Succeeding in F&B during COVID, Part 2

During the height of the pandemic, takeout food and beverages, family meals to go, in-room dining option expansions, dining outside and utilizing underused and unique spaces throughout hotels and resorts for dining were ways that food and beverage drove sales.

Contributed by Jeanette Hurt

As the pandemic persists, hotel F&B departments continue to pivot and are ready to adjust on the fly as we reported in yesterday’s feature. Today, we share more practical takeaways from the last 18 months that likely can still be applied in the months and years ahead.

“We offered guests a variety of ways to dine with us throughout the pandemic, welcoming them into our restaurants and bars at the level of interaction they felt most comfortable with,” said Martin Chung, senior vice president of operations for Kerzner International, “From private dining in villas and suites to offering to-go and delivery options for locals at Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai or One&Only Cape Town, each offering was suited to each destination and each guest. We’ve continued to amend our experiences as the global situation has evolved, continuing those offerings that are still in demand to retiring those that might not make sense right now.”

Chung said that culinary, educational experiences have continued, both on videos to hands-on classes at resorts, and they’re also continued to invite guests to dine where they are most comfortable. “We’re also seeing people still interested in unique dining areas,” he added. “They want to eat on the sand at the beach or on the balcony of their suite, at an intimate treehouse amongst a forest or enjoy other private nooks around our resorts.”

“Obviously, during the shutdown, to-go food was the only way you could eat, and for an even longer period of time, it was the only way people were comfortable,” said Jason Lapin, president of Blau + Associates, a Las Vegas-based F&B operator and consultancy. “From our experience, we have adopted that takeaway meal program, have enhanced it and have embraced it further, and it will continue to grow, without a question. It’s very lucrative, and we’ve kept it up.”

“Grab and go dining options remain a hit with both locals and guests,” said Alberico Nunziata, director of food and beverage, The Beverly Hilton, in California.

For Kerzner, the in-room dining approach has permanently changed. “In lieu of offering a pre-set selection of snacks and beverages, at select One&One resorts, guests are invited to visit the Refreshment Centre to customize their in-room selection with items that extend far beyond the classics,” Chung said. “From in-house-made savory items and sweet bites to fresh-pressed juice and crafted bottles cocktails, guests can pre-order exactly what they want to have on hand from the moment they book and throughout their stay.”

The tipi at One&Only Le Saint Géran, Mauritius

Outdoor dining has become more sought-after, and during the pandemic, The Beverly Hilton made the strategic decision to reimagine its Star Dust rooftop space, which was typically used for events, and transformed it into an outdoor dining space. “We partnered with a powerhouse hospitality group, The h.wood Group, which is known for operating some of the most exclusive spots in Los Angeles, and we felt this partnership could offer guests and locals an ‘only-here’ experience  that would transport them across the world after a year at home while also being conducive for safe gatherings,” Nunziata said. The hotel also removed glass walls that once housed Circa 55 and transformed that space into The Veranda.

Dining where people are most comfortable was a consideration when the Bottleworks Hotel opened in Indianapolis. Instead of opening a restaurant onsite, it opened a cafe and coffeeshop (it is opening a new bar and lounge), and focused on offering an upscale and highly curated in-room dining menu. Since the hotel is located within a former Coca-Cola bottling plant and there is a food hall just across the street, it didn’t make sense to open up a traditional restaurant, said Amy Isbell-Williams, the hotel’s general manager.

“What we did need, however, was a lounge,” Isbell-Williams added, as the hotel’s Sundry & Vice cocktail lounge, isn’t yet open. So, Isbell-Williams and her team looked at the beautiful, under-used spaces, and they created a lounge within the building’s old accounting room, which has a historic safe as a focal point. “We brought in a mobile bar cart, and it became a speakeasy lounge,” she said. “Now, we’re using this concept for special events, for cocktail hours for corporate events or for weddings.”

When the hotel opened, events were already booked, and they’re continuing to grow. “Meetings are definitely coming back,” Isbell-Williams said. “But one thing we have had to keep in mind, is very often, the event that people are coming to is the first time they’re meeting together.”

“Corporate and association events have returned, and demand is strong,” said Carlos Cepero, director of food and beverage at The Don CeSar, St. Pete Beach, Florida.

“We are fortunate that we have been able to sell our meeting space as normal,” said Kelly Giger, director of sales and marketing at The Industrialist Hotel, a Marriott Autograph Collection property in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Lapin said that while there’s certainly been a backlog of catered events, he hasn’t seen conventions yet return to Las Vegas, Chicago, New York and other big cities.

Cabana dining at One&Only The Palm in Dubai

Weddings are also growing, especially with the backlog of such celebrations that were cancelled last year. “We are currently seeing weddings any day of the week, with Fridays and Sundays remaining very popular,” Cepero said.

Nunziata said that he’s seen a shift to more weekday celebrations “as remote work offers more flexibility for scheduling,” and he’s also seen the size of gatherings shrink.

“We’re seeing a significant demand for celebratory experiences across our resorts,” Chung said. “We are seeing an even greater demand in guests wanting to commemorate these moments with completely custom dining experiences.”

Celebration extends not just into events, but also into bars and restaurants. “Signature cocktails seem to be all the hype right now,” Giger said.

All in all, the paradigm is shifting in a positive direction, and most hotels feel optimistic. “Six months ago, they said nobody would ever shake hands again or go to a concert or go to a buffet, and categorically, none of these things are sure today,” Lapin remarked.