Designers, F&B execs join in the battle for lobby ROI
Designers, F&B execs join in the battle for lobby ROI
17 DECEMBER 2019 9:07 AM

It is no longer enough for a GM or operations manager to be given the task of making hotel lobbies more fun; everyone must take a role in reinventing the hotel’s most critical, and profitable, spot.

LONDON—The focus in hotel design is swiftly shifting from guestrooms to lobbies, putting pressure not just on designers, but also restauranteurs and content providers, to come up with the new, the bold, the exciting and the Instagrammable, according to sources.

Speaking on a panel at the recent Sleep+Eat conference titled “Bedrooms are boring,” panelists said the lobby has become the focus of everything in a hotel and where all guest decisions are made, usually over a latte or a cocktail.

“Hotels, and their lobbies, now have to start from hoteliers building great concepts, and strong concepts. There has to be relevance and excitement for locals, and then guests most likely will love it, too,” said Anurag Bali, assistant VP of food and beverage for Southeast Asia at Shangri-La International.

To get to that point, hoteliers need to study the flow and movement of guests, to better design amenities and programming around them, panelists said.

Designers are looking at these changes in guests and designing things for them that have sustainability as well as stickiness, said Karina Elias, director of food and beverage at The Langham, London.

The lobby is the nerve center for revenue per available square foot, or meter, panelists said.

Some trends are noticeable, others might be hints that can result in first-mover advantages, but at the core, quality and authenticity still have huge roles to play, panelists added.

“There are lasting trends, for sure, but we’ve also seen some things shifting. Only around 3% of people in the (United Kingdom) are vegetarian, but definitely everyone is eating less meat. Alcohol, too, is being drunk less. Twenty-six percent of young people do not drink, up from 16%,” said Lydia Forte, group director of food and beverage, Rocco Forte Hotels.

Gustaf Pilebjer, director of food and beverage for Europe at Marriott International, said authenticity is increasingly regional in flavor.

“The perfect combination is to provide guests with a taste of where they are in a bar where locals will want to be,” Pilebjer said.

Bali added: “Lobby lounges need to be more and more relevant, not just the place where you are able to order a Caesar salad. Event spaces no longer can just be ballrooms with chandeliers.”

Social media
The overriding push in all of this, panelists said, is social media.

“Guests have more information than ever before, from apps to word of mouth, from podcasts to TV,” said Forte, the daughter of Sir Rocco Forte, the chairman of the hotel group.

Lydia Forte said that the number-one reason to travel to Italy, where her chain has seven hotels, is gastronomy, which outranks the country’s very strong offering in culture and beaches.

Hoteliers have to take advantage of such movements, she said.

“If you do not do something new tomorrow, people will move on. Be relevant, or people will forget,” Elias said.

Pilebjer said making lobbies appealing is not difficult, but to deliver a compelling product and atmosphere on a daily basis does require hard work. “It is down to the team and longevity, and behind it all is good old hospitality,” he said.

Making it all Instagrammable does not hurt, panelists agreed.

“Instagram is just a new form of marketing,” Bali said.

The Langham London’s Elias said Instagram has to be part of the strategy.

“A new dish? Is it Instagrammable? Make it so, as business will come that way” she said.

Lobbies are making themselves more social-media friendly by adding new concepts such as food-hall-style and free-standing offerings, ideas that are taking more share of wallet.

Combine such ideas with apps, which help create buzz and can do away with queues, panelists said.

“Pop ups must not compete with in-house restaurants, and have healthy options in all F&B touchpoints,” Forte said.

Elias said these concerns and wants make designing menus trickier.

One example is the trend in sharing food.

“This needs to be explained to certain demographics, to let them know the concept and also to say that it’s okay if they want to have their own dish,” Forte said.

Pilebjer added that F&B “now has to deliver not just on revenue or return on investment, but also on reputation.”

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