A Feast For Business

Rather than creating a radical new concept in F&B, hoteliers are rethinking some existing ones to step up their game

By Pradeep Suvarna

With food and beverages (F&B) contributing almost 40% revenue to a hotel’s overall revenue, this department has become the cynosure of every hotelier’s attention. While chefs work on enthralling guests with their culinary masterpieces to make them return for more, hotels are also brainstorming on strategies to generate additional F&B revenue.
We speak to some F&B professionals – Shahrom Oshtori, F&B director, Sofitel Mumbai BKC, Prasad Rao, associate F&B director, Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel, Powai, Sarabjeet Singh Bhalla, F&B manager, JW Marriott New Delhi Aerocity and Soumitra Pahari, F&B director, Novotel Hyderabad Airport – about the areas that hotels can leverage to shore up their profits, especially from under-utilised spaces at the property. They also reveal how companies are reinventing in-room dining (IRD) to make it more personalised in terms of food preparation and presentation, in a bid to encourage guests to order in often. Similar attention is extended to banquet meals, where food, especially appetisers, is tastefully presented and circulated. Smaller portions are served and more live counters at set up, which helps in guest engagement and also reduces wastage.

Some areas in a hotel are often under-utilised as F&B destinations, like the lobby. How can hotels activate these zones with different F&B experiences to maximise every square inch successfully?
Soumitra Pahari: We try to optimise the spaces in our hotel keeping the overall aesthetics in mind. These days, guests are more focused towards health and have become very careful in choosing what they eat. Hotels can utilise their lobby spaces and promote it as a health café, where the attention can be on a healthy F&B menu. The gym, too, can be used to serve healthy snacks for health enthusiasts. They can also work around the concept of tea or coffee trolley that can be moved around the lobby area to serve guests.
Shahrom Oshtori: Over the years at Sofitel Mumbai BKC, we have implemented some strategies to generate revenue from under utilised spaces at the hotel. The Tea Salon and Coffee Carts at Artisan entice guests to purchase smaller items, either while checking in and out of the hotel, or whilst waiting at the lobby. The terrace at Jyran is a great venue during the evenings, with a city view and a space to unwind. The community tables at Artisan and Le Bar Diamantaire offer a co-working concept where people can work on their respective things while sitting in a group. The Kitchen & Herb Gardens at Pondichéry Café and Artisan are also used to decrease the carbon footprint and use organic produce.
Prasad Rao: We use our lobby area regularly for activations related to F&B promotions. This includes a live station by the culinary team offering nibbles and tasters to guests returning after a long day at work. We also have an evening bar ritual where the mixologist makes a unique discovery cocktail while live drums play in the background. These activities keep the guest intrigued and create awareness about our F&B offerings, helping increase the capture ratio of residential and non-residential guests.
Sarabjeet Bhalla: To stand out as an F&B destination, hotels are bringing F&B offerings beyond restaurant walls and offering unique and crafted experiences. Unconventional hotel spaces are utilised for small gatherings and hang out spots. Activities like parking food trucks at the most under utilised place to activating existing public spaces, like the lobby, banquet porch, etc are gaining momentum. Hotel lobbies are getting transformed into communal areas with casual, non-traditional furnishings and work spaces with snacks and WiFi. Few have also incorporated wine bars, great coffee and nibbles to encourage networking.
Another hotel space that is increasingly utilised for specially curated experiences is the hotel’s presidential suite. Since these have the best views in the entire hotel, this space can turn into a premium F&B venue, especially when one considers that it doesn’t get sold every day of the year.

