Mr. Wilson

Food & Beverage

Four Keys to Installing a New Hotel Restaurant

By Jonathan Wilson, VP Product Innovation & Brand Services, Hilton Worldwide

As hospitality professionals with nearly 5,000 hotels worldwide, we are always looking for ways to be more efficient, effective and cutting edge. It's what our guests expect from us, and it's what gives each hotel a competitive advantage. For us at Hilton, that means making traveling easier and frankly, more enjoyable, with our smart design, authentic hospitality, and innovative restaurant concepts. We know food and drink is an important part of any visit, so we set about imagining how we could help owners deliver creative restaurants efficiently and effectively and drive loyalty and repeat guests.

Last year, the team launched Hilton's Food & Beverage (F&B) Portfolio, an online platform that highlights restaurant concepts to current or potential owners. It started with the realization that we have exceptional concepts, but we could do more to ensure our owners and operators have the right concept for their hotels and the right tools to bring the ideas to market. We created the portfolio to house our concepts and be a comprehensive free tool for both the decision and implementation stage. We're proud of how valuable it is for everyone involved, especially owners. It allows them to get the look and feel for a design narrative before committing, as well as access everything from training materials to owner guides, kitchen designs and menus, all in one place. There's even a financial modeling tool that helps developers assess scaling options and ROI of various concepts over different time periods. With building the portfolio, there were some challenges and, more importantly, many lessons learned that will help any hospitality professional enhance their F&B offering, improve guest experience and drive revenue.

Here are our top four lessons:

1. Make it Digital, Make it Easy

We've been creating great restaurant concepts at Hilton for years, but the wealth of information lived on people's computers and in slideshows, making it hard to update and stay current. Historically, each and every restaurant concept was bespoke, meaning that every time a hotel was built or redeveloped, we created concepts from scratch. The intent was good, but the strategy was not sustainable. Not only does starting from scratch take substantially more time, it also makes it harder for any hospitality brand, Hilton included, to define who they are and consistently and credibly make their mark.

We knew we needed to modernize our concept process. What is the best way to optimize and streamline the process? Make it digital. Now, our online tool brings the food and beverage prototype concepts that we expect to be successful across a number of properties to owners in an innovative way. By creating a portfolio that is free and accessible anywhere, anytime, there is much greater ease of access and communications between internal concept teams and the owners that they work with. This upgraded technology benefits in-person interactions, as teams can look through the digital library together to see the restaurant prototypes that have already been vetted and developed through extensive market research and trendspotting. Training materials, owner guides, kitchen designs, menus and even Team Member uniforms are all built into every concept.

Convenient? You bet. In this day and age, where business is fast-paced and digital, it makes sense for your F&B portfolio offerings to be, as well.

2. It's a Big World - So Bring a Global Team

To reflect the needs of a global consumer base, you need to think and work globally. Creating a worldwide portfolio requires a team that reflects a wide breadth of cultural expertise and international experience. For instance, we have team members based globally from Singapore, to the United States, the UK and the Middle East. The team creates region-specific concepts based on the fundamental differences and expectations in each location. In Asia Pacific, focus hinges on design: What will it physically look like? Who is the interior designer? In America, consumers care most about the food that is hitting the table, the mixologists, sommeliers and service. In Europe, heritage plays a large role so our concept team look to the rich culture and history of the region. Developing concepts that can look wildly different based on the region and country where they will operate helps create a local nuance that guests look for and appreciate.

No large-scale project comes to fruition without collaboration and teamwork, and the sheer number of team members dedicated to the success of our F&B portfolio underscores the importance of integrated teams. In fact, when we first launched the portfolio, we made sure to include the entire team, meaning every single employee, company-wide. We hosted workshops and webinars to walk everyone through the content, showing them how to use the tool and generating buy in from all levels. Offering food tastings across our corporate offices to celebrate the launch didn't hurt!

I strongly believe that the more team members that are invested in a project, the greater chance of success - and less likelihood that any crucial detail is forgotten or falls by the wayside.

