Worth the dough? Behind the scenes at Premier Inn’s new deli concept

Proven Dough counter

Premier Inn’s ‘Hub’ hotel in Covent Garden has set industry benchmarks for energy efficient hotel design, and the new foodservice concept it has launched alongside it shares the same ethos. FEJ editor Andrew Seymour went along to take a look at the catering equipment set-up and assess if Whitbread is onto a winner with its radical new approach to hotel F&B.

“We want this to feel like a deli that sits on the high street, rather than a hotel deli — and there is a quite a significant difference,” stresses David Marr, cluster general manager at Hub by Premier Inn, as he brings FEJ’s tour of the West End property to a timely conclusion in the coffee shop-style restaurant that guests can access via the hotel itself or through a separate entrance directly off the street. “What’s great is that people are walking in and saying, ‘we are looking for the Hub by Premier Inn’ because the restaurant doesn’t feel like part of the hotel, and that is something that hopefully means the concept is succeeding.”

Premier Inn AB

David Marr and Chris George.

If that statement doesn’t already confirm it, you’d be quite right in thinking that Whitbread is doing things a little bit differently where its contemporary Hub brand is concerned. From the interactive maps of London that adorn each bedroom wall to app-controlled lighting and heating, Hub is very much positioned at the forefront of the digital hospitality revolution. The property, which cost some £30m to build, is blazing a trail in other equally impressive ways, too. Most notably it is the first hotel in the UK to achieve an ‘Outstanding’ BREEAM rating at design stage, an accolade that serves as a ringing endorsement of best practice in sustainable building design, construction and operation.

Whitbread’s appetite to push the boundaries of modern hotel design has also manifested itself in the F&B side of things, which is where its ‘Proven Dough’ deli proposition comes into play. It is a set-up that appears to be cast in the mould of its sister company Costa, offering hotel guests or otherwise a selection of ready-to-go breakfast items and pastries in the morning, and hot sandwiches, pastas and salads throughout the rest of the day. The concept is heavily based around breakfast as the hotel recognised very early on in the planning process that given its Covent Garden location guests are likely to want something to eat when they wake up but will then probably disappear off for the rest of the day.

Somebody said you can stand on top of it and jump up and down and it won’t break — we’ve not tried it. We’ll take their word for it!”

“It is all designed to be grab-and-go,” explains Marr, “so we are not messing around with plates and cutlery. Typically at morning time we are doing bacon sandwiches, porridge and granola, fruit, yoghurt, that type of thing, but everything is packaged.”

He says that around 20% of guests opt for breakfast when booking their room. There is a strong emphasis on freshly-sourced produce and local provenance. Pastries and breads arrive every day from Borough Market, while salads, casseroles, cheeses and meats are also all delivered fresh. One benefit of this approach is that the hotel has quickly been able to get purchasing to the point where it can accurately forecast what it needs to order, thereby minimising waste in the process. The hotel has high hopes of capturing passing trade given its street-level access from the busy St. Martins Lane and the retail-style nature of the operation and interior.

“We think it has got massive potential for external trade but Proven Dough is a new brand to people,” says Marr. “We quickly realised that the door being closed was a psychological barrier, so that is now open to make it more inviting for people to come in — it’s just those little retail tricks. We are trying to come at it from a retail angle rather than a typical hotel F&B. We also believe we have got the best super-fast WiFi in London, so customers can come in, dwell, and work away if they wish.”

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The Eloma Joker oven is key to the daily operation.

Chris George, head of energy and environment at Whitbread, says the company has endeavoured to take the best aspects of Costa but adapt it for the location and hotel audience. “It is a bit of a trial, and we are learning lots of things already,” he says. “We are already thinking about how we might go about scaling it across the sites we have planned — should it be exactly the same or should we tweak it somehow?”

Marr concurs, pointing out that the large severy counter with chilled, heated and ambient sections that dominates the Covent Garden site might need to be scaled down in smaller footprint sites. One idea would be to do away with either the heated or chilled section to reduce the footprint. Additionally, he concedes that other locations might not have the street-level access that makes its first site able to attract non-hotel guests.

