Mr. Rahe

Architecture & Design

Capitalizing on Dining Trends in Hotel Renovation and Design

By Eric Rahe, Principal, BLT Architects

It is no secret that how, where, and what people are eating is changing. The dining experience matters more than ever before as evidenced by the range of custom designed signature chef restaurants being created in multiple markets. The environment in which people eat, from lighting to carpet to wall coverings to proximity to other people, sets the context for the meal that either helps it sing or just satisfy.

Food itself is also being redefined. From locally-sourced ingredients to gluten-free options to vegan tasting menus, what people eat now demands simultaneous flexibility and restrictions. Menus are merely suggestions for most diners who expect that all their individual needs are exceeded.

So how can hotel owners and operators meet the demands of simultaneous and sometimes conflicting dining needs of their customers? Smart design can go a long way, and each restaurant will need to be fine tuned for the market, likely by demographic and price point. Four trends to consider when designing or renovating space for restaurants provided by limited service to luxury brands include:

Flex Space

In the past, most hotels had one or more hotel-run restaurants that served meals to guests and provided room service. There may have been a breakfast room with a buffet or light table service open early to mid-morning. There may have also been a separate restaurant for evening meals, open mid-afternoon through evening. A third space, likely a bar or lounge, would have more extended hours serving sandwiches and beverages from midday to late night. Today, this concept is being re-thought as space and energy efficiency take center stage throughout the hotel.

Reginald Archambault, General Manager of Philadelphia-based The Rittenhouse advises that, "The layout shouldn't be too trendy. It needs to be flexible, adaptable and malleable." At Lacroix, brunch stations are hosted in the kitchen by the cooks who prepared the dishes or diners can reserve a private table in the kitchen attended by the Executive Chef who customizes the menu based on the diners' individual preferences.

Hotel general managers and food service consultants alike agree that understanding guests' needs is paramount when planning the design or renovation of food and beverage spaces. It is essential that a restaurant has the ability to seamlessly transition from a breakfast area in the morning to a dining and cocktail area in the evening. The design is often achieved by strategically blending the lines between the hotel lobby and the restaurant. Additionally, this can be attained by modifying the light in the space to reflect the time of day and mood you want your guests to experience.

Privately Owned and Operated Restaurants

Celebrity chefs seem to be everywhere. Today, hotels are partnering with outside operators offering sought-after food to provide more options to their guests and local residents. Restaurateurs who lease space from hotels had once been viewed by hotels as "competition," but are currently being accepted and embraced as viable options that enhance the guest experience and boost the hotel's overall reputation.

When trying to attract restaurant tenants to a hotel, less is more. Restaurateurs leasing hotel space want the freedom and control to design the restaurant in accordance with their own brand and vision. But balancing the needs of a hotel's independently-operated restaurant with other internal food and beverage operations can be challenging.

Jon Rosky of Corsi Associates believes it's crucial that the restaurant be sized, built and operated to be truly independent. He says, "This requires more space than a restaurant supported by hotel infrastructure, which is often misunderstood. Of course, the independent must compliment the operation without hurting the hotel's bottom line. Hours, menu style, type of service, interior design and location must all be weighed heavily to create an integrated food and beverage offering that features the independent without overcoming the hotel."

Another important factor to consider when planning a space designed to attract an independent restaurateur is access to the public, which in urban settings means proximity to the sidewalk. Restaurants that are tucked away inside the interior of a hotel will most likely not reap the benefits of walk-ins and non-hotel guests.

Public Space

Individualized dining habits, restrictions, and needs mean that many people eat on the go or outside typical restaurant hours. At the same time, there is a very common trend towards publically-available Wi-Fi in hotels and the reinvention of hotel lobbies as living room-like spaces. Taken together, these provide opportunities to monetize lobbies with food service day and night. Converting lobby space into seamlessly integrated, informal lounges allows hotel owners and operators to take advantage of a space that was formerly used for basic guest check-in/out and transform it into a viable revenue source. It is important that the design of this space be contiguous and free-flowing without any discernible change from one area to the next. Blurring the lines between the lobby and an in-house food and beverage space is not only appealing to the guest, but also has a significant impact on the hotel's bottom line, as it provides a comfortable, quick and easy option to formal dining that many guests appreciate.

Jordan Cooper, General Manager at Sonesta in Philadelphia, believes that public space must be set up with a variety of options for guests in order for dining there to make sense. He said, "One way we have capitalized on this at Sonesta is by providing a variety of seating options, such as high tops and community tables, all of which are wired accordingly for electronic and/or lighting usage. Whether people are working while drinking wine, checking in while sipping coffee, or reading while eating ragout, the space needs to work for them."

Room Service

Trends in room service are perhaps the most difficult to define since they can be different depending on the setting. In the luxury segment, private in-room dining is demanded by those who are most interested in privacy and discretion. In mid-tier hotels, however, room service is on the decline, which may be the result of the availability of more dining options in other parts of the hotel, including the lobby, flex space, or independent restaurant.

Mr. Achambault, General Manager of the The Rittenhouse, which was recently recognized for its suite design by Elite Traveler, said, "Room service is a different animal in the luxury segment. The term 'room service' is really a misnomer because we focus on in-room dining and try to provide a restaurant experience for the guest in their own room, including the coursing of dishes when appropriate. Overall, people want comfort food via room service and prefer to make their own coffee rather than ordering it and paying a premium. To be considered a luxury hotel, you must offer a full array of hot and cold selections 24 hours a day. Limited service and upscale properties have moved away from offering overnight room service and many hotels who claim to have this amenity limit the offerings to the point where a guest cannot truly get what they want when they want it."

Mr. Rosky, a food service design consultant, has seen mid-level hotels take a different approach due to declining demand. "It requires typically long periods of time per guest with very low volume. However, hotels still must maintain a staff, so we have started to see an increase in different approaches to reducing the costs: limiting the hours of operation; creating self-branded, self-service options; or discontinuing room service altogether."

Regardless of the approach, a hotel's kitchen must be designed to meet it. As with the rest of the food service spaces in the hotel, the intention and business model must come before the design.

Carefully considering and planning your hotel dining options is paramount to guest satisfaction. Whether you are designing or renovating a transitional restaurant space, a hotel lobby lounge or a third-party operated restaurant within a hotel, allow for overall flexibility to adjust to continually changing trends, create spaces that function well for both dining and socializing and distinguish your design by incorporating local customs and trends.

Donna D. Lisle, Senior Associate and Doug Soehl, Design Staff contributed to this article.

Eric M. Rahe is a principal and member of the executive leadership team at BLT Architects. Eric’s thirty years of practice span the hospitality, residential, retail, commercial office, and educational sectors with a special focus on large-scale hospitality and resort projects. Mr. Rahe has led projects at more than 17 hotels, ranging from limited service hotels to large-scale, multi-billion dollar resorts. Having developed a strong interest in how the design process influences the success of each project and a passion for clarity in design and communication, Mr. Rahe has built a reputation for his analytical approach to understanding his clients’ needs and managing large and diverse teams. Mr. Rahe can be contacted at 215-563-3900 or hmt@blta.com Extended Bio...

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