Feeding the New Breed of Traveler
Ask leaders of the new lifestyle brands who their ideal target market is, and almost without exception they'll describe their customers in terms of psychographics rather than demographics.
“Our guests are 34 years old attitudinally, not necessarily chronologically,” says Jim Anhut, senior vice president of brand development for InterContinental Hotels Group, parent of Hotel Indigo. “We appeal to the 55-year-old who still rides his bike to meet friends for coffee as well as the 22-year-old aspiring toward career and financial success.”
Brian McGuinness, vice president of aloft hotels, uses terms like “early adopters” and “innovators” to describe his franchise's ideal customers. They're self-driven, he says, and expect to be empowered by controlling their stay. They range from the fresh college graduate off to his or her first interview to older snowbird couples on their way to Florida.
If you need to put it into demographic terms, then let's say the market for lifestyle hotels — properties including Hotel Indigo and aloft, plus NYLO Hotels, Cambria Suites, Hyatt Place and others — is Generation X, Y and even some Baby Boomers: individuals from their early 20s to mid-50s, with a fairly even split of male to female. Business travelers most certainly dominate that mix during the week, but on weekends, leisure travelers own these establishments.
“The majority of Generation X travelers have children now, and they travel as a family frequently,” says Hyatt Senior Vice President Jim Abrahamson. “This is a very mobile group, and leisure family travel is a critical component of our business.”
OK, so you've got business travelers, leisure travelers, parents, kids, grandparents — how do you go about feeding this eclectic audience? First of all, you focus on convenience. NYLO Hotels CEO John Russell explains, “We do a lot of research with business consumers from 22 to 55 years old, and what they tell us continually is that time is essential. If you're getting up at 5 a.m. for a flight, you want to grab a muffin or an egg sandwich and coffee on your way. We're not talking vending-machine food. People are telling us that they want a three-meal opportunity and high-quality choices in between.”
That high quality would be another focus. Today's discerning guests expect a broad selection of creative choices that taste great and, often, that fulfill their desire for more healthful alternatives.
Of course, you need to make all of this doable for every franchisee who opens one of your hotels, too, say chain executives. Efficiency and ease of operation are critical to carrying out any f&b program consistently across locations.
And so, the leaders of this new hotel segment have their work cut out for them. But not to worry: They are rising to the occasion through out-of-the-box thinking, intensive customer research, f&b expertise and technology that would have made the Jetsons proud.
Like most every lifestyle brand, NYLO Hotels, scheduled to open its first location this December in Plano, TX, features a public space that accommodates guests' needs for dining, socializing, conducting business meetings and relaxing. NYLO calls this space The Loft, and aside from a few common elements — the 24/7 foodservice, bar, library, business center, wireless Internet, gameroom and boutique shop — this space will vary in design from hotel to hotel (think nautical on the East Coast and Southwestern in Texas). The menu will be fairly standard across locations, though, with a few regional dishes sprinkled throughout (crab cakes, a Southern boil or a bison burger, perhaps).
The foodservice at NYLO works like this: Guests will enjoy a wide variety of healthful and traditional choices at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a more limited variety at night. With both sit-down and grab-and-go options, they can relax as they eat in The Loft, or take their food to their rooms or on the road. NYLO plans to have some table service, but probably not for all three meal occasions. What they are certain of is that their staff will be well-equipped to handle any foodservice request from any guest at any time of the day or night.
“Every location will have an f&b manager, but we will also cross-train all of our people to work the foodservice side. If someone comes in after dinner hours wanting a steak and potatoes au gratin, the front-desk employee can prepare it for him in five or 10 minutes,” says Russell.
The food is exceptionally good, Russell says, thanks to outstanding cooking technology. Preprogrammed computer chips enable any employee to prepare a meal to perfection, and in fact, to prepare several meals at once. “You can cook a fish, a steak and a pasta at the same time at different temperatures in this oven, and every one of them will come out just right,” he says.
Choice Hotels' Cambria Suites, which opens its first location in Boise, ID this month, calls its public space Reflect. Reflect has a distinctive coffeehouse-like feel and features wired and wireless Internet, a media wall and a barista bar. Guests can sip Wolfgang Puck coffees as they e-mail, grab the latest headlines as they enjoy a salad or sandwich, or get together for cocktails and appetizers in the evening.
Cambria Suites guests can begin their day with a hot breakfast buffet that features traditional comfort foods — pan-scrambled eggs, thick-cut peppered bacon, griddled hash browns, Belgian waffles and the like — as well as health-conscious alternatives such as steel-cut oats, toasted granola and fresh fruit. At dinnertime, they can choose anything from appetizers to full meals, topped off with Cheesecake Factory desserts.
In addition to these table-service opportunities, Cambria Suites offers self-serve foodservice through Refill, a 24-hour convenience store that stocks freshly prepared gourmet salads and sandwiches, snacks, beverages and traditional c-store items.
“Our grab-and-go sandwiches and salads are prepared fresh on premise every day,” says William Edmundson, vice president of brand management and strategy for Cambria Suites. “And we feature a broad selection of organic items — sparkling juices, nutrition bars, organic milk, popcorn and such — in addition to the sodas and candy bars people expect from a convenience store.”
Operationally, Cambria Suites' f&b program was designed to make life easy for the franchisee as well. “Our program is very detailed, providing everything from menu items, recipes with photos, and ingredient lists to front- and back-of-the house equipment requirements,” says Edmundson. “We've got it down to how many forks and sugar packets each franchisee needs to buy.”
