Operators of some of the nation’s trendiest hotel restaurant and bar hotspots share how customers are changing the way F&B succeeds in boutique hotels.
NEW YORK—Yes, the food and drinks have to be good, but that alone doesn’t guarantee traffic for today’s boutique and independent hotel restaurants and lounges.
Owners and operators of some of New York’s and Miami’s hottest boutique hotel restaurants and lounges shared some of the latest trends powering sales and marketing, space design and planning during a panel discussion at the Boutique Hotel Investment Conference.
1. People are engaging differently around F&B
The wellness trend pervading hotels is front and center in restaurants and bars, said Lisle Richards, co-owner of The Metric, which operates restaurants and bars in New York City.*
“The era of being in a nightclub until 2 a.m. is over,” he said. “People are meeting differently—they’re engaging socially over fitness at (places) like SoulCycle and Equinox—and that’s also changing F&B.”
That means paying attention to healthy food and drink options, and tailoring spaces that will be used by people stopping in for a drink with friends after a workout instead of partying hard into the wee hours, he said.
2. Consider ‘dinner plus’ thinking
The dinner customer at a great restaurant is elusive, and today’s operators don’t want to lose them after dessert is finished. That’s where “dinner plus” comes in, said Mark Birnbaum, co-founder of EMM Group, which operates Lexington Brass in the Hotel 48LEX New York, as well as Catch restaurants around the world.
“People like eating and staying, so how do we keep that customer?” he asked. “The answer was not what we thought (in years past), which was the restaurant-turned-nightclub because when that happens, neither thing gets taken seriously.”
He said guests like to linger after dinner but not necessarily in a loud nightclub. Instead, they might like to play games, or to move to another spot in the restaurant for a nightcap or conversation, like a rooftop.
“We figured out how to bridge the gap and do both, but it took a lot of trial and error,” he said. “You can’t cheapen yourself with the extra experiences, and you have to make sure the guests go into another space, or go up or down stairs, for example.”
3. Social media is more important than ever …
Birnbaum said the key to making social media work as a promotional tool is “to figure out ways to control it without seeming like you’re controlling it.”
It’s all about being natural about encouraging good reviews, he said.
“The only way peer-to-peer advertising (through social media) is authentic is if you’re not paying people,” he said.
He cited the Hit Me chocolate cake, a popular dessert item at Catch NYC, which was created on purpose to inspire Instagramming.
“Instagram, Yelp and Snapchat can all catapult if you have a high volume of people posting there,” he said. “We created this cake so people would see it and say, ‘Hey wait a minute, I need to take a picture and post this,’” he said of the cake and ice cream concoction that features a frozen layer on top that requires the eater to crack it open.
“Desserts are our lowest-selling item, but they’re the most commented-on and the most liked,” he said. “You don’t just get that with a picture of really pretty flowers.
Speakers also advised encouraging guests to post photos on social channels by subtly reminding them of relevant hashtags or the venue name on menus and napkins.
David Rabin, partner in Café Clover, The Skylark, Jimmy at the James hotel and The Lambs Club in New York, said this is a subtle but effective marketing technique.
“We just redid our napkins at The Skylark to include some branding so people are reminded when they take photos,” he said.
4. … and restaurant design and lighting should support that
The trend of guests photographing their food isn’t going anywhere, and the speakers advised embracing it instead of fighting it.
“You have to be aware of that overhead food shot when someone is taking an Instagram photo of their cappuccino or avocado toast,” Richards said. “Is there enough light over the table?”
He said the photo-sharing social site is “pervasive to every aspect of how we think visually.”
“We as operators now have to be aware of what that means both visually and spatially,” he said. When designing Kola House in New York, he said the company ended up moving a few walls around to make sure there was enough space in a key “Instagrammable space” in the restaurant to take a good group photo.
5. Restaurants and bars can mean just as much to a hotel’s overall profile as the lodging element
The restaurateurs on the panel said the biggest mistake hotel owners make when it comes to incorporating F&B is shortchanging it.
“It used to be that the restaurant was an ancillary revenue stream or an amenity, and it’s very clear now that it’s a full revenue stream,” Richards said.
To that end, Rabin said planning is key.
“I often get called to meetings at a hotel that has already planned the entire F&B space and then called the operator,” he said. “They bought the wrong equipment, they overspent, then they want to retrofit and not spend as much money. Bring in the F&B operator first.”
Working together from the start makes the road to customer success that much more achievable, Birnbaum said.
“Hotels need to know it’s not just about having the hot restaurant or hot rooftop bar,” he said. “You have to be synergistic with the F&B operator or the customer eventually loses.”
* Correction, 23 June 2017: A previous version of this article listed F&B venues The Metric no longer operates.