Hotels pretty much had to reinvent food and beverage service during the pandemic just to stay afloat. Now some of Marriott’s best reinventions have become permanent, driving menu and service trends at the hotel chain.
One of the biggest disruptors on the bar side is the rise of spirit-free and low alcohol cocktails, said Dana Pellicano, VP Food + Beverage, Global Operations for Marriott International. “People are eager to socialize again but are looking for ways to join the fun without overdoing it,” she said. “Hotel guests are ordering these more often.”
Spirit brands are responding with better quality nonalcoholic choices and bartenders are getting more creative mixing up drinks that are close facsimiles of their boozy counterparts.
Ready-to-drink (RTD) bottled and canned cocktails, a pandemic necessity, are also here to stay.
“This is one of the fastest growing spirits categories, increasing 185% year-over-year,” said Pellicano, attributing that growth to the big brands, like Bacardi and Ketel One.
During a recent visit to Walt Disney World’s Swan and Dolphin in Orlando, she noticed the grab-and-go retail spaces packed with hermetically sealed, ready-to-drink cocktails. “There were three rows of branded canned cocktails, including gin and tonics, negronis and margaritas,” Pellicano said. “Consumers are still gravitating toward known brands and safety.”
Like the alcohol-free drinks, these RTD cocktails have greatly improved in flavor and quality.
Takeout meals and contactless service are going gangbusters at hotels and see no sign of slowing down. Marriott started reinventing room service five years ago, moving from traditional trays in full-service, non-luxury branded hotels to a bagged option exchanged at the door or packed for pickup in the hotel lobby. The pandemic accelerated this trend, and more hotels in the brand migrated to this format last year, offering food that boxes and travels well, at prices more in sync with today’s customer expectations.
Hotel guests can place mobile orders for food delivery to their rooms all day long. Piggybacking on the digital ordering trend, Marriott teamed up with Uber Eats to provide hotel loyalty members points even when they’re not traveling.
Customers who link their Marriott Bonvoy account and Uber account in the Uber app start earning points on transactions for both food and rides. The points can be redeemed for free nights at Marriott hotels and home rentals.
Onsite hotel restaurants are also offering streamlined menus. “There’s absolutely a shrinkage of menus,” said Pellicano. “We’ve pared back to the top sellers and the food is more reflective of what people want to eat.”
Now that meetings and events are again being booked at hotels, what and how are attendees eating?
A recent Marriott survey revealed that 72% of guests would eat from a buffet again—a surprise to many in the industry.
“The hotel buffet is not dead,” said Pellicano. “It’s like a cat that has nine lives.”
She attributes this to the fact that Covid is not a foodborne illness. Nevertheless, there’s still a need for guests to distance and not share serving utensils. “Buffets are efficient and can feed a lot of people at once,” Pellicano said. “And now many conferences and conventions are fully-vaccinated meetings. Whole groups have gone back to meetings like it’s 2019.”
That said, it’s all about giving people choices. “There are always groups that prefer grab-and-go foodservice and outdoor feeding spaces.”