Hotel sector buyers fire up their kitchens

France luxury hotel

Food and beverage sales within hotels have historically been fairly sluggish when compared with the core business of hospitality, but now the market is shifting and the hotel sector wants a piece of the action.

A nation of foodies is emerging, thanks in no small part to high-profile television shows such as MasterChef and Great British Menu and the UK’s appetite to be wowed in a hotel restaurant is growing.

As establishments across the spectrum embrace high profile partnerships with celebrity chefs and chains creating in-house restaurant brands, the opportunity for a hotel restaurant to be a key driver of business is being realised more and more. TV chef Marco Pierre White, for instance, already has a partnership with Hotel Indigo, a brand under the InterContinental Hotels Group umbrella, with his Steakhouse Bar & Grill restaurants at sites in Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham.

He announced last March that he would be rolling out a further 50 branded restaurants across the UK and Ireland over the next three years as part of a master franchise agreement with Sanguine Hospitality, which owns a number of Hotel Indigo sites.

Pierre White and his procurement team, like many others in the sector, would appear to be shaping up to spend big on kitchen equipment over the coming years in order to provide his sites with the firepower they require.

Non-guests are now a core customer group for a hotel restaurant and after the success of models such as Hotel du Vin, which purposely puts the emphasis on bistro food and wine rather than accommodation, other hotels are following suit and challenging the traditional image of an in-house restaurant.

This is further backed up by major restaurateurs entering the hotel market for the first time and leapfrogging the hotel restaurant niche altogether. D&D London, which operates 32 restaurants in London, recently opened South Place Hotel in the capital, while the successful Corbin and King partnership, of The Wolseley fame, launched the luxury The Beaumont in Mayfair in Q4 of 2014.

“In London now, you cannot get away with having a beautiful restaurant and mediocre food which could’ve passed as acceptable about 15 years ago,” explains Des Gunewardena, D&D London. “Lots of hoteliers won’t make enough money with their F&B, but it’s in our mindset; our restaurants are very profitable operations and we’ll make more money with those, than putting in extra bedrooms.”

It is no surprise, then, that hotel operations directors and heads of purchasing find themselves under pressure to ensure that they specify and source the right equipment to drive the restaurants and culinary concepts that are becoming such a vital revenue stream.

The attitude to hotel dining is changing, and establishments from boutiques to big name brands are capitalising. Incorporating a real sense of destination to attract neighbourhood diners is a key trend and stretches beyond the sourcing of local ingredients.

Further investments were made in kitchen equipment this year, fitting an extra deep fat fryer into the kitchen suite, the purchase of a heavy duty mixing machine and new refrigeration equipment.
Rory Whelan, Adnams-owned hotels

Alex Aitken, chef patron at Harbour Hotels, a portfolio of five coastal boutiques, explains how the locality was a major inspiration for the recent overhaul of the entire brand’s food offering. He says: “This has been our first full year of business at The Upper Deck Bar & Restaurant at the Christchurch Harbour Hotel & Spa; this was a sizable investment and quite a change from the Christchurch Harbour Hotel dining room, to become a bar and restaurant with its own identity. The brief was to create a restaurant and bar that would attract a strong ‘non-resident’ trade.

“We have continued to invest time and energy into our restaurants. Food and subsequently beverage revenue is a very important part of the business; it brings customer satisfaction and loyalty and, if well managed, very good profits.”

Casual dining has been slowly becoming more influential, as a noticeable shift in diners’ eating habits emerges. People now want to eat at hotels all day every day, regardless of time or occasion, and in-house restaurants must have the capacity and equipment to deal with this demand. This has filtered through to the mid-scale and budget sectors too. Hotel chain Holiday Inn is catering to these consumers with its new open lobby, restaurant and bar area, aiming to appeal to both the modern day business traveller and the all-day-diner with a food menu available 24/7. This has been implemented in the UK and across Europe already.

Making investments

Hotels that are strong in the leisure market are investing in their restaurants, and more are realising that if they don’t, they are missing out on a major revenue stream. Not only does a great restaurant and bar encourage non-resident trade, it also increases customer loyalty as the eating-out sector continues to boom.

Rory Whelan is executive head chef at the award-winning Adnams-owned and run hotels, The Swan and The Crown in Southwold, Suffolk. He reveals how the brand continually reassesses its kitchen operation to keep ahead of trends and on top of consumer demand.

He says: “Our hotels have seen some major investments over the last five years; The Crown Hotel in particular has had a new kitchen re-fit/cooking suite and refurbishment of accommodation. Further investments were made in kitchen equipment this year, fitting an extra deep fat fryer into the kitchen suite, the purchase of a heavy duty mixing machine and new refrigeration equipment. The Swan has planned investment next year to include refurbishment of the restaurant, rooms and public areas.”

