By Dana Miller
Hotel News Now
Hotel brands are reducing food and beverage items for breakfast and focusing on quality over quantity.
Essex Hotel Management's Vice President of Operations John Kattato said brands are getting more requests from guests for foods accommodating various dietary preferences.
"It's inevitable as our consumer is used to those choices in a retail experience; you see it everywhere," he added. "It's reasonable to expect that will be the next phase, the next shift that you're going to see." The challenge, however, will stem from shrinking the total number of offerings and balancing that with higher-quality foods with broader appeal, he said.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, hotel brands, companies and properties had to assess the safety of typical food and beverage offerings. That assessment led many to suspend buffets and to seek alternatives, and also in some cases to limit hours or options for breakfast.
Hotels had to balance the needs of guests while also taking necessary steps to remain open, Kattato said. Hotels introduced options such as grab-and-go breakfast bags, which included a water bottle, breakfast bar, fruit and a hot or cold item. He said the hotel brands reduced the number of breakfast menu items to help offset a labor shortage and supply-chain issues. It also became clear that some offerings rolled out pre-pandemic were too expensive and time-consuming to continue in this new era. "When Hampton rolled out smoothies and some of those things... [it] seemed like a great idea but, again, I don't think those were ever intended to be mass-produced and left out for some period of time," he said.
New Breakfast Offerings on the Horizon
Starting in the first quarter of 2021, Kattato noticed guest expectations starting to creep back up, especially during the summer when guests were paying higher room rates.
Travis Murray, vice president of operations at Germantown, Tennessee-based McNeill Hotel Company, said all three major brands within his portfolio of hotels — Hyatt Hotels Corp, Hilton and Marriott International — launched new breakfast offerings and programs to come this winter. He said the brands have set a deadline of Jan. 1, 2022, to enact most of the new breakfast initiatives.
In general, the new, reduced menus eliminate less-popular items and replace them with fewer but higher-quality options, he said, adding that staffing is also part of the equation.
"By the reduction of it, we've produced a better rotational menu [allowing] us to have better controls in ordering, better controls of inventory and a slight reduction of costs," he said. "However, that cost is now being outweighed by the increase in quality of materials and labor."
Hotels have to make up for the fact that they are cutting the number of menu items in half. Murray said Marriott, for example, is launching a new breakfast for SpringHill Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites and Residence Inn properties that will offer more vegan and gluten-free items.
His portfolio's Courtyard by Marriott properties are also in the process of launching a "Bistro 3.0" concept, which includes fewer items but higher-quality, more substantial foods that accommodate multiple dietary preferences. "We’re actually very excited to see the evolution of the hotel breakfast. The expectations for breakfast were becoming a little overwhelming pre-pandemic," he said. "To clarify, each brand was attempting to one-up each other by offering more selections versus offering better quality. I think that during the pandemic everyone had an opportunity to examine the concept of quality versus quantity."
Kattato said guests want a hotel breakfast to more closely resemble a retail experience, with food options that can be customized. "Had we not gone through the last 18 months, we would have seen it much sooner. I think it was time for [the brands] to revamp what that menu looked like," he said. Hotels in his portfolio — which include brands such as Hampton Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Homewood Suites, Courtyard, Home2 Suites and Hilton Garden Inn — have not yet introduced the new programs and are still undergoing beta testing. "I think they've had a very good response in the test markets," he said, but getting products to the hotels is challenging.
Tracy Kundey, managing director of hospitality at Everwood Hospitality Partners, said in an email interview that his company's portfolio of hotels has gone back to full, pre-pandemic breakfast offerings. However, the challenge of getting supplies from primary vendors remains. "We end up supplementing with Sam's Club/Costco," he said, adding that guests are happy to get away from the grab-and-go offerings.
During the pandemic, McNeill Hotel Company switched from buffet service to grab-and-go service for breakfast. Once demand began to pick back up, the hotels switched to cafeteria-style serving. "During that time, it increased our labor across the board; however, we saw a decrease in cost per occupied room with breakfast," Murray said. "That was a huge eye-opening situation not only from our standpoint but from a brand standpoint because the hotels were able to see some savings." He anticipates going forward there will still be some mixture of buffets and cafeteria-style serving, while still upholding safety and sanitation protocols. It's expected foods will be cooked-to-order in Courtyards and Hilton Garden Inns, for example. McNeill's all-suite brands will continue to offer a buffet, along with more pre-packaged items, he said.
Kattato said the return of buffets at his company's hotels will depend on what the guests want."What we've learned recently is that the guests, by and large, aren't willing to let the buffet drift off into the sunset," he said. When buffets do return, he said the number of offerings and type of selection will change.