The Changing Face of Hotel Food & Beverage
Whether wining and dining, grabbing a quick coffee or taking afternoon tea, the experience of hotel F&B has changed and diversified significantly over recent years. Little more than a decade ago, the perceived wisdom in Western European towns and cities was that, with a few exceptions, hotel restaurants and bars were a loss leader. Most hotel restaurants were overly large, soulless places designed to cater for the morning breakfast rush. The lunch and dinner menu might be extensive but there was little to appeal to modern tastes, while the bar next door might just enjoy a few hotel guests before they departed for dinner in a more happening destination. At best, the hotel F&B offering was focused on the staying guest. The chance of attracting in locals, shoppers and office workers was inconceivable.
As is usually the case, the change started with the maverick designers and the independent hotels. In London, Ian Schrager’s Sanderson Hotel designed by Philippe Starck led the way with a dramatic bar than ran much of the length of the glazed, street-level façade. People made a journey to this bar to see and be seen. Packed hotel bars in European cities are now a frequent sight; they have become a key social space for guests, a destination for visitors and, for the operator, a great revenue generating opportunity. Try finding even standing room on mid-week nights in Scarfes Bar at the Rosewood London!
Instead of the formulaic restaurant and bar, hotel architects and designers are being asked to create new types of eating and drinking spaces to cater for guests who are no longer satisfied with just a standard dining room, who want a more informal experience. Our recently completed Intourist Hotel in Baku, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, is a case in point. Here, the public areas flow through several semi-open spaces into the restaurant. While these areas are not large, there are 140 guestrooms and their occupants need to be provided with breakfast, so flexibility in the one and only restaurant design is key. In the mornings, an open kitchen counter accommodates a buffet; in the evenings this is easily transformed into a contemporary bar and dining area with the addition of bar stools and more atmospheric lighting. The name gives a clue to the design approach: the Bubbles & Burger Club.
A hotel concept design is now expected to consider lobby, lounge, bar and restaurant spaces that will bring a distinctive, maybe brand-defining experience to their users. As a result, clients often like to employ a specialist F&B interior designer for these areas, apart from the designer of the guestrooms and other hotel spaces. This was the case with the aforementioned Scarfe’s, for example, and it is currently our experience working as architects on a new luxury hotel in Astana where a designer has been appointed specifically for the restaurant so as to create an aesthetic independent from the main hotel.
There are many reasons, of course, why guests choose to stay in a particular hotel. At the top end, however, it is certainly more usual today than in the past that one of these reasons is the culinary distinction and social experience that is on offer. Luxury hotels may partner with renowned chefs; they will certainly put emphasis on using local suppliers, craft bakeries and, where possible, on-site herb and vegetable gardens. And, this is not just the approach of the five star hotels. Stay in Berlin’s Michelberger Hotel for instance and the breakfast spread includes a wide array of organic breads, local preserves, cheeses, fruits and freshly cooked eggs. Or, stay at one of London’s newest budget hotels, the Z Shoreditch, and wine, artisanal breads and regional cheeses are complimentary through the evening in the hotel’s small but very pleasantly designed lobby café.
Food, its provenance and how it is cooked, matters to people, and hotels are learning that the type of food with which they are associated should be in keeping with the values and personality of their brand and that in this way it will deliver more revenue. Once again, the Rosewood London is a great example of this, having successfully established its Slow Food and Living Market. The fair takes place every Sunday in the hotel forecourt. It is presided over by the hotel’s executive chef and the restaurants and bar inside adopt slow food menus during the event, drawing people into the hotel when they are done with their shopping, thus creating a foodies’ destination that is unique even among London’s extraordinary variety of restaurants and bars.