Creating a desirable destination is the name of the game in the world of hotel food and beverage.
The food and drink have to be on point, it has to be trend aware with the high-quality service expected of a hotel stay; and it needs to have the draw to pull in both overnight guests and local residents alike.
The days of identikit restaurants serving the same food day in day out for breakfast, lunch and dinner are over. The high street has moved on, and so hotels have to as well.
“During the last 20 years, there was this massive shift away from really good-quality restaurants that have their own personality within hotels,” says Euan McGlashan, co-founder and managing partner of hotel management group Valor Hospitality Europe.
“For a long time they were offering the proverbial rubber chicken; terrible food to the point where people didn’t really think of the hotel restaurant as an option and guests would always go out.”
Managing 17 hotels across the UK, including DoubleTree by Hilton and Crowne Plaza properties, Valor has continued to grow its excellent reputation in the US for shaking up hotels and delivering quality service and F&B.
After recognising an industry-wide problem in hotel F&B offerings when watching guests leave hotels to eat at nearby restaurants, Valor has recently established a global F&B team to deliver innovative dining concepts in the UK and internationally.
It has already created concepts such as The Lock at the DoubleTree by Hilton Leeds and Store Street Exchange at DoubleTree by Hilton Manchester, both of which are now popular with guests and locals alike and have a voice separate to the hotels.
A former executive chef from Scotland, McGlashan has a wealth of F&B experience and is a firm believer that hotels need a quality offer.
“The analogy that I often give is that if you take a hotel in ‘anywheresville’, with a bright restaurant, with cheap furniture, average food and poor service, then the guests will walk out the front door,” he says.
“They might go to the local sports bar, where the food might not be much different, but the lights are down and they do a burger and nice draught beer. Your guests will give their F&B pounds to that establishment. That drives me insane.”
Whether it is themed, or perhaps has a focus on cocktails or is even based on food from Timbuktu, there has to be a hook; something to pull in guests off the street as well as keep resident guests dining in-house.
“It is absolutely critical,” says McGlashan. “What do guests do during their time at your hotel? They sleep and shower. After that they either eat and drink with you and have a good time, or they go out and give that revenue to somebody else.
“So, our view is ‘why don’t we keep them with us by offering an amazing service experience where they don’t want to leave and give them a product that they are actually looking for?”
The Valor F&B team includes global culinary director Matt Gray, the former executive chef of the famous Inverlochy Castle Hotel, Fort William, Scotland, where he held a Michelin star for nine consecutive years before moving on to work for world-renowned French chef Albert Roux at his first American restaurant, Chez Roux at La Torretta Lake Resort and Spa in Houston, Texas.
Global F&B director is Leigh Allan, who is global F&B director, who has held leadership roles in some of England’s most well-known and respected hotels, including The Savoy, The Dorchester and Claridge’s.
“We create our own concepts, themes, kitchen designs, bar designs and training programmes and we work with our vendors on uniforms and collateral, PR and media,” says McGlashan. “We are a true full-service restaurant company now as well as hotels.”
Valor is continuing to work with high-profile brands in the US including Hilton Curio, InterContinental and many more, but central Europe and the UK are very much on the radar after successful creations in Manchester and Leeds.
“We will continue to look for opportunities where we can come in and bring some of our design and development magic, whether it’s a rebranding, repositioning or renovation opportunity,” explains McGlashan
So how does Valor go about choosing the right hotels to manage? Well, location is key.
“The quality and brand of the hotel, where it sits relative to other restaurants, and where it sits in the market, would all be deciding factors,” he says.
“But it is all about where the hotel fits, geographically.”
McGlashan divides hotels into two general categories, either on the high street, or in a more remote location.
“If it’s on the high street and it has outside entrances, then let’s create a high street, retail restaurant concept and effectively not think of it as a hotel restaurant; design it, plan it and staff it as a high street retail restaurant,” he says.
“I am a big believer that if you are in a high street, retail location and your goal is to bring outside guests in, then you should be automatically driving guest capture at your front desk.
“When a guest comes to check in you can say ‘hey, if you want to eat in a really good restaurant, look no further than here, in our property – and would you like me to make you a reservation?’.
“Hotels being able to do that in one of the better restaurants in the area is great for customers as they no longer need to worry about where to go for dinner.”
In hotels that are a little more remote, there is a great
opportunity to capture guests with an F&B offer, but it does change the mindset, as McGlashan explains.
