Activating the lobby 

 Seasonal activations, special experiences and pop-ups, especially when done with hotel and resort locales in mind, elevate lobby food and beverage operations. 

Contributed by Jeanette Hurt 

“Classically, hotel lobbies were very stale and boring, literally like airport waiting rooms,” says Alex Ghalleb, global vice president of F&B operations for Carte Blanched, which curates all the F&B operations in all Ennismore lifestyle hotels. “Particularly now and going forward, the lobby is much more geared toward an experiential style of life.” 

The QTea high tea served in the lobby of the QT Sydney hotel

To gear things properly, Ghalleb says, hotels and resorts must really consider the locations and cultures of where they will be situated. “There’s not one blanket rule,” he says. “We approach each local community and culture for the priority of how we move forward and what kind of opportunities would work for each community.” 

That mindset – of approaching each property individually from the community standpoint – has not only helped Ennismore’s properties be successful but it’s helped the hotel group, with brands ranging from Hoxton to 25hours, JO&JOE, Mama Shelter Delano, Mondrian, SLS and Tribe, avoid some potentially costly mistakes. For example, at a property in Rome, they had started the design process for an espresso bar, but initially, they had planned to have lounging areas so people could enjoy coffee on the sofa. But in Italy, people stand at a bar, have an espresso and then they’re gone in minutes.  

“We took away the bar stools, and we really changed the way we thought about coffee shop dynamics,” says Charlie North, global vice president of interior design for AIME, which procures interior design spaces and curates the ambiance for each Ennismore property.  

“We took our learning experience in Rome for our next Italian project in Florence,” North adds. “And we’ve positioned our bar to offset front windows so that people can walk up in scooters, have their espresso and go, and we then bridged the outside with the inside, enchanting the connectivity for the main space.”  

Every lobby food and beverage operation has to appeal to locals. “We always ask what would draw locals; it must have a connection with the locality,” Ghalleb says.  

“If it feels like a hotel geared to tourists, it won’t appeal to locals. If it appeals to the locals, it will appeal to travelers. That builds a vibrancy.” – Alex Ghalleb

“Since 50% of our revenue is driven from F&B, it’s all the more important that the local audience is brought in,” says Marcos Eleftheriou, vice president of culture and internal communications at Ennismore. “Everything we do has to be welcoming to both locals and internationals. We have to attract both audiences.” 

In Barcelona, Ennismore added a Detroit-style pizza offering that no other outlet in the city was doing. “In general, when you add nice little touches that feel special and specific to the area, then it feels more authentic, more timeless, and that’s definitely an approach we like to go with every time,” Ghalleb says. “If it feels like a hotel geared to tourists, it won’t appeal to locals. If it appeals to the locals, it will appeal to travelers. That builds a vibrancy.” 

“It has to be vibrant, feel inclusive and be an extension of what is already in the city… a concept that has timelessness,” Ghalleb adds. “You don’t want to do something new just to do something new.” 

North says it is about creating spaces that feel like home, noting that the design of the lobby has to anticipate “the journey of the customer throughout the day.”  

Food and beverage operations in the lobby should overshadow and outshine the reception desks, which previously dominated lobby spaces. “The reception should be secondary to the lobby spaces, and it should be a little bit out of sight so it doesn’t immediately feel like a hotel when you walk in,” North says. 

Outdoor extensions 

Where possible, lobby spaces can be extended into courtyards and patios – to bring the outside into the hotel. Ennismore does that wherever the properties have space in which to do so. In Scotland, their property has an ice rink outside in winter, and in summer, it has lawn chairs and lawn games. 

That’s equally important to the Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. “We have great, beautiful windows in the front, and there’s a pool deck out back,” says Nelly Buleje, director of food and beverage at the Grand Geneva. “Right now, in winter, we have igloos outside, and we have fire pits, and they’re lit up, along with the decorations. It’s a way to bring what we do outside, inside as well.” 

