F&B Service in a Hotel: Understanding the Market, Trends, Innovation, Quality and Bottomline

F&B outlets that anchor hotels are drawing in the footfalls and adding to the revenue. Read on to know how.

Hotel Operations, F&B outlets, Food & Beverage, Restaurants, Bars, Hotel property, Customer service, Restaurant services

Restaurants and bars that anchor a hotel play a rather significant role in creating new hospitality formats that have the ability to evoke an emotional response and create powerful memories. The experiential hospitality formats thus created can boost the revenue streams of hotels.

“People have moved away from accumulating ‘things’ in favour of amassing ‘experiences.’ These experiences can array from glitzy trips, to a simple night out at a new eatery. Food occupies a personal as well as social space in not just a consumers’ heart and mind, but also in his or her social network. There is a constant need for hotels to innovate,” says Kunal Chauhan, General Manager, The Leela Palace Bengaluru.

A well-thought-out and beautifully executed F&B outlet in a hotel has the potential to gain independent identity and become a flagbearer for the hospitality brand. This fact is best represented by Jamavar, a signature restaurant of The Leela Hotels & Resorts. So popular is this restaurant with five iterations across India, that in 2016, Dinesh Nair, the group’s co-chairman and managing director, and his daughter, Samyukta, took the restaurant to the posh Mayfair Street in London. This was the first time that an Indian restaurant from a luxury hotel was establishing its independent identity outside India, especially in a city and neighbourhood considered the Mecca of restaurants and fine dining. Nair, in an interview earlier had said, “Right now, we are the only luxury hotel group that has sought to establish new markets for its flagship restaurant outside the hotel properties. ITC’s Bukhara once had branches across the world, but they have shut those down. We had a space in London from when I was involved in a short-lived restaurant project. The location, on Mount Street in the heart of Mayfair, is true luxury and we thought it befitting of a brand like Jamavar.”

Nair zeroed in on Indian as the choice of cuisine for the Mount Street restaurant project because no other country in the world has embraced Indian cuisine the way England has. “The British have a historical connect with India; many locals believe that their ancestors were, in some way, connected with India,” he said. The restaurant was bestowed one Michelin star in the 2018 guide.

It is pretty obvious that a good F&B outlet not just garners all the attention and the consumers, but also drives a hotel’s reputation and revenues. For years, ITC’s Bukhara had been a brand in its own right and drawn in both connoisseurs and lovers of fine dine.

The Leela Group’s signature Jamavar restaurant opened as a stand-alone in London and within two years, was awarded one Michelin star.

Understanding market needs
Restaurants that anchor hotels offer out-of-the-ordinary culinary experiences. Chefs and F&B directors often work on guest feedback to understand their needs and desires, and infuse a wow factor into the dining out experience. “We go that extra mile to add immersive luxury experiences to up the wow factor at The Leela Palace Bengaluru. You could dine like a Maharaja in the royal setting of Jamavar. Or simply lounge on a deck chair with a cocktail in the hand at Library Bar. It is a perfect place to unwind over pre-dinner drinks with a friend, for communing with your single malt in silence, or perhaps, for some business talk. Treasured memories such as these become the highlight of a guest’s stay at The Leela,” adds Chauhan.

When managed well, superlative F&B offerings can drive healthy revenue streams for the hotels in the right markets. “The right F&B choices and [their perfect] management can create a great buzz and desirability, and are the best marketing tools that hotels have. If done well, they can be great revenue contributors as well,” adds restaurateur AD Singh. However, it’s vital that properties establish and sustain high-quality standards that are consistent across their F&B outlets.

