By: Russ Blakeborough, Managing Director, Focus F&B
Your hotel can be super cool, well-decorated, in a great location, and have lots of interesting amenities, but it will always come down to the personality and charm of your food and beverage operations that will develop loyal and passionate followers.Let’s look at what a boutique hotel is, who stays there, and why?
A boutique hotel is typically smaller–under 200 rooms. It is often in an urban environment, although not always [there are many wonderful boutique resorts], with each hotel having individual personality, including chic, eclectic, and interesting décor and features that make the experience different. The service tends to be individualized and more connected, where small differences and points of service make it stand out.
Why are people drawn to vibrant, current, and attractive food and beverage options? It is this atmosphere of fashion-forward design and interesting décor in “happening” locations where both business and pleasure travelers are pushing the trend, and we are seeing many migrate to this style of hotel. For some it is the “see and be seen” type of atmosphere. For others, it is simply the enjoyment of a unique and different experience where each hotel has its own personality. This does go- against-the-grain when compared to the consistency and dependability of the big brands hotels, so for a boutique hotel, it is vital that the experience be memorable. The property has to offer unique experiences, even surprises, that make each visit distinguish itself from the competition. This is where your restaurants and bars come in; it is a natural fit.
Why is food and beverage so important?
There are many reasons, but let’s start with the obvious:
First, each meal should be an important part of any stay and not just “eating”, but “dining”: eating is a necessary function whereas dining is experiential and should be an enjoyable and memorable experience. This encounter can be touted, shared, and photographed, or simply just enjoyed as a relaxing moment with the family.
Secondly, let’s talk about guest engagement. An average visit to the front desk is under 5 minutes. The average time spent in a restaurant engaging with your staff can be an hour or more several times per day. The average person spends 32,098 hours of their life eating so there is no better way to get to know your guests and retain their loyalty than in this kind of environment.
Lastly, money talks and great food and beverage will attract more dollars to your property. In this day and age, successful restaurant revenue can overtake the rooms revenue! The down side is that it is much less profitable than guest room revenue, and I think that’s why owners and operators have shied away from it. Therefore, over the past 20 years, hotel restaurants have gotten a bad rap. Due to operators not wanting to do things properly and simply save money, I hear comments like: “Why do we need a restaurant? It is sucking the profit out of our hotel? Or others have said, “If we have to have one, let’s just do the minimum and not lose too much money.” This is just short-sighted; full service hotels are now realizing that F&B is an important factor and is slowly becoming a focus once again. Without a great restaurant, your hotel is basically a limited service hotel with guest rooms just like many others.
So, the answer is to understand the math, and just watch how quickly the additional revenue will flow to the bottom line. Of course, it is important to make money and be profitable. Anyone that expects that a restaurant will produce the same profit as a guestroom will never be content. Understanding what to expect is important. Your food and beverage profit should be anywhere from 20 to 40% of sales, and yes, while this a lot less than the rooms side, which can be 75-90%, it is to be expected and a lot more than you would get in the bank! It will, in fact, generate considerably more revenues and more profit.
Consider the additional F&B revenue that you’re bringing in, as well as, the increase in rooms occupancy which in turn allows you to demand an increased rate because of your reputation. If you’re doing it correctly, this is marketing that you can’t buy and a win-win for everyone!
Here are a few examples of hotels that do it right, from TravelandLeisure.com:
Inn at Little Washington; Washington, VA
“You might come to this 24-room hotel, an hour from Charlottesville, for the English-country-home bliss, or the Virginia wine-country scenery. But really, most people come here to eat, thanks to the inn’s founder, James Beard Award-winner Patrick O’Connell. You can be a gourmand groupie and do kitchen tours at the inn, venture out to explore wineries and farmers markets, or use one of the complimentary bicycles to preemptively burn calories. Service is top-notch, with three housekeeping visits for your room each day”
Chanler at Cliff Walk; Newport RI
“Like many other winning boutique hotels, this 20-room property on Newport’s Cliff Walk started out as a home—the summer digs for a Gilded-Age-era congressman. Today, each room in the small hotel has a distinct décor personality, like English Tudor, gothic, or French provincial. Besides its high score for rooms, it also ranked well for refined service; the property offers a welcome glass of sparkling wine and an on-site butler who can pack a picnic lunch or draw an aromatherapy bath. Readers were intent to eat here as much as possible: its Spiced Pear Restaurant—with its butter-poached lobster and the rest of its New England Tasting Menu—earned the hotel a near-perfect score in the dining category”.
Farmhouse Inn; Forestville, CA
“This Russian River Valley hotel wooed readers with more than great wine. Granted, the hotel has its own winery, which pairs nicely with the Michelin-starred, locally-sourced restaurant; you can also enjoy a glass by the hotel’s s’mores pit, stocked with house-made marshmallows and Valrhona chocolate. Even the bath products are thoughtful: you can help yourself to the Sonoma Bath Bar, featuring a rotating selection of bath salts, scrubs, and bars of handmade olive oil soap; or stretch out at the high-scoring spa, whose treatments use cider apples and honey harvested on-site”.
As mentioned, a great restaurant will bring any hotel an improved reputation and word of mouth, which increases hotel occupancy and give you the ability to demand higher rates.
How do I go about getting my restaurant to this level? Creating a new, or refreshed concept, can be easier than you think. Here are a few quick notes:
First, take a moment and walk through your restaurant narrowing down the choices. This gives you a better understanding of what you need, want, and can afford when considering a refresh of your space. Ideally, hire a concept consultant; it may not cost as much as you imagine! Decide whether to Refresh, Rebrand, or Redesign.
A Refresh is the least expensive option. Like doing your own makeover-grab a friend, a glass of wine, and try some new ideas. A new hair-do, stylish outfit, and Bam, you are in business! Sometimes, this is all that you need: a new menu, gather the staff, do some training and encouraging, have some one-on-one time with your manager, and appoint a social media champion. Then you are off to the races! Like new shoes and a new suit, it will transform how a person is perceived and can give your restaurant a new identity. A refresh can keep your current recognized look and feel, but bring new life to your floundering concept.
A Rebrand will take you to a new level. This is where you re-think who you are, what your message is, and how are you presenting yourself. In other words, change your brand. Of course, it will require everything from the first paragraph: new menus and new vigor, plus a new vision, more extensive training, a defined marketing plan, new brand elements, and brand voice. It usually requires a new logo, menu and style, a new color scheme, new table-top, different music, and maybe a light décor shift. This does not have to be expensive, can be done on many different levels, and can be done to fit budgets all while giving your restaurant a great new, vibrant and exciting look and feel!
A Redesign encompasses all of the above with the additional step of bringing in a design team who will work with us in harmony to redesign the space to fit our concept. Other items to consider: lighting, layout, ambiance, visual components, color schemes, and flooring. Re-invent your space. What are you looking for: quiet and demure? stylish and elegant? or hip and trendy? Should you take down that wall and open up the space, open the bar to the restaurant, create an outside entrance, establish a less cavernous feel when not full by creating smaller sections, or bring life to the ceilings. Whatever your dreams are, this is the time to re-imagine. As Walt Disney once said, “If you can dream it, you can do it!”
In conclusion, take stock of where you are, and where you could be. When you do the math, it really is a no-brainer. The R.O.I can be seen in less than 6 months, and will continue for years to come.