“We are going to have locations where our restaurant will be on level one, and what we know with that is we are not going to get any custom externally. It will be hotel guests only and it will all be breakfast-led. You could offer fillet steak for a fiver and nobody would come because they wouldn’t know it is there. You’d have to drag them kicking and screaming off the street and no matter what you do it is not going to work. So you have to cut your cloth accordingly and create something that is fit for purpose.”

So many suppliers now have the right delivery, the right cost and the right service requirements, so what differentiates them is usually the sustainability rating of the kit”

As you might imagine from the description of the Covent Garden set-up, Proven Dough is a concept that isn’t over-burdened by equipment, but the appliances that are specified are intrinsic to its operational needs and sustainability principles. The Astoria coffee machine, for instance, features three boilers and an onboard computer that is able to detect peak periods and calculate the heating and bar pressure accordingly.

There are two areas within the hotel that contain catering equipment — one includes a series of Williams upright refrigerated storage cabinets, a Winterhalter dishwasher and bins for recycling, while the other, which is adjacent to the deli, includes equipment used by the staff to prepare food and beverages sold over the counter. This includes the Eloma Joker, a compact combi with touchscreen controls, which is used for heating products such as porridge before it is displayed out front on a hot plate.

“We are quite deliberate with the cooking methods we use because it is an off-the-bar, reduced range F&B offer. What we didn’t want to do is have huge areas back of house with lots of equipment. The Joker allows multiple products to be regenerated and cooked, and it self-cleans without any chemicals involved. It is a really efficient piece of kit.”

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The venue can be accessed from the street, opening it up to passing trade as well as hotel guests.

Sandwiches are toasted front-of-house in heavy duty grill stations made by Roband, an Australian brand imported in the UK by Metcalfe Catering Equipment. Says Marr: “We are only using the grill for toasted sandwiches at the moment, but they can do anything: fish, steak. They are really good bits of kit. Somebody said you can stand on top of them and jump up and down and they won’t break — we’ve not tried it, though, we’ll take their word for it!”

Hub worked closely with foodservice design consultant Roz Burgess from Intelligent Catering to create the design of the deli and specify the equipment inventory. “A lot of the catering equipment was picked for its versatility, ease of use, robustness and efficiency,” explains George. “All the equipment is energy efficient and A-rated. We prefer to take more of a holistic look at our investment, which means evaluating the actual energy consumption over the life of the kit.

“Most of the investment pays for itself in one, two or three years. I think the industry is changing because so many suppliers now have the right delivery, the right cost and the right service requirements, so what differentiates them from another merchant is usually the sustainability rating of a piece of kit, and that will really encourage you to specify it.”

It is still early days in the life of Proven Dough, but if the concept carries on gaining the momentum that it is threatening, it stands readymade for roll-out across the new big-city sites that the Hub has on its hit list.

Restaurant Energy-saving devices at the Hub

Premier Inn The Hub entrance

The Hub aims to take guest interaction to a new level with its high-tech approach.

– Installation of ‘A’ rated refrigerated catering goods and energy efficient catering equipment.

– Heating and cooling for the restaurant is provided by variable refrigerant flow (VRF) air source heat pumps, which incorporate heat recovery technology and result in lower overall carbon emissions when compared to traditional gas-fired boilers and conventional chillers.

– CHP energy-saving unit with thermal storage has been installed to provide a proportion of the domestic hot water.

– Restaurant supply and extract ventilation incorporates heat recovery technology between the air paths to ensure energy is retained within the building.

– Pipework and ductwork services are thermally insulated to ensure minimal heat loss to save energy.

– Low energy LED light fittings and lamps have been installed in the restaurant with controls to optimise energy efficiency and minimise energy wastage.

– On-site recycling procedures implemented, including colour coded food, mixed recycling and glass bins.

Spec sheet

Catering equipment brands supplying products at the Hub’s Proven Dough site in Covent Garden include:

Astoria: Coffee machine
Bunn: Dual brewer
Eloma: Combi oven
Hatco: Heated well
Ice-O-Matic: Ice machine
Panasonic: Microwave
Roband: Grill station
Williams: Refrigeration
Winterhalter: Dishwasher

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