Hotel dining isn’t dead, it’s just tricky

By Emma Eversham contact

- Last updated on GMT

Hotel dining isn’t dead, it’s just tricky

Related tags: Afternoon tea, Hotel

Food and beverage (F&B) remains a tricky area for hotels to manage and make profitable, but can work if operators are prepared to give it a greater focus and be flexible in their approach independent hoteliers have agreed.

While six years ago hotel dining was declared dead​, many hotel operators have since proved that by using traditional food and beverage spaces more flexibly and focusing on building a quality offering that is no longer the case.

Speaking at the Annual Hotel Conference in Manchester last week, Kevin Charity, director of the Coaching Inn Group, said the majority of sales at his 10 sites​ came from food and beverage because the business focused so heavily on it.

“We stopped concentrating on bedrooms and started concentrating on food and beverage which now accounts for 70 per cent of sales,” he said.

“We didn’t have a brand, so we had had to stand out and be special so we have a very local focus with our F&B.”

Flexible and adaptable

Charity said the biggest success with food and beverage had come from being more flexible with the space within his inns. Unused function rooms have been reconfigured to become part of the main F&B space while private dining areas have also been created within the space to ‘create a bit of a wow factor’.

“We are not scared of changing the space,” he said. “Our private dining spaces are popular with families now coming in for a Sunday roast. We have everything ready for them when they come in and they can relax and enjoy it.

“Afternoon tea has become popular for hen parties, so we now provide that as a package. You just have to go with what’s popular,” he said.

Felicity Cunliffe-Lister, owner of Swinton Park Hotel agreed that being flexible and providing what guests wanted had helped drive food and beverage sales and crucially gave them a reason to spend more.

The 31-bedroom hotel recently did away with lunches during the week to focus on serving only afternoon tea.

“Afternoon tea is flavour of the month, so we stopped doing weekday lunches and now just offer afternoon tea from 12pm onwards. It’s much easier and is what guests want,” she said.

“Also, when you’re a destination hotel and you have guests staying for two or three nights there is the challenge of offering something different every night of their stay. That’s why we built a second restaurant.” 

Ben Russell, acquisitions director at Ennismore, the owners of The Hoxton hotel said the design of all the company's hotels was flexible to allow guests to use the space as they saw fit. 

"The Hoxton has a natural flow. We have an area that's designed for eating, but it's not immediately obvious. We never want to formalise areas, but similarly the guests have to know where they want to go." 

Profitability 

While some operators see F&B as central to their offering, for others it is seen as an unwelcome necessity. 

Ricky Kapoor, commercial director at The Edinburgh Collection, said he included restaurants within his four hotels in the Scottish capital because their locations dictated it, but if he had a choice would rather not. 

“I’d prefer to run a, for want of a better word ‘bed factory’ because that’s where we see the true contribution to our EBITDA, but we provide F&B because we have to where we are,” he said.

“When you consider GP and staff and waiting costs involved, to do it properly it can be a big expense.”

Outsourcing F&B

Kapoor said he had looked at outsourcing F&B but unless he could find a F&B operator who would rent existing space within his hotel he couldn't see it working for the business. 

"Outside operators want their cake and eat it. If they want to rent the space then I’m all for it, but I’d want service guarantees. If it’s a simple profit share they are interested in, which many are, then we may as well run it ourselves," he said. 

Russell, whose hotel The Hoxton's F&B services are delivered by Soho House admitted that outsourcing F&B had its challenges. 

"I don't know of many restaurant operators who understand how hotels work. It can work well, but it's not the holy grail and I'd say to anyone thinking of doing it to think long and hard about who you get into bed with." 

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