Four Corners Slice Shop at The Hoxton Poblenou in Barcelona

To match that outdoor-indoor experience, the Grand Geneva is serving up s’mores boards for guests to enjoy both inside the lobby, but it’s also for them to enjoy in the igloos and fire pits. “We serve those with our homemade hot chocolates which also can have alcohol added,” Buleje says.  

In warmer weather, he says, both the drink and food menus are lightened up to match the season.  

The whole lobby space at the Grand Geneva has places where people can curl up with a drink by the fireplace, and the lobby bar opens up into the lobby itself. Live music, several times a week, along with activations like cheese and wine tastings, create an energy that draws people there, Buleje says. 

“The lobby is just as important as any restraint on our property,” Buleje says. “It sets up our guests for the day.” 

 In the winter months, Grand Geneva guests grab a drink or a snack, and they typically gather at the big, wood-burning fireplace. “They really like to cozy up,” Buleje says.  

The energy in the space he says has to change and evolve as the day progresses into night. “We change it with the music,” Buleje says. “We have a grand piano in the lobby lounge, and we play live music throughout the day, and right now, three o’clock is the biggest time, to get the right energy to create the right environment. Sometimes we add a cello to the piano, and other days we have an acoustic guitar. Our music program is very big, and it’s something we will have to grow.” 

At the Grand Geneva, the grab-and-go options in the lobby have to match the “grand” ambiance of the rest of the hotel, and one way to do that is through their croissants and croissant sandwiches. “It’s a 72-hour labor of love,” Buleje says. “We make our croissants from scratch every day, and we have someone coming in at 4 a.m. every morning to bake them. On weekends, we’re extremely busy.” 

Outdoor pop-up parties at The Hoxton Paris

Like the croissants, the hotel’s lobby bar, as well as the other bar offerings, makes everything from scratch, including the simple syrups for cocktails and coffee drinks. “As hoteliers, we have to think like stand-alone restaurateurs,” Buleje says. “We have to offer things (other places in the area) don’t.”  

The beverage side of operations in the lobby should be just as important as the food offerings. “We just re-did our entire beverage program,” Buleje says. 

The QT way  

QT Hotels and Resorts also believes in bringing extra special and unusual offerings to the F&B operations of its lobbies, including its QTea. “The QTea is a high tea like no other, served in the designer surroundings of QT Sydney’s lobby and adjoining lounge space, aptly named Studio Q,” says Callum Kennedy, group general manager of QT Hotels & Resorts. “We identified that there was a space in the market to reinvent high tea as an experience that pushes boundaries in terms of flavor, service and presentation.” 

Every Saturday and Sunday, the hotel holds three sittings, where guests enjoy sweets and savories, along with champagne from their champagne trolley, paired cocktails and exclusive blueberry macaron tea while a house DJ spins music, creating a vibrant atmosphere, he says. 

“QTea is an exclusive collaboration led by Adriano Zumbo with Perrier-Jouët champagne,” Kennedy says. “As F&B collaborations rise in popularity, we wanted to partner with the most creative like-minded minds in the business to help us deliver the best premium experiences to our guests.” 

The Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, serves s’mores boards both inside the lobby and outdoors in the igloos and at the fire pits.

The QTea experience changes seasonally to add things like a Yule log for Christmas, and the brand also launched an additional plant-based and gluten-free menu, which is available alongside the regular offerings. “Guest feedback has been incredibly supportive,” Kennedy says. “That way, we can welcome ever more guests to immerse themselves in the utter indulgence that is QTea.” 

As a result, QTea is one of Sydney’s most popular high teas, and it’s regularly featured across media and influencer posts. “It has definitely exceeded our expectations,” Kennedy says. 

Buleje says that hoteliers, in planning lobby F&B operations, need to look at what space is available first. “They need to look at their space, and it’s uber important to look at who their customers are,” he says. “As hoteliers, you need to treat the lobby and each area as unique – what makes it unique but also what ties it into your property. You have to dig deep, and you have to stop doing things like putting a hot vodka brand on the bar because everyone drinks it.”