From the moment guests arrive to the moment they check out, every aspect of their journey should exceed an attendee’s new expectation around health, safety and experience. In particular, the idea of safety and comfortability around food and beverage post Covid is an important focus for group business right now. As we start to see a slow comeback of F2F events, hotel food and beverage outlets and onsite services will need to adapt to a new industry normal.
Tried and true experiences will still be essential in 2021. Take breakfast, for example. More than 1 in 3 Americans say a complimentary hotel breakfast is the top item they look for when thinking about a hotel’s dining amenities. However, the days of a buffet has become a thing of the past. However, hotels can offer this favorite in a safe way with prepackaged food, enhanced in-room dining or through contactless ordering technologies at various F&B outlets. According to Scott Gingerich, senior vice president of restaurants and bars for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, “We have found that many of our guests prefer not to venture off property for dining options and therefore, enjoy our restaurants and bars. For guests who are not comfortable dining at the restaurants or in the adjoining outdoor space, Kimpton always provides the option of in-room dining and grab-and-go items for guests. To-go programs will still be extremely important next year, even if restrictions around dining in lessen.”
The industry can predict that this will only continue, therefore, F&B outlets and services at the hotels will want to make sure that they are providing as many options as possible for their guests by creating programs that fit varying comfort levels. As you would expect, hotels have adjusted their service protocols during the coronavirus pandemic, both as a cost saving measure, and to limit interaction between employees and staff. Smaller, more limited menu options may come back in fashion. People will also look for added value experiences – something that can bring loyalty to a brand – and hotels are responding accordingly.
As of February 2021, 97% of Hilton’s hotels in its system are operational and CEO/President Chris Nassetta said the company would have “essentially all system-wide rooms reopened by the end of the second quarter” of this year — a significant milestone indeed. As part of this reopening, Hilton has implemented their own CleanStay program – part of which has been focused on changes to in-room room service (such as replacing rolling cart deliveries), creative breakfast and dining options, and the ability to provide designated locations and guidelines for contactless food delivery. Additionally, changes to Hilton hotel restaurant service include the spacing of tables and chairs to promote proper physical distancing between guests while maintaining increased hygiene standards. Also, they will be offering biodegradable, disposable dishware and flatware upon request. Grab and go/boxed meals, pre-plated and individually portioned options may be offered as alternatives to open breakfast and buffet service. They are also encouraging guests to take advantage of contactless food delivery by providing designated pick-up spots at each property.
Marriott is also implementing all the required WHO and local food safety and hygiene guidelines when it comes to F&B at their hotels as well. For example, at their Sheraton Buganvilias Resort & Convention Center in Puerto Vallarta, grab and go options are made in restaurants onsite, and are practically delivered sealed. A QR menu is established for restaurant dining, room service is made according to the standard of delivery only. Tables are sanitized before and after service, and some of their buffet options are being carried out with an assisted chef. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts are also onboard. They have created their Lead with Care program. As part of that, they will carefully manage the flow of event attendees, to safely delivering elevated food and beverage experiences. Nearly all restaurants are providing a-la-carte service and in-room dining offers contactless delivery outside guestrooms along with sustainable, single-use packaging.
Generally, as we know, onsite bars have been closed, restaurants are at limited capacities, mini bars/coffee stations were removed, food handling has changed, face coverings & gloves have become a standard, condiments are packaged individually, and outdoor space is at a premium. Demand is low, but pricing is going up to keep within the advised safety standards guests have come to expect. Rentals are being charged, and fees per person for a more private group experience are being revisited. Technology has also changed the F&B scene dramatically. Today, clients can do almost anything with their smartphones –viewing menus via a QR code, placing orders, and making payments via cashless systems. And this will only become more prevalent in hotel F&B industry over the next few years.
Quick service restaurants and more casual dining (as well as outdoor options) may take over the standalone market, each featuring minimum layers of staff –but still providing decent dining experiences in their related segments. Following the pandemic, the entire market will be more price-driven than ever before, and with some customers on a limited budget, affordable (yet delicious) meals will also be in high demand. Some clients may want a more exclusive, high-end F&B experience – of which, the luxury market will still continue to offer in a safe and effective way (side note: be ready to dust off that AMEX gold card).
Whichever way you slice it, hotel food and beverage post-Covid is certainly adapting to this ever-changing environment. With their focus being on welcoming back travelers in a safe way, the goal will be to continue to deliver a great guest experience in every way.