“You’re no longer really trying to drive locals in, but you are still trying to create a desirable concept that the guests are going to want to stay in,” he says.
“We try to think how the guests think and that has helped us be successful with this.
For most travellers who are going to a city they don’t know or understand, especially if they are by themselves or on business, it can be quite an anxious or disconcerting moment to go to a front desk and get a recommendation.
“It is nice to be able to walk downstairs and enjoy a nice meal and drinks without having to leave the
building, so we need to offer that.”
McGlashan is also keen to change the culture of business travellers, encouraging them to move away from room service and take dinner and drinks in public spaces.
“We try to create different seating codes, with lounge seats and sofas and quiet corners for people. They can’t be intimidating or make people feel self-conscious. They need to be a comfortable environment,” he says.
“No one wants to have to stay in their room and order, but the old hotel restaurants used to force you to do that because you felt like a spare part sitting there in an empty restaurant.”
But while the location might be right, the clientele might be right, and the brand might be right, not all hotel designs offer the all-important street-facing entrance for their restaurants and some don’t even have F&B offers on the ground floor. So, would Valor take them on?
“If we take over a property from an owner and they are looking to renovate, reposition and spend some money on it, we go in with a very eyes-wide-open view – there’s no preconceived ideas,” says McGlashan.
“Often it could be a very simple case of moving a couple of walls or flipping a couple of spaces.
“We have done it on a few occasions where we have walked into a hotel, where everything is very linear, with corridors and small spaces. We will blow open the walls and create this really open lobby where the guest check-in is right next to a new bar.
“Just as simple a thing as that can drive F&B revenue up.”
Following the success of the Store Street Exchange and Store Street Craft Bar in Manchester, as well as the Recess concept at three Hilton Garden Inn properties, Valor is considering rolling out the designs to further hotels. But while the concepts are similar, the food and drink within them differs from venue to venue.
“For example, we don’t just look at the drinks that everyone else is doing on tap, we like to use local,” says McGlashan. “We use a lot of local craft ales and we look at local soft drink and soda, and tonic providers with really interesting flavours.
“We take the view that if we make our guests comfortable, then they don’t have to ask what is around because one of the best restaurants in the city is right there in their hotel. At the same time, we want to get locals thinking about hotels as a dining destination again.
“While we set the restaurants up with their own websites, using the OpenTable reservation system, everything is done with the view that if we wanted to re-create it, we could.”
CONCEPT 1: THE LOCK BAR & KITCHEN, LEEDS
The Lock Kitchen & Bar at the DoubleTree by Hilton Leeds has officially opened on the historic Leeds and Liverpool Canal following a redesign of the former City Cafe.
Located on the ground floor of the hotel at Granary Wharf, where Leeds’ famous canal culminates, it serves hearty, down-to-earth food in a casual and comfortable environment.
Offering freshly prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner options, the rustic kitchen menu features comfort food with a twist, using locally-sourced produce to create exceptional dishes including fresh deli sandwiches aimed at local workers.
Guests can navigate their way through hand-selected ales, cocktails, wines and soft drinks, with help from the venue’s knowledgeable staff.
The refurbishment also extends to the outdoor waterside terrace, while the hotel is also home to rooftop bar Sky Lounge, which also underwent a major refurbishment last year. The 13th-floor venue offers metropolitan glamour and elegance with an outdoor terrace and unrivalled views of the city.
CONCEPT 2: STORE STREET EXCHANGE & STORE STREET CRAFT BAR, MANCHESTER
Store Street Exchange and Store Street Craft Bar was created at DoubleTree by Hilton Manchester in September 2017.
Situated on the ground floor of the hotel, it is inspired by Manchester’s industrial heritage, offering a ‘breakfast through to dinner’ restaurant with a focus on local suppliers and uncomplicated food and drink. The menu centres on the rotisserie and grill, from which the best regionally sourced chicken and steaks will be served.
High-quality ingredients are used to create simple but unique dining experiences – sharing or solo dining. Guests can order a ‘whole bird’ with all the trimmings, steak cooked their favourite way, simple salads, fresh breads, quick bites and fine puddings.
The environment is relaxed and informal, with a variety of different seating areas and places to hang out, including semi-private dining options and mini-meeting spaces as well as its outdoor terrace.
Store Street Craft Bar is a stand-alone drinks venue with a focus on craft beers and cocktails, including plenty from Manchester’s own fabulous breweries and microbreweries.
The bar has a separate entrance from London Road and its own outdoor seating area.