Let us take the example of The Park Hotels, which follow the dictum ‘Anything but Ordinary’ that runs as a leitmotif across the hotel. “The Park Hotels integrate the execution of unique experiences that are rooted in the brand’s promise. As you enter into The Park’s ‘Anything but Ordinary’ world through the portal, you discover quirky, inspiring spaces and corners, delightful service surprises, and spontaneous moments of joy and fun experiences. Our calendar resonates the edgy dynamism through resounding nightlife and innovative food menus/promotions that have had a direct positive impact on our revenue,” says Rohit Arora, Area General Manager, The Park Hotels. “High Networth Indians or the millennials love us for the things we do — like bubble wrap waffles, the fascinating banqueting set-ups like ‘Under the Table Experience’, and our foodcart that is cycled in, and acts as a stressbuster for delegates attending a conference. Our F&B managers and chefs are juggling competition with innovation and quality in delivery.”

Arora adds that when The Park Hotels introduced the inspirational organic menu at FIRE, they were worried about the prices and consumer preferences. “But a smartly created menu, keeping in mind portion size and competitive pricing, has [given us brilliant return]. Our well-travelled guests enjoy the seasonal fare, keeping our balance sheet looking strong, supporting our entity’s business goals and financial performance. I believe in keeping up with the game; changing economies is the trick,” he adds.

Another hotel major that has got its F&B pat-down-perfect is ITC. Right from its inception, the ITC hotels have focussed on building signature F&B brands that evoke a strong sense of loyalty, while conforming to the highest standards of food safety.
Chef Vijay Nagpal, Corporate Chef, ITC Hotels, talking about the factors that ensure their F&B brands have a recall value, says, “Most trends, by their very nature, are time bound, yet some leave a lasting impression on the F&B business as they help in [building a recall value] of the outlets. Some trends, of course, revolutionise the F&B sector, such as the present-day trend of eating healthier and eating at places that are mindful about ethical and green sourcing of produce. A sustainable business is based on a very strong foundation of stringent internal processes that create confidence in the minds of the customer.” Clearly, following a current trend or even setting new trends ensures that customers use your brand or service more frequently.

Trends and Innovations
Interesting conceptual restaurants find favour among new-age diners. The concept could be either steeped in nostalgia or keep up with what is in vogue today, which may not be that easy a thing to do. “The F&B segment is constantly changing and adapting. It constantly looks at new culinary trends — healthy, organic, vegan, progressive, instagrammable, solo dining is what the industry is striving to achieve on a micro and macro scale. The pace of change is way more rapid than it was a decade ago. So, as hotels we have started shifting gears and moving at a pace which the current customer demands,” shares Kumar Shobhan, General Manager, Hyatt Regency Lucknow.

A vital but sometimes overlooked tactical strategy while planning F&B concepts, is understanding trends from a larger perspective. Ultimately, what matters is the way they are adapted to the restaurants that anchor hotels. There needs to be a practical understanding of which trends are long-term and appropriate for a hotel’s F&B outlets.

Hotels are flirting with several new F&B formats. Such as regional food served in innovative new ways. Having food and beverage options sourced, and inspired by what the local community offers, is in keeping with the global farm-to-table trend that has taken the world by storm. Consumers often are excited about trying out food that has evolved from regional specialties.

Then there is a growing predilection for organic food. “The leaning towards healthier or organic options, created with locally sourced ingredients, will dominate the restaurant industry. Besides, the drift towards traditional food with brave and exclusive flavours is also likely to continue, as those who value the dining out experience seek novel experiences. Guests are looking for authentic food served with unique touches in a contemporary environment that offers a ‘sense of place’. And in response to this, chefs are creating more dishes in-house with creative platting and presentation,” says Sonica Malhotra, Joint Managing Director, MBD Group.

Responsible Luxury at ITC’s hotels ensures that their initiatives are aimed towards working in complete harmony with the seasons of nature, preserving local food cultures and ensuring that good, clean and fair food is accessible to all. Among their various F&B offerings, in keeping with this trend, are Pavilion Pure, a cold-pressed antioxidant juice that blends in-season local ingredients in healthy combinations. The Signature Mornings menu collection aims to present superfoods in contemporary breakfast renderings. “Emphasis is placed on showcasing India’s heritage grains, as well as free-range and locally sourced produce,” says Harsh Shenoy, Banquets Manager, ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru. And then there is Sattva, their ‘honestly vegetarian’ initiative that showcases a plethora of vegetarian recipes, all cooked with fresh produce.