How can IRD be made more interesting and exciting?
Sarabjeet Singh Bhalla: We have made extensive changes in our IRD in the last couple of years, emphasising on providing simple luxuries. It now offers guests selective menus straight from our K3 and Akira Back restaurants with the convenience of dining in the privacy of their hotel room. Quality control is ensured by making multiple deliveries to ensure the food is delivered warm or cold as if you were in the main onsite restaurant. Also, keeping in line with Marriott’s ‘Go local’ philosophy, JW Tiffin was introduced in three variants to give our patrons an experience of tradition four-tiered food tiffin that is extensively being used by India’s office-going population.
Soumitra Pahari: We have introduced a lifestyle menu in our IRD, focusing on regular travellers who stay often in hotels. These guests want to eat simple, home-style food rather than conventional hotel food, which can be rich. We have also introduced bento boxes to serve full square combo meals. We are exploring options to provide health conscious options, like ‘low carb’, which will make IRD a better experience.
Shahrom Oshtori: At Sofitel Mumbai BKC, after analysing a guest’s profile, we curate personalised amenities for our them, such as edible chocolate frames with their photos or that of their families. A small gesture like this, when they check-in, leaves a lasting and positive impression on guests. We also pay special attention to the plating of dishes in our IRD menu, and find interactive ways to present food even with regular dishes, such as a Club Sandwich. Every IRD order is accompanied by a small beverage caddy to upsell beverage consumption in room, thereby increasing the average price per customer (APC) and revenue. Another initiative that we take is curating special IRD menu during food promotions at our F&B outlets, to give our guests a chance to experience a different cuisine. We encourage our chefs to visit guests when their orders are delivered to the rooms to take feedback firsthand and also understand the guests’ needs, much like they do in a restaurant itself.
Prasad Rao: We recently launched two new IRD programmes – a ‘special dinner’ for couples and a ‘set meal’ for the busy corporate traveller – which are well appreciated. Additionally, we do not limit the IRD menu and offer everything from our restaurant menus too. We also have an extensive beverage menu of wines and spirits for guests to choose from.

Some hotels are getting free-standing restaurants to operate in their properties as the latter have the competency to manage the F&B business. Will this concept succeed in existing properties?
Sarabjeet Singh Bhalla: There is no denying that free standing restaurants have hit the right chord with diners in the last five years, while hotel restaurants have been left stranded. Such arrangements (free standing restaurants on hotel premises), if executed smoothly, are beneficial for both parties. While these restaurants definitely get the advantage of a wider audience in form of hotels’ resident guests, the hotel gains by not just the revenue/rent that it earns but also by the overall reputation that translates from a successful restaurant. However, in my opinion, there is great scope for both free standing and hotel restaurants to coexist and be successful. All that is required is a good concept and a passionate restaurant team which is driven for results. I would still prefer that all restaurants that are on hotel’s premise should have my involvement in some form.
Shahrom Oshtori: The cost of a franchise is high and does not seem feasible as the profits need to be shared. In addition, and more importantly, there may be inconsistencies in service standards, which may lead to a change in the guest’s perception about the hotel itself.
Soumitra Pahari: It would be difficult to adapt this concept because a hotel’s restaurant and standalone restaurant have different operating and management ethos. However, some attempts have been made in this direction and a few have been a bit successful. But in our view, this still has a long way to go before it becomes an absolute reality. Having said that, on-site restaurants are getting a major facelift and are becoming more contemporary and agile to compete with standalone restaurants.
Prasad Rao: Each restaurant at our hotel are well-known brands and have strong recall. Free standing restaurants have their own niche in the market. Older hotels can revive their brand if they collaborate with a well-known lounge/restaurant chain to drive additional footfalls and tap the brands loyal customer base especially millennials. However, a freestanding restaurant should be executed purely on a real estate basis. These restaurants however have to adhere to the hotel’s standards of service.

