glass or ceramic.
  • In buffetware, colors are becoming more common to mix in with traditional white products to enhance presentations. Elevated displays have become more widely used to achieve a more unique and appealing setup. Stands and risers create vertical, space-saving displays.

Flight Type Dishmachines

  • Prior to choosing a machine configuration, hotel restaurant operators need to consider the warewashing volume to properly lay out the dish room. Consider extra space to accumulate or scrap, load, unload and store dishware and other items during the process.
  • In terms of size, hotels can choose dishmachine lengths ranging from 18 to 40 feet. The most common flight warewasher size is 3 feet wide by 23 feet long.
  • Hotel restaurant volume will determine the type of unit. Flight-type warewashers can accommodate between 9,000 and 20,000 pieces of ware an hour, depending on the model. The average machine handles about 10,000 plates in an hour.

Combi Ovens

  • Hotel restaurant operators looking for a versatile, chef-driven piece of equipment should consider adding a combi. These units provide multiple functions in one piece of equipment, thus conserving space.
  • These ovens can rethermalize food as part of a cook/chill operation or for precooked convenience.
  • Hotel operators can choose from various pan capacities as well as different footprint configurations. These include full- and half-size combi ovens, in addition to countertop models. Sizes range from smaller units that accommodate four half-size steam pans to large roll-in units that can accommodate up to 40 full-size steam pans. Larger units exist for 6 to 20 full-size sheet pans.

Induction Cooktops

  • Hotel restaurants continue to move toward more energy-efficient, non-flame induction-type items for warming and cooking in the front of the house largely due to a trend in themed stations that includes stir fries, pasta and breakfast items. Operators also can utilize induction cookers and displayware for presentation cooking on display lines.
  • Hotel operators can choose from induction cooktops in countertop and drop-in versions in single and double hob models, which offer a front-to-back or side-by-side configuration. These come with the more familiar flattop cooking hotplates or in round bowl wok units.
  • Size also is a consideration. Single hob induction ranges are typically about 13 to 15 inches wide, 15 to 17 inches deep, and 3½ to 5 inches tall. Double units may be roughly 27 to 30 inches deep. The hobs generally will hold a 14 inch-wide vessel, but these can be wider than the range itself. Typical stockpot capacities would be 24 to 40 quarts, but can be higher. Higher wattage ranges are used with 60-quart stockpot applications. Larger powered induction ranges that must accommodate stock pots and braising pans will tend to grow in size with power level. 
  • Induction ranges can function as hold-only warmers utilizing convertible buffet servers as the serving vessel.