ITC Windsor Manor, Bengaluru also boasts three strong restaurant brands — Dakshin, Royal Afghan and Dum Pukth. “Each restaurant tailors to a different segment. For instance, Royal Afghan caters to the corporate clientele, while Dakshin is a local favourite and attracts major footfalls from non-residents of the hotel,” says Bhargava.

Much like its sister hotel, ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru has experimented with different food formats. “From the usage of Shunya Aqua (‘zero-mile’ water bottled within each ITC hotel) in their F&B destinations, to the incorporation of culinary initiatives such as ‘Local Love’ (selection of indigenous flavours from a region, compiled by our chefs), ‘Choose Wisely’ (ITC Hotels is India’s first participant in WWF’s ‘Choose Wisely’ Programme — a collaboration with the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, aimed at promoting informed choices on fish consumption). While leaving the decision making to the consumer, we have proven ourselves as the forerunner in the culinary space,” adds Shenoy.

Fairmont Jaipur derived inspiration from Rajasthan’s imperial past to create interesting F&B formats based on the theme of royal splendour. Zarin, their exclusive Indo-Mediterranean fine dine restaurant, hosts decadent feasts that are reminiscent of the state’s regal culinary past. Amit Kandwal, the hotel’s food and beverage director, says, “Even the golden cutlery used is an aide-memoire of the royal days, when the kings and the queens would celebrate or meet over a lavish menu.” According to Kandwal, most of the local guests are vegetarian, so at Zarin they have moved away from the original Iranian cuisine to a Mediterranean one with several vegetarian options.

At the all-day dining restaurant, Zoya, the chefs have undertaken a 2000km journey to learn the art of Rajasthani cuisine from home-cooks and khansamas to royal families. “The court-style dining area, with its blue and white luxe tents and rich silver seating all around is ideal for an intimate meal with friends and family,” he says. The idea, then, is to recreate the past or offer an imperial dining experience.

Artisan in Sofitel Mumbai BKC hosts ‘Blue in the Jazz’ evenings where guests explore their love for jazz and sample Parisian cafe-style meals.

Beyond flagship restaurants
At ITC’s two hotels in Bengaluru, experimentation with exciting F&B formats is a rule rather than an exception, and that applies to all food served at the properties. ITC Hotels predominantly cater to a business clientele who travel solo. So, at ITC Gardenia and ITC Windsor Manor, they have implemented the concept of ‘Single Diner Menu’, which offers guests a sampler of the best of the cuisine they have opted for, by creating memorable yet un-obtrusive dining experiences while also avoiding wastage of food.

The two ITC hotels also have an in-room sleep menu, specially crafted by merging the culinary expertise of their chefs and the scientific expertise of the experts at ITC Life Sciences and Technology Centre. The menu is designed to promote sleep quality using special culinary offerings, cooked using select food ingredients from across the world, which are scientifically reported to aid and improve sleep. ‘SLEEEP®’ has 3 ‘e’ alphabets and is a registered name by ITC LTD. Completely in contrast to this is the ‘Alert Meets’ menu, designed to improve blood circulation and supply to the brain and avoid food coma. ‘Alert Meets’ is masterfully prepared and locally sourced food, and focuses on delicious and hearty gourmet preparations that use seasonal produce and the finest of ingredients.

The two hotels also regularly host pop-ups, an efficient way of introducing a new cuisine, restaurant or visiting chef to connoisseurs. Earlier this year, ITC hosted the Royal Vega Pop up at ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru which presented its eclectic cuisine in the most effective way possible, as well as a truffles pop-up.

