Boutiques offer variety, experience with F&B
Boutiques offer variety, experience with F&B
11 APRIL 2014 9:05 AM

One way independent hoteliers can provide a better guest experience is through unique F&B operations.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The food-and-beverage space is evolving to offer more variety and unique experiences to consumers, according to sources. That evolution is showing its roots in the independent segment.
“Everybody’s always looking for a competitive edge, and a lot of the industry is very conservative and they copy what everybody else does,” said John Hardy, president of The John Hardy Group, a strategic development firm. “You could go to a Marriott in Chicago and go to the same restaurant that you went to in Houston or Washington. Everything was repetitive. (Boutiques) broke the mold.”
One way luxury boutiques are breaking the mold is by offering multiple F&B outlets, according to Mike Suomi, principal and VP of design for Stonehill & Taylor.
“You don’t have a lobby bar and a fine dining restaurant. What we’re doing is there still may only be two or three food-and-beverage offerings, but we’re breaking the food-and-beverage experience into six different venues or 10 different venues that have different levels of intimacy,” he said. “That gives the guest what they perceive as much more variety of choice and that they have access to a different experience.”
For instance, he said, the NoMad Hotel in New York is directed by one F&B operator and has one restaurant that is broken into five separate venues:
  1. Atrium. A sunlit space whose design was inspired by the courtyards of Europe. The restaurant is at the heart of the building with a conservatory-style glass roof that looks up through the middle of the building.
  2. Dining Room. An intimate space for about 45 diners. In the center, there is an open hearth, where guests can observe the preparation of fresh breads. 
  3. Fireplace. A small space with a 300-year-old giant stone fireplace taken from a French château. It can hold about 12 to 15 diners total, Suomi said.
  4. Library. A fully curated, two-level library where finger foods are served with coffee, tea, wine and cocktails. A literary collection is available.
  5. Bar. This was meant to be the only bar, but the Library room had to be opened up for non-guests in the evening due to the bar’s popularity, Suomi said. 
“That hotel’s been open less than a year … and we’re already adding two more experiences to it. It’s been so wildly popular, they bought the building next door, and we’re designing that to be yet two more different F&B experiences to be attached to the already five,” Suomi said.
Miami-based Trust Hospitality has a portfolio of 30 boutique properties, with nearly 1,700 rooms open and approximately 1,600 rooms under development. President and COO Patrick Goddard said the company’s upscale and upper-upscale properties offer multiple F&B outlets as well.
“The food-and-beverage component is a really important part of an experience. We do think that hotels are experienced just as much through your palate as they are visually and from a comfort perspective,” he said. 
“The guestrooms are a given now. It’s just assumed that you have a comfortable upscale guestroom. The public areas are really where you need to be able to differentiate.”
He said those public spaces should mirror the energy of the market’s locale and the energy of the hotel. And F&B should be available in those public spaces, whether it’s a self-serve environment where there is a table with infused waters or coffees, or whether it’s a served environment where a staff member offers refreshment.
“It’s all part of making the guest feel at home, making them feel comfortable and elevating the experience,” he said. “Nourishment and food and the quality of that experience is a huge part of the overall hotel experience.
“If you have this beautifully designed hotel and you walk in and everything is perfect … and you come downstairs and you have a crappy breakfast, you’ve just ruined everything else,” he said.
Goddard said the F&B business is much more detailed than the hotel side of business. 
“It’s way tougher to be consistent on the F&B side than it is on the room side,” he said. “But if you execute it well, people will recognize and remember that.”
Sourcing local
One way to execute a successful F&B business is to pay attention to the hotel’s surrounding area, according to Goddard.
He said Trust’s approach to F&B used to lie within celebrity chefs. Now the company works with regionally recognized culinarians who align with Trust’s mission when it comes to F&B—for example, working with the local community to source ingredients.
“We do want to create a destination, somewhere that’s exciting for people to go,” he said.
“Hotel restaurants walk a fine line between being approachable enough for locals,” Goddard said. “Being able to attract locals is crucial to the success of a food-and-beverage operation and a boutique hotel because you want to create that activity and you want to be part of the community. … But at the same time you want to be sexy and interesting enough for a special occasion.” 
Vann Avedisian, principal at Highgate Hotels, said the team for the 1,331-room Row NYC looked at the hotel’s location and what culinary offerings were available.
“And then we compared it to what our guests really want—the best of New York, food that is unique to our city,” he said via email.
The hotel, which launched in early March, houses the District M. By day, the space is a European express café and a Neapolitan pizza bar and cocktail lounge at night. This year, a food market will open in the hotel called City Kitchen.
“We want to give our guests the most that the unique city of New York has to offer, and this is exactly what City Kitchen is going to do by bringing in a variety of the most-buzzed-about food vendors,” Avedisian said. “We also want to give the local work crowd and residents food that they love from New York neighborhoods but don’t have access to in Times Square.”
Foodie freedom
Goddard said the positioning of a boutique hotel’s F&B operations can make or break the positioning of the hotel. He said it’s difficult for F&B operations at branded properties to break free from the stigma of being part of a brand, adding that people don’t have great expectations of F&B at branded hotels.
“Dining, just like lodging, just like fashion or anything else, is a form of self-expression. … It’s an expression of maybe not who you are but who you think you are,” he said. “So, it’s like the customer who doesn’t want to tell people he stayed at the Hampton Inn … because it says something about who that person is. So branded properties will always have that challenge, no matter who they put in their restaurants.
“As opposed to independent hotels; the sky’s the limit. You can be whoever you want to be,” he said.

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