On April 10, 2020 the Boutique Lifestyle Leaders Association gathered key leaders in the food & beverage space to convene and discuss with our global community insights into what is happening amid the pandemic. The experts included:
Julia Heyer, Managing Director, Heyer Performance
Jody Pennette, Founder & CEO, cb5 Hospitality Consulting
Steven Kamali, Founder, Hospitality House
Jay Coldren, Managing Director, Streetsense
The session was moderated by David Klemt, F&B Editor and Content Creator for the hospitality industry.
As the COVID-19 pandemic reaches a peak worldwide, businesses of all types are re-evaluating the extent to which client contact will continue to affect the safety of continuing operations moving forward. For the boutique industry, food and beverage operations are a key component of these questions. Once a crucial part of maintaining the essential boutique feel, the value of food and beverage has been challenged by the current pandemic, leaving its place in the boutique sector uncertain.
After an initial triage stage, most experts agree that the majority of hotel-based food and beverage has shut down. Julia Heyer, President of Heyer Performance does note that while a few remain open, they’ve mostly transitioned to curbside takeout or delivery. She says, “there’s been a great deal of innovation as restaurants look to add things like grocery takeaway, family-style whole dinner baskets complete with alcoholic beverages, and more depending on the area they’re in.”
Steven Kamali agrees, citing that “25 or perhaps even 50% of restaurants will remain closed on a permanent basis and diversification of cuisine types, delivery, and takeout will be crucial for everyone else’s survival.” Kamali suggests that experiments with ghost or cloud kitchens could be a way for hotel and standalone restaurants to continue to provide food and beverage moving forward. “We think that in-room dining is going to have quite a revolution.”
Diversification Meets Boutique
In particular, Jay Coldren, Managing Director of Streetsense, highlights the opportunity for ghost kitchens to also introduce the concept of food retail, allowing clients to shop for food items from the room during the hotel experience – a concept quickly expounded upon by Kamali. “We’re considering the benefits of a grab-and-go meal-building concept into boutique hotel spaces, as an addition to traditional in-room service and the current delivery offerings.”
Jody Pennette, founder and CEO or cb5 Hospitality Consultants, stresses that “if it is done to retain the asset that is the staff of a boutique hotel, it’s certainly worthy to try everything.” However, both Pennette and Heyer stress that among all this innovation, boutique spaces still need to feel creative, experiential, and safe. “How boutique manages to merge these components and stay boutique is key to survival.”
Safety in Design Is Crucial for Reopening
As the surviving hotel industry – and the associated food and beverage divisions – prepare to begin reopening, proceeding with as much transparency as possible will help guests feel comfortable with the way their food and beverages are prepared. Coldren mentions that “technological innovations, such as a live feed to the kitchen or testing and temperature scanning upon entry, can help guests achieve a level of safety and comfort.” Heyer takes a different approach, believing that design will play a larger part in both helping dining areas feel spacious and clean, and providing glimpses into an open kitchen for the ultimate transparency in food preparation.
“Space will become luxury”, stresses Heyer, “and people are thinking twice about entering high-density spaces.” Kamali agrees, citing his anticipation that tertiary markets will rebound quicker than crowded pandemic hotspots. “The key,” he says, “is that rural and tertiary markets hosting a boutique, resort-like getaway people can drive to rather than fly, will gain a lot of business after restrictions lessen and before the airlines make a recovery.”
Financial and Personnel Implications
To approach the imminent reopening of the hotel industry and especially the associated food and beverage components, hoteliers and restaurant managers alike must maintain current staffing levels or begin to rehire staff lost when food and beverage operations were forced to close. Unfortunately, the slow ramp-up to reopening could wind up costing valuable employees. “Many employees may find job opportunities elsewhere while they’re waiting for food service jobs to return,” she says, putting an added strain on employers looking to retain the staff they had prior to the pandemic.
In addition, the boutique industry is also subject to the restrictive language included in the PPP and stimulus packages. These packages include funding for small businesses for very specific sets of expenses, but after funding is used for the initial three months of operations, many establishments could struggle moving forward. In an effort to keep operations afloat while regulations keep densities low and prevent access to on-premises fine dining, Kameli mentions that “businesses must focus on volume, not check average. Consider adding an all-day component to your services to keep revenue flowing in until full-service dining returns.”
As food and beverage – as well as the boutique industry as a whole – anticipate the eventual reopening of the travel sector, innovation remains crucial. However, it’s important above all else that boutique remains the unique, luxury experience guests have come to expect, even as the industry develops its new normal. By maintaining boutique culture, together, we can stay #BoutiqueStrong.