How can hotels create give a more personalised and restaurant kind of environment at banquets and business events?
Shahrom Oshtori: We often have live stations at events and buffets that prepare small portions a-la minute, which not only helps in enhancing guest experience and also reduce wastage. Pass-around appetiser platters are decorated innovatively to make it more appealing to guests.
Sarabjeet Singh Bhalla: Arranging and executing an in-fashion, inventive and exciting meeting has turned into an art form with infinite opportunities. Our ‘Meetings Imagined’ programme can help any planner design and manage the perfect a meeting experience. For example, before starting any detailing we allocate the purpose of the meeting into the seven defined pillars of the programme, based on what the objectives of the event are. These are: Celebrate (to commemorate a milestone or accomplishment), Decide (to engage in meaningful dialogue in order to reach a decision), Educate (to learn new things or acquire new skills), Ideate (to learn new things or acquire new skills) Network (When to share ideas or meet new people.), Produce (to work together to develop a specific output) Promote (to introduce a new offering or promote a new message).
Once the purpose of the meeting is defined, we look at innovative ideas to ensure that the guest experience is unparalleled. This may involve hosting a tea break at an unconventional venue (a dim sum break inside a hotel’s Asian kitchen) or converting a banquet hall into make shift spa (to depict a well-being theme break). Innovation is the key!
Prasad Rao: We use a creative tool developed by ‘Meetings Imagined’, which offers multiple options of innovative setups for the guest to choose from. The website has a large selection of setups which can be utilised for business or social functions. We believe in customising the meeting based on the purpose and finalise the themes, accordingly. Customising the banqueting space is the key to creating a personalised experience during banquet/business events. For example, a setup in a conference room can be done with a good set of loungers instead of the regular seating. We offer an experiential breakfast inspired by local offerings at the poolside for corporate executives, which has been well appreciated.
Soumitra Pahari: With rising awareness and reciprocity budgets, a lot of customers are keen to accept new ideas. We are working on pocket-friendly but unique innovations that will be more personalised. Traditionally, banquet meals are served standing up. To create a restaurant-like feel, we must focus on themes and concepts, which includes creative setup with engaging activities, live stations, and entertainment for guests. A lot of regional cuisine and local flavours also make the guests feel comfortable and enjoy the events.

Breakfast and brunch menus in most hotels seem to follow an uninteresting template. How can F&B heads work with chefs to create menus that set their brand apart, without always worrying about food cost?
Soumitra Pahari: These days, for health-conscious guests, we can craft menus for breakfast and brunch using garden fresh, organic and vegan products, which will make us stand apart from others. Replace cut fruits with fresh whole fruits and serve it as per the guest’s need. More efforts should be put to provide healthy fresh vegetable juice and different fresh bread options. Service should be fast without being too intrusive. We are also looking at creating new thematic brunches so that guests have a lot more conversations and engagement.
Shahrom Oshtori: We have implemented strategies to create exclusive dining experiences even during breakfast and brunch services. Our ‘Go Regional’ and ‘Go Local’ initiatives concentrate on showcasing the range of Indian breakfast items from different regions that can be showcased on a daily basis. The ‘Go Higher’ strategy includes upgradation of beverages during brunch and offering innovative cocktails that our mixologists curate with the spirit of the month. We often ‘Go Live’ with percussionist to create a more animated atmosphere as opposed to just the regular live bands. Finally, we emphasise on the ‘Go Organic’ strategy and use produce from our own kitchen and Herb Garden, where fruits, herbs and vegetables are grown without the use of pesticides.
Sarabjeet Singh Bhalla: The idea is to give our guests an inimitable experience, which is created by an amalgamation of hand-crafted authentic preparations which are intuitive. Using the best available local ingredients, traditional cooking customs and at the same time to stay true to our choice of international cuisine offerings, importing the most authentic ingredients.
Prasad Rao: We believe in the importance of a power-packed breakfast and every morning, we host a variety of
multi-cuisine offerings for our breakfast and brunch menu to provide a balanced meal to our Indian and international travellers. Additionally, as a part of our breakfast gratis, we offer unique offerings such as Basil water in a brass vessel; almonds soaked overnight, a natural power drink, Amla juice and fresh tender coconut water, which is appreciated by guests.

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