How Hotel Foodservice is Evolving

Erik Wolf Executive Director, World Food Travel Association

Kendra Blumsky, Project Manager, World Food Travel Association

People have been making bucket lists of places they want to go after lockdown, they have been watching travel clips on YouTube and documentaries on Netflix, getting ideas of where they want to go and what they want to eat - eager to travel again. However, with tourist arrivals dramatically falling throughout 2020 and into 2021, it is hard not to wonder how travel will restart. What has the impact been on hotels, and their food and beverage offerings? One thing is for sure - it will look different. The necessity to adapt has forced innovation within hotel food and beverage offerings. Lockdown has forced us to restart, to reinvent the wheel and launch new services.

It has made us work hard to recapture old customers and secure a 'new local market' through product innovation and new options. Hotels in particular, due to the direct impact of a lack of tourists, had to rethink traditional business models and listen to consumer trends. Driven to come up with creative ways to generate revenue and satisfy unique experiences to create memories while also ensuring safety precautions.

Diversification Globally, we have seen hotels diversify their food and beverage product offering. From 'pop-up' shops (either selling additional stock or local produce), setting up curbside take-aways, deliveries via food apps, ghost kitchen partnerships, and even at-home meal kits to 'private dining' in hotel rooms. Buffets are a thing of the past - freshly cooked-to-order items are in. Quality, sustainable dining options alongside the increased use of technology and those lucky enough to have outdoor seating are in hot demand.

As outdoor space, garden dining and separate entrances have become important to guests over the last 18 months, many venues are taking significant steps to invest in permanent outdoor facilities - whether it be pop-up igloos, yurts, covered cubicles or other outdoor dining options to ensure a positive image and reputation to guests. On the other hand, some hotels are embracing private dining affairs involving mixology classes or personal cooking classes with a chef for luxurious exclusive experiences. While at the same time others are stocking the hotel suite 'mini-fridge' with restaurant pre-made meals and local artisanal goodies.

Embracing the local market as well also has its benefits. By celebrating and endorsing the staycation, it invigorates the offering for the local market. At the Shangri-La in London, hotel suites have been turned into destination-inspired getaways. Through bespoke food and beverage options which harmonised with exotic destination decorations, the concept provided an 'escape' and experience especially curated for the land-locked wanna-be travellers.

Known as the 'Spice of the Caribbean' and recently dubbed the world's first Culinary Capital by the World Food Travel Association, Grenada was heavily impacted by the pandemic - like most destinations. The True Blue Bay Boutique Resort, which is a small family-owned resort in Grenada with an existing commitment to sustainability and community involvement had to quickly adapt and operate their resort in different capacities due to the realisation they couldn't afford to close.

First, they accommodated and fed first responders and then evolved (when possible) to cater for fellow Grenadians and returning nationals. Similar to the Shangri-La in London and many hotels throughout the world, they realised the potential of catering to local markets and the influence neighbouring communities would have.

``We switched out resort operations from our usual international tourist-orientated services to our Grenadian guests', says True Blue Bay Boutique Resort General Manager, Marie Fieldan.

'We re-evaluated our pricing to make them affordable and still appropriate to our business. We re-organised the resort to deliver social distancing and quarantine areas as well as redesigning our menus for our new operation."

True Blue Bay Boutique Resorts developed the concept of 'Balcony Concerts'. An initiative which enabled local guests to book the resort's new climate-friendly Cocoa Pod rooms overnight or for the weekend - with food, drinks and entertainment all provided in their room or balcony (all while complying with COVID protocol). It is important to note that the Balcony Concert Series not only received an award from the Grenada Tourism Authority for creativity during the pandemic, but also continues to be incredibly popular every other weekend.

Unfortunately, the reality for many on-site restaurants and bars within the hospitality industry meant that there was a significant drop in profits, as many of them were still sitting vacant. However, over the pandemic we saw the rise of the ghost kitchen business model, which allowed businesses (often with a delivery focus) to use a professional kitchen with minimal overheads.

By doing this, it not only provided the chance to utilise empty or underused space to ensure a revenue stream, but also delivered the opportunity to innovate with local businesses to reach and expand to new markets as well as re-jig the room service offering. By adapting the food and beverage business model in this way, it is increasing efficiency and benefiting commercial kitchen hosts financially. Many see this as a trend and business model that will stay.

The diversification of revenue streams can provide hoteliers an immediate financial benefit to boost themselves towards recovery, encourage repeat visits from the local market, build authenticity as well as provide long-term stability in a sustainable direction.

