Prior to March of 2020, I would have been very positive about the outlook for a trend that started emerging a few years back – the conversion of restaurants in full-service hotels into marketplaces. Now, I'd say I'm even more so.
A small pantry or grab-and-go area has long been the norm in the limited-service model. This paradigm based its lower rates and high profitability on a stealth staffing model, which didn't support a full-service restaurant. Therefore, in the past 20 years, we have seen the development of small grab-and-go areas.
Typically adjacent to the front desk, they offer a limited array of snacks and quick, frozen meals, but not usually a particularly healthy or curated selection. For the guest checking in, perhaps late in the day, to grab a frozen pizza or microwaveable mac 'n cheese, a pint of ice cream and a beer.
Jump forward to a few years back when Hilton launched its Herb N' Kitchen in its enormous property, New York Hilton Midtown, in New York City. Many wondered, why? Well, for start, there are costs. New York City hotels struggled to support the labor model in a union situation. Plus, the urban guest typically sought out a higher quality restaurant and, when in New York City, was looking for that "New York experience."
So, the restaurants became breakfast joints… very expensive breakfast joints. Herb N' Kitchen took the limited-service model but blew it out to a whole new level, offering options that celebrate the season they are in, make the most of fresh ingredients and deliver innovative dishes that wow guests.
It was just the beginning. In fact, Hilton and its sub-brand DoubleTree, which boasts another grab-and-go food concept, Made Market, are thriving in the current "since Covid" world. These concepts do well since they allow people the option to get prepared foods or snacks and then head outdoors, back to their rooms or wherever they feel most comfortable. In a fortunately timed conversion, another Hilton property which we were designing in Hartford, Connecticut, went from a full-service format to grab-and-go in 2019 as well (talk about timing!), allowing guests in this current environment to feel safe without having to sit at a table and being served.
Mid-pandemic, in August 2021 (we're certainly not out of the pandemic yet, sadly), the marketplace has become the most logical solution for most everyone in the hotel space, providing safe ways to dine and limit contact. As we've adapted in so many ways, wise hotel brands are doing the same, reexamining what "dining" looks like.
One word of caution, though, as hotels make big changes: don't get rid of the bar! Having spent the first part of my career designing clubs, bars and restaurants, I learned quickly that the money is in the booze, not in the food. Back to the Hilton Hartford, in our design for Herb n Kitchen we made very sure that the coffee and service counter transformed in the evening to a moody gathering place.
Sign of the Times
Now with Covid-19 presenting not only health and safety issues, but also staffing issues (who wants to wait tables when the new Amazon warehouse will pay someone more and provide other freedoms), the market is a hotel must-have. For instance, results of a survey from the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association found that 9 in 10 restaurants polled struggled to find enough workers to meet consumer demand.
Furthermore, over 85 percent of full-service restaurants closed early or limited hours of service to specific windows of the day due to inadequate staffing. These strains are not limited to restaurants outside hotels, nor to one state in particular, which means the marketplace solution is an eloquent answer to the challenges of today and the trends of tomorrow.
Solution to Scale
There's no one size solution, though. Success can be found from the super simple options to totally tricked out marketplaces. Size depends on the market, the number of rooms, and your staffing model.
A perfect example of two marketplaces that are highly different in scale, yet equally successful and well-received, can be found within the DoubleTree family. At the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Los Angeles – Commerce, located near popular tourist destinations Disneyland and Universal Studios, our firm converted the business center next to the reception desk into a smaller scale Made Market of approximately 150 feet. In contrast, we designed the same branded market for the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Paradise Valley – Scottsdale, but morphed it into a spacious, nearly 1,200-square-foot marketplace.
There are a few hotels with options worth noting and learning from, beyond the aforementioned Herb N' Kitchen in New York City and beyond. The marketplace I briefly mentioned above, Made Market at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Paradise Valley - Scottdale, in Arizona, hits the mark because it allows a guest to enjoy a piping hot cup of Starbucks coffee or a latte in the morning, grab a fresh bagel or Danish, a quick sandwich, salad, and beverage if they are on the run and more, all without needing to sit down at its restaurant.
On the independent front, the Loyal Duke Lodge in Salida, Colorado, a hotel I'm one of the owners of and which was a Super 8 in its former life, boasts a market themed at grab-and-go options for outdoor sports enthusiasts, showing an understanding of its target market, guests and their needs. The Loyal Duke Lodge attracts hikers in solid numbers, so stocking breakfast burritos made by a local woman so guests can power up before they lace up and head out is a winning option.
Another marketplace worth noting is the Hotel Indigo® Traverse City, an IHG hotel in Michigan that touts "the great outdoors with an urban edge". The hotel's general manager does a great job stocking its pantry with local foods that feel on point with the location and exciting to out of town travelers.
On the higher end of the marketplace is a hotel I recently visited and was wowed by, the Hyatt Regency JFK International Airport at Resorts World New York City. Located in Queens, New York, and notably the site of New York City's only casino, the hotel features what is rightly called "The Market," a posh little coffee bar and grab-and-go area just off the lobby area. It's an elevated experience that is in line with this new luxury property, and provides a nice respite and alternative to the hustle and bustle of the casino and it's 6,500 slot machines and electronic table games. Who would have thought that this metamorphosis would have happened at the old aqueduct racetrack in the shadow of JFK?