In a discussion entitled ‘Eat Drink Destination’ at this year’s Independent Hotel Show at London Olympia, managers and directors concluded that hotels today have no choice but to focus on their F&B offer if they want to boost sales.
The panel was chaired by Chris Sheppardson, founder at EP Business and Hospitality, and comprised Jan-Paul Kroese, general manager at Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons; Tom Ross, operations director at The Pig Near Bath and The Pig Near Combe; Emma Irvine, co-owner of Albion House in Kent; and Des McDonald, managing director at Des McDonald Restaurant Consultants.
1. ‘Standalone’ operations are key
Jan-Paul Kroese said: “Hotels are starting to understand that you have to run a restaurant as a standalone rather than a ‘hotel restaurant’. Coming to Le Manoir, I understood the exceptional difference that this makes to the room rates and the overall business.”
Tom Ross agreed that separate sites, which could compete with high street offers and existing restaurants in the market, were the way forward.
He said: “If you’re not doing your job, people will walk out to somewhere on the high street. People are going out to eat much more, and hotels have upped their game a lot more in response.”
Emma Irvine agreed, saying: “We worked out that our restaurant is worth half our turnover, and I think people often will choose us over a cheaper hotel, because of our busy, good restaurant. It is a challenge, but that was one of the reasons we decided to separate it from our hotel and focus on it more.”
2. Embrace increased customer knowledge
The panel also discussed how today’s informed public – with people regularly cooking at home, and eating out on the high street more and more ‒ adds pressure to hotels and restaurants to offer something of quality.
Irvine said: “What’s interesting now is, people will tell you very detailed things about food, how it’s cooked or where it comes from. People cook so well at home now, and you can learn a lot from listening to your customer.”
Des McDonald agreed, saying: “People are so much better informed these days, and you have to work with it and embrace it. You just have to work out what your message is, and get the place right for the market. That’s critical.”
3. Create comfort, memories, and informal experiences
Informality and the expectation of more personal service was also seen as key in the industry today, with customers looking for comfort and memorable service.
Ross said that there was “no magic answer for The Pig’s success”, and that it had simply “taken a product like the country house hotel and made what was maybe quite a formal space for some, feel attractive again. If people feel uncomfortable, then they won’t want to spend their money. It sounds simple, but it’s not – it’s actually all about the little details.”
Irvine agreed, saying: “It is all about little touches – even in the restaurant for example, if guests bring in their dogs, we will try to learn their names, and offer little dog treats. [At The Albion] we don’t have big gardens or famous chefs, so we have to work with other touches and expectations. It’s about being direct, honest and authentic.”
4. Recognise the importance of visual and social
The panel also discussed the issue of social media, and how important is it to appear visually approachable online.
Ross said: “You need to focus on the entire message you’re sending out and how you build an audience over time. If your social media followers have expectations, you need to consider how people see your brand online and make sure you live up to expectations when people visit.”
Irvine explained that being ‘authentic’ extended to the way your business appeared online, too, and that part of marketing for your food, beverage, and room offer was in being honest in your advertising.
She said: “Nowadays, people do come to your business because they’ve seen you online, and photography and design is central. It’s about focusing on being honest. So we don’t do crazy camera angles or wide shots. For us, it’s simply about making the food work in itself.”
Kroese agreed that design was also key, saying: “Lighting, visuals, acoustics – it’s all important to keep your guests coming back.”
Branding is also important: Irvine said that another benefit of separating The Albion’s restaurant from its hotel business meant that the two could operate separately online too, enabling the groups to “make different choices about branding and trends”.
Ultimately, the panel agreed that restaurant trends change quicker than those in hotels, so it was important to have that freedom to keep up.
5. Consider a perfect partner
Lastly, the group discussed the option of external partners helping a hotel deliver a better food and beverage offer – such as bringing in celebrity chef franchises or an existing restaurant brand.
Even though The Pig offers F&B as part of its central operation, Ross admitted: “A hotelier is different to being a restaurateur. Food and beverage is really hard compared to hotels.
“With hotels, you have a great room there, and people just check in. But how many companies can really deliver both good food and a good hotel? That is often the argument for outsourcing.”
McDonald, whose business is restaurant consultancy and who has helped open sites such as Holborn Dining Room next to the Rosewood London hotel, said: “Hotels have to be relevant, and embrace restaurants, Wi-Fi, and social media. Whether that’s working with a named chef, or becoming a franchise. It’s not one size fits all.”
Summarising how important food and beverage is to hotels today, McDonald said: “Ultimately, you’ve got to start with the dish and fully believe in the integrity of what you’re doing. As a professional, it’s pointless trying to sell something you’re not going to deliver.”