Technology We have seen successful technology initiatives quickly become embedded into hospitality practices and change the game. Whether it be the use of QR codes to order, food delivery services, room service revamps through to contactless payments and other services, it is clear that many of these tools are here to stay. By taking advantage of these technologies, as well as strategically optimising the space available (indoor and out) - food and beverage offerings have the ability to reduce labour costs, improve brand awareness, enhance revenue opportunities and ensure memorable, safe experiences for the guests.

While many of us have seen these technological changes in restaurants or bars we have visited during the pandemic, these same changes are being carried through to foodservice outlets in the lodging industry.

Many of these innovations have been what hotel guests have wanted for years, but it took the challenges of the last 18 months to bring them into play. The need to reduce human contact has brought forth paperless menus, hotel-specific apps (which inform guests of dining recommendations, local attractions and hotel amenities), highlighted new ways guests could take control of ordering (i.e dietary options and personalisations) and introduced contactless room service and delivery.

Not only this, but it has kickstarted a rise of robots within the restaurant and lodging industry. In addition to providing a touchless and safe experience for the guests, they also can save money in the long-term, reduce food waste, provide consistent meals, and work around the clock in a fully-automated process. Sustainability It is unsurprising that consumer affinity for health and wellness has increased in importance amongst individuals as well as the heightened consciousness around the environmental impact of what they have been consuming over the last 18 months. Sustainability is becoming more prominent, and there has been an increasing awareness around the importance of caring for our planet, notably an interest in where our food comes from and how it gets from the farm to the plate. With this in mind, vegan/vegetarian, organic, local and farm-to-fork concepts are becoming more sought-after as individuals strive to improve their health as well as minimise their impact on the world around them.

Mrs. Fielden from True Blue Bay Boutique Resort aptly states that "You must innovate. Innovate what you offer to your customers, innovate to suit your environment and community to better serve their needs, and innovate with the products you have in hand"

One of the best changes and developments which came out of COVID for the resort, was the fact that local farmers started supplying fresh seasonal vegetables, herbs, spices and fruits straight to their door. Not only did this allow and inspire cooks to become more creative and seasonal but it encouraged the chefs to rediscover local flavours and ingredients which hadn't been utilised before - developing a sustainable 'farm to table' menu.

Guests not only want to see locally-sourced food packed with flavour, colour, and freshness, but there is also a trend for beverages to move towards offering healthier and cleaner options. Once again, in tandem with the heightened awareness of sustainability, this calls for the rise of lower alcohol-level options, mocktails, natural ingredients, reduced or no added sugar, seltzers and fermented options such as spiked kombuchas.

According to Louise Palmer-Masterton, Owner of the highly-acclaimed vegan Stem & Glory Restaurant (UK), one might think that making a real difference in sustainability terms is beyond the sphere of influence of an individual person or business, with international action and financial incentives needed for real change to happen on a global scale.

While it is true that coordinated international action is needed to effect significant changes, Louise encourages us all to take actions that will make a difference. For example, supporting non-profits in a financial sense, but many of the actions we can take are changes within our own supply chains which are not disruptive or costly. Our actions simply must involve making more ethical choices in our purchasing decisions. For example, reducing meat consumption, offering more vegetarian and vegan options will help your business be more sustainable, allow your guests to eat in a more sustainable and healthy way, and ultimately, to help you attract more customers. The move away from eating animal products is gaining momentum, if you ignore it you risk not only losing customers, but missing out on a key step towards creating a planet-friendly business.

A recent Futerra survey showed that 88% of consumers want brands to help them be more sustainable - and food is a key part of this. And with the huge rise in plant-based eating, across all age groups, it's a shrewd business decision to ensure these diets are catered for. Never underestimate the contribution that an individual or individual business can play. By changing ourselves we generate spirals of positive influence - it is like the R number of sustainability! The more you make changes and tell others, the more people you will influence for good.

It is important to note that environmental factors are just one of the branches of sustainability. When we talk about sustainability, we are referring to the definition which encompasses the triple bottom line - sociocultural, economic as well as environmental, sometimes called "people, planet, profit." This highlights that not only should businesses be looking at results and success based on economic factors, but it also needs to consider social equity and environmental integrity. Investing in employee development and training, allowing employees to get involved in decision-making and encouraging them to make suggestions for the wider business, paying your restaurant suppliers on time and getting involved in the local community are all ways to improve your socio-cultural sustainability practices and benefit the overall service experience.

This trend will only increase, so it is crucial that hotels and their food and beverage offerings listen to evolving consumer demands and preferences. When innovation is coupled with sustainability, it has the ability to provide a wealth of opportunities, increase competitiveness and improve brand reputation.

Now is the opportunity to embrace change. By implementing a variety of new technologies, diversifying your offering, adopting a customer-centric approach and creating a new business model which overall promotes sustainability, hygiene, social distancing and a personalised experience - you will be ensuring a competitive advantage for the long run.

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