3. No Detail is Too Small

A catalog of prototypes is only as good as the prototypes themselves. Consumers' preferences for food and beverage as an experience is growing - and making sure that offerings deliver is critical.

First and foremost, the power of market research cannot be underestimated, it helps teams learn the current food and beverage trends, and enables them to make educated guesses as to what the next trends could be or even to lead the way and be at the forefront of new trends. This is essential when working in an industry where there could be several years lag between selecting a concept and opening the doors to guests. We've found that moving away from generic concepts and focusing on unique details of a restaurant concept bolsters its usability. This may seem counter-intuitive. Your instinct might be that the concepts need to be universal, but in reality, the more detailed your concept is, the closer you get to something that guests will remember, revisit and recommend. We're offering 'plug and play' solutions though that doesn't mean they have to be vanilla.

For instance, our concept team set out to make something special in the seafood space. Instead of designing a generic restaurant, we've created a restaurant prototype based on the life of Ernest Hemingway. Even the name, Pilar, is based on the name of Hemingway's favorite boat. I'm hoping that the first Pilar opens in Key West, Florida, where he spent much of his life. Another example are bars - rather than one-size fits all we have lifestyle, urban, resort and rooftop solutions.

4. Happy Guests, Happy Owners

Ultimately, owners are happy when their guests are happy. When you can show an owner a great restaurant concept, what you're really showing them is a great solution. When we suggest a concept, owners know that we are going to support and ensure its success. We ensure speed to market by providing all the details needed for operators from menu design to ordering equipment to training plans. Operators can even order directly from the mobile enabled portfolio website. The fact that we can offer and deliver a complete solution has proven extremely welcome. And, our development team is knowledgeable and nimble enough to pivot and offer alternative solutions if owners aren't completely satisfied. An owner loves a concept but wants to use a different name? No problem. It's a luxury property so requires a bespoke restaurant solution? We'll create a one of a kind experience.

Some value adds are hard to quantify, like the reduced number of headaches. But others are easier, like the amount of money owners typically spend on collateral and branding when they build a new restaurant or bar themselves. Even a relatively small-scale item like a prepared menu helps make owners' lives easier. Restaurant concepts get even trickier for owners who are building two new hotels in the same city. We can provide them with different concepts for the two hotels - and explain why one should have an Italian restaurant and the other should have a sushi spot. It's all about being easier to do business with, with the know-how to back it up.

In terms of quantifiable value, the financial modeling tool our feasibility team built enables developers to plug in details about a specific hotel or hotel design, and then see an estimated return on investment. This feature has proven extremely useful in helping owners understand the benefits of the portfolio, too.

I'll be the first to admit that creating an effective, efficient and edgy solution for owners that delivers innovative F&B concepts in a way that is accessible to them is not always easy, but it is the right thing to do if we want to stay relevant for guests. Currently, we have nine restaurant and bar concepts ranging from gourmet takeaway markets, Chinese cuisine, lively Eastern Mediterranean to noodles and dumplings, and expect to offer 15 concepts by the end of the year. We'll also look to develop the portfolio tool for spa and gym concepts, too. In the meantime, these key learnings from developing our portfolio are invaluable to our business and your business. Going digital, building the right global team, moving toward detailed designs, and showing owners the value helped us successfully launch the portfolio - and provides a helpful playbook for anyone who wants to innovate in the hospitality space.

Jonathan Wilson leads a team that provides global product innovation and brand definition in food and beverage, spa and wellness, rooms division, and meeting and public spaces for 14 worldwide brands. He is responsible for the development of strategic opportunities through creative partner solutions. Prior to Joining Hilton Worldwide Mr. Wilson spent 15 years at Princess Cruises as vice president of the guest food and beverage experience, product development and hotel analysis. He was responsible for guiding product development in the areas of culinary, dining and beverage services, through new-build initiatives, revitalization efforts, capital expenditure, crew engagement and product relevance of Asia source markets. Mr. Wilson can be contacted at 703-883-1000 or jonathan.wilson@hilton.com Please visit http://www.hilton.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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