Ed Viita, director of food and beverage, Europe, at Marriott, told BigHospitality how the Canvas Project is helping the group tap in to the millennial market.
How did the Canvas Project come about?
Around 18 months ago we came up with this idea of taking under-utilised spaces in our hotels and transforming them in to somewhere you can continually refresh food and beverage concepts. It’s about taking a cue from pop-ups, rather than the traditional hotel model of a corporate office dictating what a bar and restaurant should be.
Our aim in developing restaurants now is to attract people from the local area, because we know if we can create a really buzzy space our hotel guests will eat there rather than walking across the street to the hip restaurant that’s just opened.
We took a risk and cut through some of the red tape that exists in a large company. It was an effort to prove that we could develop spaces that were attractive to the next generation.
Do you think young people attach a stigma to hotel restaurants?
Definitely. The younger generation are suspicious of large corporations. More and more we see that people would prefer to go to an independent, funky coffee shop rather than Starbucks.
By 2020 half of all business travellers will be of Generation Y and in ten years they will make up over 80 per cent of the European working population, so they’re really important to the future of our business. The traditional hotel experience of having a burger, a club sandwich and a caesar salad on every menu is not going to attract them – so it’s essential that we change.
How much freedom do the projects have in terms of design?
We really encouraged people to take a risk. The design at Roofnic at the London Marriott Park Lane was really out there for a corporate hotel group. When the guests arrived they had to walk up five flights of stairs, the walls were painted black and they were handed chalk and allowed to write whatever they wanted. So it became a continuously evolving piece of artwork that wasn’t always toeing the corporate line! The rooftop was built out of astro-turf and the kitchen unit was purchased on Ebay for £2.80, but it all worked together. The guy behind it had real vision and we trusted him.
How are the profits shared with the entrepreneur?
It’s complicated, I won’t lie. Some entrepreneurs have come on board with the hotel and taken a wage, and there’s been some lease agreements where we’ve subsidised the rent on the space.
How successful have the projects been so far?
The most successful in terms of revenue was Roofnic. The point of Canvas is that we’ve proved that we can change the mind-set of our general managers and food and beverage leaders. We can loosen the reigns a bit and allow them to take risks and trust in their own vision – and that is the most valuable thing of all.
Can you tell us about any upcoming Canvas Projects for 2016?
Roofnic at the London Marriott Park Lane will launch again in the late spring. We also have a really exciting project on a pontoon somewhere in London. We’re also looking at other projects potentially in Berlin and Budapest.
The UK pop-ups have all been London-based so far, would you consider taking the project outside the capital?
By no means are we limiting ourselves to London, we have a project in the back of our mind in Bristol but we’re working through some challenges there at the moment.
The interest that Canvas has created within the business has been phenomenal and it now is central to our restaurant and bar strategy. That doesn’t mean you’re going to see pop-ups in all of our hotels all the time, but it means where there is an opportunity we will pursue it and support it.