Like most of the hotels in this category, employee cross-training pulls it all together for Cambria Suites. Any staff member can prepare a meal or a barista drink. The point, of course, is that guests get the same high level of service and care whether they get hungry at a traditional mealtime or at 4 in the morning.
When Starwood Hotels & Resorts executives asked focus groups what they want from their hip new aloft hotels, they heard convenience, convenience, convenience. And so aloft is all about grab-and-go, which it delivers expertly through its foodservice concept, re:fuel.
“Our customers want more healthful, more flavorful options, and they want them fast,” explains VP Brian McGuinness. “The feedback has been resounding: ‘There's a time when we like to sit down, but that's not how we travel. We want something sweet, healthful, savory. We want it to be best in class, and we want it to go.’”
Local delis known for their top-of-the-line baked goods will headline at aloft's “expanded continental” breakfast, which will also include healthful yogurts, granola and other cereals, as well as one or two hot options depending on location (a breakfast burrito, for example, or waffles or pancakes on weekends to please the family crowd). From 11:30 on, guests can also enjoy three or four salad choices, three or four sandwich choices, ice cream and frozen items such as personal pan pizza, hot dogs and dim sum.
Technology is key. “Our oven combines traditional, convection and microwave cooking to take items from frozen or par-frozen to baked and browned in minutes,” says McGuinness. “We are developing items like macaroni and cheese in a ramekin with huge stability that comes out of the oven with a crispy crust. We are putting that level of care into each of our products so we know we're delivering best in class in each category.”
This exceptional level of care has also gone into the creation of bar wxyz, a destination bar McGuinness describes as a pull-down from Starwood's W Hotels bars. “Recognizing that guests might want a small bite to eat as they gather for cocktails, we'll offer inspired snacks — nuts, wasabi peas and popcorn with special (possibly regional) flavorings; personal pan pizzas; dim sum and other light foods,” he says.
Hyatt Place sets the expectation in its name. With nearly 50 years under its belt, Hyatt has built its reputation on services, including its f&b, so Hyatt executives knew up front that foodservice would be a huge component of their lifestyle brand, which launched last summer and will boast 50 locations by the end of this month.
Abrahamson points out that Hyatt Place strives to provide an extension of real life for its guests through convenience, accessibility and product choices that make guests feel at home. It starts with a complimentary continental breakfast supplemented with four or five freshly prepared entrées, such as frittatas or breakfast sandwiches and wraps, for purchase. Lunch and dinner options include salads, sandwiches, pizza and signature entrées — Texas-style roadhouse chili, for example. Hyatt Place puts heavy emphasis on fresh ingredients and portion control, recognizing that guests want to eat more healthfully.
Food selections are offered through the Gallery Café, which features a touch-screen kiosk ordering system and cashless technology that enables guests to pay with a simple card swipe, and Gallery Grab-and-Go, a reach-in merchandiser stocked with freshly prepared salads and sandwiches made on premise every day. The touch-screen system, which also facilitates check-in and check-out, frees the cross-trained Hyatt Place staff to assist guests with their food and drink selections.
Drinks are served at the Starbucks coffee bar, which also becomes a wine-and-beer bar in the evening, complete with bar snacks. Guests can also order other food items, which staff members — Gallery hosts — prepare in the convection/microwave oven.
Positioning its new brand as more of a boutique hotel, IHG mandates a two- or three-daypart restaurant in each of its uniquely designed Hotel Indigo locations. The Golden Bean Café serves entrées, appetizers, soups and salads through a “gourmet fast-casual” service platform: Customers walk up to the counter to place their orders, take a seat and wait for their food to be served to them on high-quality china and stainless. Indigo's Phi lounge also offers appetizers and beers, wines and spirits.
“We are committed to addressing our guests' expectations,” says Sue Morgan, vice president of franchise food and beverage for IHG. “They expect innovation and indulgence, so that's how we design our menus. We also keep cross-utilization of ingredients in mind to maximize our efficiency in the kitchen.”
Further enhancing efficiency is the use of sous-vide items provided by carefully selected suppliers. “Our supply chain delivers exceptionally high-quality prepared foods that are ideal for our preprogrammed speed-cook process,” says Anhut. “We are able to provide an extremely consistent product with incredible efficiency.”
In addressing the desire for grab-and-go, Hotel Indigo provides a variety of options, particularly at breakfast. Guests can grab Starbucks coffee and pastries that are either supplied by local delis or baked on premise. As for satisfying hunger pangs in the middle of the night, think about that term “indulgence” again: Hotel Indigo offers the traditional convenience of room service with nontraditional 24-hour availability.
For more information and related articles, go to www.LHonline.com
THE BIG IDEAS
The Common Elements
Grab and go. Whether or not a lifestyle brand offers table service, it must also make available items that guests can take with them to their rooms or out the front door.
Breakfast. As in nearly every hotels, breakfast is the most important meal. Several lifestyle brands offer the choice of a free continental breakfast and/or upgraded menu options for sale.
All about technology. To keep labor requirements under control, the new class of lifestyle brands have developed food preparation systems that are easy to operate but which produce high-quality offerings — or at least food that's steps ahead of quick-service restaurants and vending machine fare.
A cup of joe. Gen Xers, as well as Boomers, love coffee, and the lifestyle brands cater to these needs with branded and unbranded high-quality coffee systems.
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