Eat, Drink and Be Wary

Hotel industry searches for secret sauce to money-making F&B programming

The dining room at the Peninsula Grill in Charleston, South Carolina, is filled with guests of the adjacent Planters Inn hotel, other visitors and local residents. Steve Palmer of Indigo Road Hospitality, which manages the landmark restaurant, said tourists will eat where the locals eat.

Indigo Road Hospitality Group formed 10 years ago to develop and manage restaurants. In many cases, the dining ventures are tied to hotels or neighborhoods heavy with tourists.

It makes sense then that this year, Indigo Road Hospitality added a division called Lodging and Lifestyle Adventures.

Steve Palmer, founder of Indigo Road Hospitality, invited longtime acquaintance Larry Spelts, most recently vice president of development at Charlestowne Hotels, to head the expanded enterprise.

“I only had to think about it for three seconds,” said Spelts. “The most valuable thing I can have in my toolbox when I go to speak to someone about doing a hotel project is that we are a restaurant company that is moving into hotels.

“The thing I observed is that a huge part of the guest experience is the food and beverage.”

The coming together of Indigo Hospitality Group’s F&B platform and its new hotel development vision is symbolic of what is happening in hotel food and beverage. Full-service is altering its F&B design and delivery methods while limited service is expanding beyond free breakfast to include more throughout the day.

During the Americas Lodging Investment Summit or ALIS Jan. 27-29 in Los Angeles, Long Live Lodging interviewed hospitality designers and developers about changes in food and beverage programming in hotels.


Maine diver scallops with local arugula salad is an appetizer served at Tiny Lou’s, a restaurant connected to the Hotel Clermont in Atlanta. Indigo Road Hospitality Group manages the restaurant. Charlestowne Hotels operates the boutique hotel.

Gradual Evolution

In many cases, F&B has flipped to B&F as guests are demanding more variety in drink – from curated coffee to locally brewed beer to craft cocktails and alcohol-free “mocktails.”

Adrianne Korczynski, a designer with Nelson Worldwide, has witnessed the evolution of the continental breakfast in limited-service hotels to more specialized and sophisticated F&B offerings.

Nelson Worldwide is working with Hilton to design Tempo, its recently announced lifestyle brand. The hotel will feature new F&B concepts that its target guest – what Hilton calls “modern achievers” – are seeking. They want a new hotel experience that caters to their ambitious schedules and boosts their wellness quotient while on the road.

Hilton has teamed up with Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global, a project dedicated to ending stress and burnout, and Blau + Associates, which works with major hotel companies and resorts to develop F&B programs.

A focal point at Tempo by Hilton, a new lifestyle brand unveiled in January, is the F&B area that melds into the lobby’s public spaces. Modern hotel guests want to control their F&B experience, studies show.

Korczynski said she and others at Nelson worked with Hilton to integrate design with Tempo’s dining and socializing concepts.

“When we start any of our prototypes we always look at what’s the full guest experience in the public space,” she said. “Not only what you see when you first step through the door, but the first glimpse in a lifestyle brand and that would be the bar. Beverage forward is a huge thing right now. We’re seeing food that supports beverage.”

Tempo offers a full breakfast. In the evening are drinks and small plates. Many travelers don’t want to eat large portions, at least not more than they would at home. And they don’t want to necessarily sit in a booth or at a table, moving instead to sitting areas in the lobby. F&B programs today “activate” a lobby that was once dead space after breakfast was served.

The redesigned Wyndham Garden by Wyndham Hotels & Resorts has shifted its F&B programming to fast casual that includes beverage-forward options and small plates in the evenings. The new designs will roll out across the brand this year and next, Wyndham announced during ALIS.

Danica Boyd, head of Wyndham Garden, a brand by Wyndham Hotels & Resorts that in has undergone a major redesign and repositioning. Gone are the three-meal-a-day food programs. Taking their place is a scaled down breakfast buffet that reduces food waste. In the evenings are drinks and small plates. Snack items are available at Wyndham Garden’s new marketplace. Boyd said the redesigns will roll out to existing Wyndham Gardens this year and continue through 2021.

“We’re more in the middle of a transition and might even be on the early side as a lot of players have to take a look at their three-meal-a-day and say, ‘This is not exactly solving all of our guest needs.’” Tom Horwitz, Nelson Worldwide

Bound to Happen

New F&B programs in modern hotels are an inevitable evolution, said Steve Palmer of Indigo Road Hospitality.

“If you look, historically, at the fall of hotel food and beverage, is this idea of being all things to all people. We had success, including the hotel that Larry and I opened 25 years ago, in not doing that.”

Palmer advises hotels to pick one F&B category and concentrate on doing it really well. “Maybe you do a Sunday brunch and serve dinner seven nights a week. Maybe your room service is straight off the menu.