Ralph Grundy, managing director of Brakes Catering Equipment, says that in the hotel sector, no buyer or kitchen planner wants to be seen to be standing still. He comments: “It is important that if a site is part of a chain it maintains a brand feel, whilst simultaneously creating its own distinct identity — and of course differentiation is also essential for independent operators. Some new sites are opening but now that the worst of the recession seems to have passed, most operators are keen to look at ways they can refurbish their existing sites. This involves upgrading back-of-house facilities and out-of-date equipment as well as trying to add value to menus and improve customer satisfaction through better food presentation.”

Key criteria

For hotels, one of the main considerations will be the space available and utilising it to its full potential to enable the kitchen operation to run smoothly.

When it comes to a complete kitchen upgrade, hoteliers and owners will centre their research on primary criteria of cost and use, while also considering what produce will be delivered and how often.

Grundy explains: “We find that when operators are sourcing new light equipment they tend to do a lot of research into potential products and ranges. Their main considerations are cost and use i.e. what is the potential life of the product/range; will it fit the style of their hotels whether modern, traditional, budget or boutique and how they wish to use it.”

Breakdowns can have a big impact in this sector and preventative measures and after-sales service are therefore extremely important.”
Ralph Grundy, Brakes Catering Equipment

Once the research is complete, he says it is normal for them to narrow the selection down and more often than not carry out a trial at one or more sites before rolling it out across the estate if successful.

“The process tends to involve a variety of stakeholders including chefs, operations managers and restaurant managers, as well as the buyers. With capital equipment, again the focus is on whether the product is cost-effective and fit for purpose, but there is also a lot of emphasis on product reliability, the manufacturer’s warranty, servicing and support. Breakdowns can have a big impact in this sector and preventative measures and after-sales service are therefore extremely important.”

Heather Brooks, sales director at Primeware is used to working closely with hotel chains as its ‘like porcelain’ melamine is widely specified for breakfast buffets. Aside from product quality, she believes the sector relies on the supply chain to manage the procurement process seamlessly.

“It’s no good committing to a delivery date and not meeting the date. The goods need to be delivered on time on price and with a smile. This market is different as the buyers tend to be more experienced and know what they are looking for. They want to know the supplier will deliver as promised.”

Purchasing priorities

More hotels are working to transform their restaurants into a standalone destination; a new Hilton set for Sunderland is already boasting features including a ‘destination restaurant’, which looks set to be complete in spring of 2016. So what are the main priorities for owners and procurement managers when purchasing the right kitchen equipment?

Aitken at Harbour Hotels says the kitchen is the engine room of the operation, so investing wisely in the right equipment is more crucial than ever before. “There are certain brands that are head and shoulders above others, like Rational combi ovens, and I would always specify these in my kitchens. Repair and good maintenance is also vitally important, with good service partners that can react quickly and keep the kitchen working to its best.

“We all have a responsibility to the global warming factor of wasting energy. I am a big fan of induction; the latest kitchen we commissioned in Salcombe has induction hobs to reduce costs and excess heat in the kitchen.”

Whelan believes that while keeping up with the current trends is important, any new capital equipment should still be of value to your operation eight to 10 years on.

“There are so many factors that influence our decisions when investing, including: Is the investment going to improve quality and consistency of the product? Will it enhance a more efficient service and customer experience? Will it reduce labour costs? Will it increase staff morale and working efficiency and productivity? Our business is constantly growing and thought needs to be put into what we think our requirements will be in 2020; buying bigger than your current needs is sometimes more cost-efficient.”

A new approach

Hotels will each have their own approach to sourcing and specifying kitchen equipment, and this will be dependent on size, location, budget and general consumer demand within their area. Equipment reliability is crucial and most operators will consider buying the best they can afford even if it stretches their budget; they realise that by buying cheap, maintenance and servicing costs can often account to more in four years than the equipment itself, leading to a false economy.

Grundy explains that there is a noticeable difference in purchasing behaviour from chains to independent hotels, but in general hotel equipment buyers take a similar stance to their counterparts in other industry sectors.

He concludes: “National chains focus on product reliability, service reliability and value for money. For this reason they tend not to specify at the lower end of the spectrum or take too many risks. They need to generate a good ROI but they are prepared to invest in ensuring that they have the right products to do the job. This is especially important where town-based hotels find themselves competing against high street restaurants and need to establish their own identity, as well as finding a way to add value to the customer experience.”

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