Hilton Worldwide announced last week that it plans to open 500 new restaurants worldwide in the next three years. Up to a quarter of these will be within the company’s U.S. hotels.
Restaurant Management spoke to Beth Scott, vice president, food and beverage strategy and innovation, about plans for the stateside restaurants.
Why is now the time to be opening new restaurants?
For a long time it was “don’t spend” and now everybody is catching up. Plus we are building new hotels, and third party restaurant groups are now more interested in hotels as a way of growing their companies. Restaurant companies that wouldn’t look at non-traditional locations in the past are looking at them now—at hotels, airports, and schools, etc.
How will you select which hotels they go into?
As we’re building hotels, the new builds will receive new concepts. Also, hotels that are converting to any of our full-service or luxury brands – DoubleTree by Hilton, Embassy Suites, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts or Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts.
Will these restaurants be partnerships with existing restaurant concepts or unique restaurants to Hilton properties?
Many of them will be partnerships. For our luxury brands like the Conrad Hotels & Resorts and Waldorf-Astoria Hotels & Resorts there’s a desire to partner with celebrity chefs or higher end concepts.
But overall, some of the quick service concepts are appealing because of the way people want to eat now.
The rise of grab-and-go market concepts is huge—everyone’s got one now. Even the celebrity chefs are opening them including Mario Batalli and Cat Cora. People are on the move these days and don’t have time to sit down and have a meal. They want higher end grab-and-go.
Do you expect to have some hotels with only quick-serve or market concepts and no sit-down restaurant?
A quick serve probably wouldn’t replace a sit-down restaurant but it could, especially in a city where there’s a plethora of restaurants nearby.
Which brands are already signed up to work with Hilton?
We’ve got The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf signed up. They are expanding rapidly throughout the country. We’ve got Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, the Il Mulino group, and Michael Jordan’s restaurant group. We have about 20 concepts listed already.
These are groups that know how to operate in a hotel environment, which is great as sometimes they are the only restaurant in a hotel. Breakfast and room service are a key part so if they don’t understand the operating environment it becomes impossible to manage.
How do you learn what works in each of your different markets?
We spend a lot of time doing market studies, not just on hotels but also looking at what the local diners are looking for. We have a captive audience but we strive to build hotels that can stand on their own. So it’s a combination of what’s right for a hotel and the market that it’s going into.
What are some of the key trends in dining today that you hope to bring to Hilton properties?
Not wanting to sit down in the restaurant is key.
We are also looking at having our bars be more attractive for a drink and something to eat, especially for singles.
People want choice and that doesn’t necessarily have to mean five restaurants in the hotel but more that a restaurant can morph from day to night and feel comfortable and that people can come into our restaurant at any time of the day or night and feel comfortable.
Design is also extremely important, as people are more in tune to restaurant design because they eat out more. I have to give credit to these HGTV and Food Network shows because people are more interested in what’s out there.
People want to see their food and know it’s fresh.
The fascination with Asian food is going to stay around for a long time. It will probably migrate out into smaller regions of Asia. And I think probably [customers] will get more interested in Indian food.
I also think the healthy options trend will stay, especially in hotels, since some guests do seek to eat as they do at home.
And finally I think that healthy sourcing, farm to table, is not going to go away either. It’s the transparency trend. People want to know where their food came from and want to see it being cooked. Even packaging now has some component where you can actually see the food—it used to be in opaque wrappers but now it’s all in clear wrapping; people want to see what they’re buying, and I think that will continue.
Are you changing anything else about dining in Hilton restaurants?
I think we’ve started to change our mindset. [In the past] we’ve designed restaurants for breakfast first and lunch and dinner were an afterthought, rather than the other way around. If you make them breakfast destinations, it can put guests in the mindset of coming back to eat again later.
Have you done any research to discover what your clientele is interested in and if so, what has it revealed?
But did a huge project that talked to about 22,000 people about what they wanted and we did get some very good restaurant information.
People said they wanted healthy options; food that was relevant to the location they were at; they want quick options; they want choice.
By Amanda Baltazar
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