“I think sometimes it’s knowing what you’re not and knowing what you shouldn’t do that helps you refine the ability to something very well.”

The exterior entrance to Peninsula Grill in Charleston, South Carolina, which is part of Planters Inn, a boutique hotel. Steve Palmer, managing director of Indigo Road Hospitality, which manages the restaurant, said it’s important the restaurant and hotel are managed as separate entities to attract local patrons.

Tom Horwitz, also of Nelson Worldwide and a veteran of hotel design programming, says despite eons spent serving guests food and beverage, the hotel industry is still trying to cook up solutions that economize space, manage costs and keep guests satisfied.

“The full-service, three-meal-a-day restaurant has transitioned to several different things. And some of the smarter solutions we’ve seen, more in bigger hotels, are a grab-and-go coffee bar with limited hot items you can take to your room, to your car or the airport. Guests are not locked into meal.

“I think we’re more in the middle of a transition and might even be on the early side as a lot of players have to take a look at their three-meal-a-day and say, ‘This is not exactly solving all of our guest needs.’ The industry is now at a place where the competition has a lot of examples that they can look at. Focused service or limited service require you to be clever because you don’t necessarily have kitchen square footage or personnel to do that.”

Horwitz said with the Tempo brand, his team has introduced some concepts they think are clever, but they’re aren’t ready to reveal anything just yet.

Whatever is unveiled is a response to the changes taking place in hotel F&B in general.

“Our study showed that travelers want to learn. And they want to learn about food.” Matthew J. Stone, researcher, 2020 Food Travel Monitor

Culinary Travel

Modern travelers are leading the changes. Creating a one-of-a-kind experience for local residents as a way to build a sustainable hotel and restaurant operation is smart business.

The World Food Travel Association has documented proof of new and emerging traveler trends and expectations in food and beverage.

On Jan. 29 the association released its 2020 Food Travel Monitor, a survey of more than 4,500 leisure travelers from six countries who had taken a trip in 2019. U.S. travelers comprise more than a third of the respondents.

2020 Food Travel Monitor

Nearly half of the respondents said they travel to take part in a destination’s food and beverage offerings.

More than half of those surveyed consider themselves culinary travelers. The rest consider F&B an important part of their travel experience.

For the U.S. group, 47 percent said they are highly motivated by food and beverage when it comes to selecting a destination.

Gen Xers and millennials make up the bulk of food-focused tourists. They intentionally seek out food and beverage experiences while visiting a city. In most cases, it’s the whole reason they travel.

Over the past few years, more travelers who do not consider themselves true foodies acknowledge they are more interested in F&B experiences than before.

Sought-out experiences include street food, farmers markets and food festivals.

The more locals they see at an establishment, the more likely they are to dine there.

Though your hotel may not have a restaurant or bar opened to the general public, the Food Travel Monitor has some relatable findings: Culinary travelers spend an average 24 percent more during their trip than any other tourist demographic.

So, they don’t just spend more on food, they contribute to the bottom line of hotels.

What is food tourism? The World Food Travel Association can tell you.

F&B Connects

Matthew J. Stone is associate professor of recreation, hospitality and parks management at California State University, Chico.  He is one of the researchers of the Food Travel Monitor.

“Food travel is solid,” he said.

A few years ago, hotels and restaurateurs worked to make sure their offerings were “local” and “authentic.” That’s a tired promise today. Travelers who make decisions based on food and beverage expect to experience local and authentic, said Stone.

What’s trending now is culinary travelers who want to experiment and explore. They like to have choices all in one place, hence the popularity of food festivals and similar events that invite visitors to try a lot of different things at one time.

Stone used to work in hotels. He advises hotels use food to make a special connection with guests. Give guests a treat as they check in or have local food and beverage items in the hotel market. “It might be something from a local producer like chocolate, chips or cookies.”

Stone also advises hotels that offer food and beverage to go beyond hanging conventional ads to their in-house restaurants in the hotel elevators and on tent cards in the guest rooms.

To encourage guests to dine in your hotel, use posters and cards to tell them a story about the chef. Share a recipe and tell the back story of the dish. Share how your F&B program strives to produce zero waste, an important tidbit for younger travelers who make buying decisions based on a business’s sustainability efforts.

“Try to think about what is the story you’re telling; what is the story your chef is telling; what is a recipe that tells your story. Especially if it connects the traveler to your place.

Hotels that have limited F&B can tell the story of local foods, said Stone. For example, a hotel in San Francisco can share, “Did you know Chipotle’s burrito is a mission style burrito from San Francisco?

“Our study showed that travelers want to learn. And they want to learn about food.”

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