7 Ways to Make the Hotel Bar Happening

For the past few years, the idea has been swirling around that the hotel bar is making a comeback. And according to recent statistics, this just might be true.

Beverage alcohol sales at hotels are forecasted to outpace all other segments in 2012, and overall food and beverage growth at hotels is up 4.5%, Hotel baraccording to research presented at the 2012 VIBE Conference by David Henkes, Vice President of market research firm Technomic Inc.

Although the last three years have been difficult for lodging, hotels are seeing returning strength in rates and revenue per available room (RevPAR); in fact, the luxury hotel segment’s RevPAR was up 8.6% as of last month.

With a renewed focus on food and beverage offerings in hotels, hotel F&B revenue totaled more than $37 billion in 2011, Henkes says. Hotels are paying closer attention to their F&B concepts as they attempt to differentiate themselves from the competition. So how, exactly, are some of the top hotels achieving this?

During the panel “Changing Dynamics of Lodging F&B,” Henkes offered seven trends worth watching.

First, F&B is helping reclaim underutilized space. As hotels work to maximize the return on investment throughout their entire properties, they have to get creative — think extending dayparts and turning previously underused space into a money-maker.

Which leads to trend No. 2: Lobby space has become multipurpose. The hotel lobby is traditionally an underutilized space, but recently, Henkes notes, the lobby has become an F&B destination. This means the area once relegated to checking in has now become the place to check out. Brands such as W by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide revolutionized the lobby-as-a-destination concept, and even Hilton Worldwide’s midscale Hampton Inn brand is attempting to lure business travelers away from their computers and into the lobby — or at least get them to bring their laptops downstairs to enjoy a craft brew as they prep for tomorrow’s meetings.

The lobby now has become a completely public space, with many properties finding their common area is ideal for gaming, recreation or simply grabbing a fast bite to eat on the go, Henkes notes.

This grab-and-go, speedy-service trend that pervades many hotels is spreading into the sit-down concepts. No longer are guests looking for a fine-dining experience; instead, they want a more relaxed vibe. Fine dining is out; casual is in, Henkes says, and hotel operators are attempting to find middle ground between upscale concepts and casual dining.

Hilton Worldwide’s recent announcement could be evidence to this trend: In March, the company announced plans to find new concepts and partner with approved restaurateurs to open 500 new restaurants around the world in the next three years.

But even with so many opportunities for growth, hotels cannot do without their bread and butter. Banquets/catering are key to hotel F&B recovery, Henkes says. Banquet and catering programs at hotels must be healthy for food and beverage revenue to grow; this segment combined for 40% of total hotel F&B revenue in 2011.

While hotels attempt to capitalize on underused space, this often leads to reduced room in other areas, such as the kitchen — the No. 5 trend on Henkes’ list: Smaller kitchen footprint, higher expectations. Kitchens are undergoing fewer renovations and sometimes they even see an actual reduction in size, but still the masters inside the kitchen are expected to churn out the same — or, likely, even higher — quality than they previously could with more space. “Kitchens are being turned into showcases,” Henkes says, and hotels must work to help kitchen staff use their space effectively and efficiently.

Beyond the kitchen, of course, is the bar. As previously noted, there has been a resurgence of hotel-based bars as of late, especially in major markets. This means hotels are vying for locals as well as travelers, as high-end properties place major value on drawing in area residents, Henkes notes. No longer is the hotel bar a place in which a lonely business traveler sits alone, wallowing in his Martini; now, it’s a place where business and leisure travelers alike mingle with local residents out for an evening on the town.

These locals, however, can be hard to please, so be sure you have certain amenities available. Their top three must-haves, according to Henkes, are comfortable chairs, high-quality televisions and talented waitstaff.

Catering to natives is a step toward a new future for many hotel operators, but these new occasions are what move the needle in sales at hotels. Virtually every operator is seeking new areas of revenue, whether it’s through happy hours or late-night events.

But, as always, providing an on-trend menu filled with creative, well-made drinks at reasonable prices will always be crucial to any bar’s success, no matter what its location.

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