Inside Track by Katherine Doggrell
The recent set of strong numbers unveiled by Malmaison Group underlines once again the importance of a strong food and beverage operation to upscale hotel businesses. Malmaison saw its food and beverage revenue rise by 16% to £15.5m for the six months ended December 2005. The strength of its restaurant offering is a key attraction to guests of Malmaison and Hotel Du Vin hotels - the group even offers wine tasting courses. Whether these boutique hotel concepts are actually restaurants with bedrooms, or hotels with a good food offer is a question of perspective. The key for Malmaison is establishing a restaurant in its own right – and not just relying on hotel guests for custom. Hotel owners know that guests are reluctant to stay in the hotel to eat. Hotels are, after all, largely a place to sleep and store luggage, while the guest gets on with the business of exploring a new region, visiting friends or passing time until that breakfast meeting. Unless your hotel is in an isolated location, or like Malmaison you operate a destination restaurant, chances are that your restaurant will not be fully booked of an evening. The budget sector has largely taken itself out of the F&B equation, but for those hotels which must have one, if not several, bars and restaurants, upgrading their offering is necessary if guests are going to spend more than the room rate. Just as the number and style of restaurants in the high street is multiplying and encouraging guests out of their rooms, so consumers are becoming more demanding of the food they eat in and out of the home. Research released from the British Retail Consortium found that in the last two years supermarkets have made healthy eating more attractive, affordable and convenient for consumers, with retailers committed to developing healthier products and clearer nutritional labelling. In the casual dining market, high street brands such as Leon, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Fresh Italy are answering consumers' calls for high quality, imaginative food, often following trends towards organic and GM-free ingredients. This is not mere fashion. Consumers will not go back to microwaved curries that have been held in deep freezes for months before being served with a sprig of parsley as garnish. The trials and tribulations of McDonald's serve as a warning to others that concerns over nutrition, perceived or real, must be addressed. Hotels are, if they are willing, in a strong position to benefit from these trends. Guests are already on site and most would happy to stay if the restaurant was, for example, showcasing regional specialities. Hotels are facing more demands from their guests, not only from F&B, but in areas such as technology and leisure. However, as the Malmaison Group has shown, get it right and you can be more than just a bed for the night. Malmaison has demonstrated its ability to replicate a high quality food offer but for others it may be time to buy in the expertise. The hotel sector could look to form partnerships with some of the surging eating out concepts in the UK, allowing them to provide a cutting edge F&B offer. It could also offer a fertile growth opportunity for restaurant brands while hotel groups can focus on the business of filling rooms.