Hotel restaurants don’t have to be so insular

Hotel restaurants don’t have to be so insular

Something is happening.  In a recent edition of Nation?s Restaurant News, the front page featured an article headlined, ?traditional chains hitch onto food truck bandwagon.? Food trucks and other food stands have been popping up in San Francisco and other major cities for a while now, but it got me thinking about the larger implications of dining out trends and habits. 

As we have seen over the past few decades, the dining out business has steadily increased at an exponential rate.
While writing a text book chapter several years ago, I learned that sales from dining out in the United States have gone from US$42.8 billion in 1970, to US$475.8 billion in 2005 (according to the National Restaurant Association). That is an increase of more than 1,100%. The NRA now estimates that food and beverage sales will reach US$580 billion in 2010.

Ok, we all know the dining out business is growing, but is the hotel food and beverage business growing at the same rate?Generally, the answer is no. During the same period of time, hotel F&B sales increased by only about 200%, and I expect that the difference remains the same today.

I believe that hoteliers think that they can only control what is in their building. Furthermore, they let hotel guests be the sole basis for menus (general and basic), design (more tables for two, less booths) and pricing guidelines (keep them high for the expense account business traveler). To keep current in today?s world you generally have to look out of your property/flag view, and into a larger, or entirely different, world view. If independent restaurant growth is so high in the U.S., then why can?t hotels restaurants keep up?

We are seeing hoteliers in emerging markets around the world spend more and more on restaurants. For example, Hyatt in Asia is integrating food and beverage into their meeting spaces. In other parts of the world hotel restaurants are what malls were for the U.S. in the 50?s and 60?s — places for people to get away and mix socially. We are also seeing new breeds of celebrities (primarily outside of the U.S.), including interior and fashion designers as well as media-driven chefs gaining worldwide exposure.

Back to food trucks; are food trucks serving food from a Marriott kitchen any different than a food truck selling food from an independent restaurant? Maybe we don?t want to call it a ?hotel food truck? or ?Marriott Express,? but that is all in how you market it. The problem with most hotels is that they somehow think they are different from the rest of us in the foodservice business; somehow  management thinks and speaks in a different ?brand? language. There are a lot of lessons to be learned outside the walls of a hotel, and the biggest is keeping your eye on the trends and innovations going on around you.