Often, hotels host food and music festivals to attract diners. At Artisan, their version of a French patisserie, Sofitel Mumbai BKC hosts ‘Blue in the Jazz’ evenings where guests explore their love for jazz and sample Parisian café-style meals. Manoj Jangid, Food & Beverage Manager, says, “Sofitel Mumbai BKC organises food festivals and flies in chefs from France, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore and more such destinations, so that our guests can relish authentic cuisines and flavours. The brands loyalty program, AccorPlus plays a big role [in attracting guests], through its various offerings.”

The ‘B’ in F&B
How big a contribution a vibrant bar makes towards a hotel’s profitability is obvious at Sofitel Mumbai BKC, where, Jangid says, “the bar/wine bar adds 30% to the F&B revenue stream. Le Bar Diamantaire – Lobby Lounge sports a majestic floor-to-ceiling Wine Tower, along with a collection of select international wines. The outlet has over 800 bottles of wine and over 120 varied varieties. Artisan — a French Bistro has its very own wine library, the Vinothéque, which consists of an elaborate collection of international and Indian wines and champagnes that have been handpicked by the hotel’s expert sommelier.”

ofitel Mumbai BKC has also introduced a range of creative cocktails along with a new concept of BarChef, where mixologists curate a concoction of drinks taking into consideration the taste and preferences of the guests. “Innovative cocktails such as Clovers Club, Indian Paradise, Caribbean Spice, Biscuit, Makers Monk, and many more are served by our creative BarChefs,” adds Jangid. The luxury hotel is likely to introduce a gin experience bar at Jyran–Tandoor Dining & Lounge where guests can savour a variety of gin cocktails, infusions and trails.

Batting for quality control
Fine dine standalone restaurants that compete. and also match the standards and pricing of restaurants stationed within star hotels, are the major disruptors in the food and beverage space. “We use technology-driven fine dining formats based on interesting concepts such as iPad-enabled menus and healthy food options available to guests, and cater to food connoisseurs,” says Sahil Bhargava, F&B Manager, ITC Windsor Manor, Bengaluru.

Six Sigma plays a very important role in ITC, where outletwise matrices and performance week-on-week are discussed with the team, says Shenoy. “Every associate is made a guest experience curator and on a daily basis, my team ensures we take our patrons through the culinary options of the hotel.”

How invested the teams and chefs are in deciding a hotel’s F&B strategy is obvious from the regular strategy meetings that are held. Jangid says that Sofitel Mumbai BKC’s monthly F&B communication meeting has the entire team discussing the previous month’s progress. “We have introduced a weekend energiser activity, where we encourage our restaurant managers to do an innovative activity with their team to boost operational skillset, general knowledge and morale, motivating them in the process. Another innovative concept is the Le Bar Diamantaire ‘Heartist Tree’, wherein any ambassador from the hotel can share their appreciation message for any F&B ambassador,” he adds. “We have recently introduced a wall of knowledge at the hotel for our ambassadors that showcase the latest F&B trends. We have also introduced a Beverage Library that displays a collection of books on wines, cocktails, spirits, water and many such subjects, to encourage learning.”

Revenue drivers
There is no doubt that successful F&B outlets bring in the guests, and the revenues for the hotel. Kandwal says that almost 40 to 50% of the hotels’ revenue is through F&B. “Further, profitability of any food and beverage operation can be increased with better planning and right pricing to increase sales of items with higher contribution margins to the profit,” he says.
Hotels are clearly prioritising consumers, particularly when it comes to offering unique F&B offerings, bringing in added revenues. According to Shenoy, the F&B experiences are what consumers take back with them when they leave.

“F&B trends ultimately effect a hotel’s revenue. With due respect to hotels, and don’t get me wrong, I feel it’s a great idea for popular standalone restaurant chains to be a part of successful hotels now,” says Zorawar Kalra of Massive Restaurants.

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