Made to order – food and beverage trends6 April 2017
Innovation, technology and personalisation are playing a greater role in the hotel dining experience, but that doesn’t mean the fundamental aspects of providing good food and beverage should be forgotten. Elly Earls meets three of Europe’s top F&B directors – Damien Largeau of Le Bristol, Hotel Eden’s Daniele Colombo, and Brett Hercock of Grosvenor House – to find out where the balance lies.
The way people travel is changing. Not only do they want to take in the sights, scenery and sounds of their chosen destination, but sampling the local cuisine has become a top priority too. And with so much information at their fingertips, thanks to the likes of Google and TripAdvisor, the hotel may not necessarily be their first port of call.
Despite being destinations in their own right, Europe’s top luxury properties have not been immune to such trends and are being forced to react to the changing demands of their increasingly informed clientele through a combination of innovation, technology, and a never-wavering focus on quality and service. Bringing in hotel and external guests to progressively more diverse F&B offerings is a challenge that continues to evolve, but the consensus among those who should know better than most, from London to Paris or Rome, is that hotel dining is absolutely not on the way out.
But travellers’ changing habits, particularly the pride they take in being plugged in and self-sufficient, do raise the question as to whether F&B is as central to the luxury hotel experience as was once the case. There, the answers vary.
While Damien Largeau of Le Bristol Paris doesn’t believe this is the case, noting that the property’s appeal for hotel and external guests comes equally from its comfort and luxury, and its excellent gastronomic reputation, it’s an issue to which Daniele Colombo of Hotel Eden in Rome, which will reopen in April following an extensive restoration, has given a lot of thought.
“The concept of travel has considerably changed throughout the past few years, and besides wandering around the city and admiring its beautiful landscapes, travellers are more interested in experiencing local and authentic food,” he says. “Prior to the closure of the Hotel Eden, I had personally noticed that our guests were getting increasingly curious about what is outside”.
For this reason, when one of Rome’s most iconic hotels reopens its doors in April, it will be with a new, improved F&B concept, spread over three different areas, which change throughout the day. “We wanted to enhance the guest experience, and offer a variety of food and drinks, as well as different ambiences,” Colombo explains.
Il Giardino Ristorante & Bar will be the most dynamic part of the F&B department, according to Colombo, and a ‘must visit’ for the hotel’s local clientele. “It starts early in the day with a rich buffet breakfast, followed by an all-day dining menu including Roman and Italian dishes, as well as a selection of sharing platters, tapas and pizza,” he notes.
“The informal and relaxed ambience of the day then transforms, and gets cool and vibrant in the evening, especially at aperitif time, with locals and travellers gathering with colleagues and friends while sipping a good cocktail, fine wines and premium spirits.”
Elsewhere in the hotel, La Terrazza, located on the same floor, specialises in Mediterranean dishes created from seasonal ingredients with a healthy, modern twist (during the hotel’s closure, the property’s Michelin-starred chef Fabio Ciervo studied nutrition, developing a personal culinary philosophy focused on art, well-being, innovation and healthy cooking techniques), while La Libreria is a relaxed yet sophisticated space where guests can enjoy listening to Italian classics during the day and live piano after dark.
The F&B concept was created while always keeping in mind the importance of attracting hotel guests and locals, and meeting both groups’ rapidly changing demands. “The role of the F&B director has changed,” Colombo believes. “We always have to come up with new ideas, to listen to our guests, anticipating their needs and desires, and search for new trends with the aim of offering them a new, exciting food and beverage experience.”
One of Colombo’s London counterparts, Brett Hercock, F&B director at Grosvenor House, where F&B revenue has grown consistently over the past five years, wholeheartedly agrees. “Guests are increasingly better informed and educated, and trends are changing more quickly, which means we need to have an interesting and continually evolving product offering,” he says.
“London is also increasingly competitive when it comes to dining out, so we’ve found it very important to keep critiquing our offering to make sure it’s relevant. We think that’s why we’ve continued to be successful.”
Some of the most successful elements of Grosvenor House’s F&B offering include the Bourbon Bar located in the popular JW Steakhouse, which boasts what Hercock and his team like to think is the best selection of bourbons in the city, including some prohibition-era varieties; and the Park Room, a space used for afternoon tea, à la carte options and cocktails, which was relaunched in Q2 2016, its new design celebrating the hotel’s heritage and taking inspiration from its proximity to Hyde Park.
The hotel has even worked with the Blackdown Distillery to create a bespoke brand of Serpentine Gin just for the Park Room, using botanicals found in and around Hyde Park.
For Colombo, this is just what innovation should look like in today’s F&B space. “You need to create a dialogue between your food and beverage concept, your location and the rich gastronomic heritage of the place, reinventing classic and traditional dishes with a new vibe and twist, in a modern and contemporary way,” he believes, offering a dish from his own property as an example.
“The signature dish of our award-winning chef Fabio – spaghetti with pecorino and Madagascan wild black pepper flavoured with rose buds – is his personal reinterpretation of traditional ‘pasta cacio and pepe’, only available at La Terrazza.”
Change of scene
Meanwhile, in Paris, Largeau, who sees the role of the F&B director as that of an orchestra conductor, working behind the scenes in order to ensure the various changing demands of his customers are met, while always supporting the property’s three-Michelin-starred head chef Eric Frechon, has introduced an increasing amount of personalisation to the dining experience.
“As we use a bespoke approach to guest relations – we leave a card in guest rooms – we can understand individual profiles. This means we accommodate specific allergies, preferences and can follow the individual ‘culinary culture’ of each person,” he explains, adding that this is always balanced with ensuring guests have new experiences when dining at Le Bristol.
“One example is that we are in the process of turning one of our salons into a space where guests can taste cognac. This will be a temporary set-up but will allow our guests the sort of education and experience that they may not have had before.”
The final key point Hercock is keen to emphasise is that the F&B director of today needs to be up-to-date with not only food and drink trends but also with the latest technologies. At Grosvenor House, which is known for its events and corporate dining, hosting events as prestigious as the Bafta Awards after party, this is particularly important. “F&B is still a huge part of delivering an excellent event, but we also have to think much more now about the technical infrastructure and connectivity,” he notes.
Technology also comes into play with bookings for restaurants (Grosvenor House has good relationships with Bookatable and Opentable, which have never been more important to the financial success of the property’s F&B outlets), pre-ordering for events (the hotel has a website where people can order beverages before they even arrive) and booking services for meetings. “People feel much more comfortable communicating through apps today,” Hercock says.
Time after time
Of course, there are some elements of the hotel F&B experience that will remain timeless, despite evolving trends and technologies. At Le Bristol, which boasts several restaurants including Michelin-starred luxury brasserie 114 Faubourg and three-Michelin-starred Epicure, signature dishes, such as the latter’s macaroni stuffed with truffle and artichokes, will forever remain on the menu. “These plates bolster the iconic reputation of each restaurant and make them timeless,” Largeau says.
More generally, the combination of high-quality ingredients and excellent customer service will never go out of style. “Customers have never been better educated; they understand what quality is,” Hercock stresses, adding that the JW Steakhouse is a perfect example of marrying quality and service.
“Since day one, we’ve been very busy and, fundamentally, the restaurant is just built around those two elements – really great core quality ingredients and great, warm customer service. I think sometimes we overcomplicate this business, but if you get those two things right, guests will come back time and again.”