5 Ways Hotels Are Courting Food Lovers

With upgraded dining options and innovative services, hotels are aiming to appeal to traveling gourmands.

U.S. News & World Report

5 Ways Hotels Are Courting Food Lovers

breakfast in bed

From creative minibar selections to giving travelers the chance to order room service via emoji, hotels are responding to travelers' changing appetites.
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Remember dressing for an upscale meal at the hotel restaurant or calling the front desk to order a soda off the in-room dining menu? Times – and travelers – are changing with a rapidly growing millennial travel population demanding more hotel food and dining options.

"What the customer is really asking for is more choice and control in their experience," says Jim Holthouser, executive vice president of global brands for Hilton Worldwide. Hilton, and many leading hotel chains are responding in innovative ways to guests' ever-evolving eating expectations. Here are five trends to watch in 2016.

On-the-Go Dining

To serve harried travelers, both boutique properties and larger hotel chains have embraced the concept of the in-hotel marketplace, which offers a faster and more relaxed dining experience. Often replacing or serving as an addition to the traditional gift shop, these convenient stores sell drinks, freshly-made sandwiches and salads as well as snack items to quickly take back to your room.

"Guests can stock up on food items at prices they would find at their local grocery store versus overpriced items typically found in hotels," explains Ralph Grippo, president of resort properties for the Irvine Company. The company has added markets at all three of its hotel properties, including the Hotel Irvine in Irvine, California. The 3000-square-foot market there has been already become a hit among guests. "We can't imagine a hotel without such an amenity," says Jeroen Quint, the Hotel Irvine's general manager. "The impact our marketplace has had on our guests and the positive feedback we have garnered … has been astounding," he says.

Hilton recently debuted similar Herb N' Kitchen grab-and-go markets at four of its properties, with menus tailored around local seasonal ingredients and stations that allow guests to customize meals with extras, such as added veggies or special sauces. "We underestimated the demand for it," Holthouser says, pointing out that there are often long lines at the markets. "We're tapping into something that is really important," he adds.

Hyatt also introduced the market concept at several of its properties in downtown Chicago, Minneapolis and Atlanta, serving smoothies, pastries, sandwiches, soups, trail mix and other items for guests on the go. Meanwhile, Marriott's Moxy properties feature a 24-hour cafe with grab-and-go items for sale.

Revamped Room Service

The days of white-gloved room service, awkward trays left in hallways and contemplating the appropriate amount to tip the dining staff are on their way out. Take the ACME Hotel Company in Chicago, which has pioneered a new style of room service called Knock & Drop that lets guests order food and have it delivered in a brown paper bag with a simple knock at the door. No searching for money for gratuity required.

Hilton is following suit with its delivery service from Herb N' Kitchen. "Our guests have demonstrated over the last few years, through a steady and continuous decline in the use of room service, that they are seeking an alternative to the traditional in-room dining experience," Holthouser says. "Guests still enjoy the convenience of being able to dine in-room, but not every guest is looking for the white table cloth, formal set-up experience," he adds.

Properties like Hotel Irvine as well as major brands like Conrad Hotels & Resorts now allow guests to order room service via texting and mobile apps. Meanwhile, Aloft Hotels' Financial District outpost has made ordering room service both simple and fun with their emoji-only room service menu. Using a series of existing emojis on their smartphones, guests can text specific emoji combinations along with their room number to a designated number to have kits with items, such as toiletries, phone chargers or snacks delivered to their room. Currently, emoji requests are only available at the Aloft's downtown Manhattan property, but soon the service will be available at Aloft properties in Europe and Asia.

The Evolution of the Minibar

For cost-conscious guests who are no longer willing to shell out big bucks for a soda and peanuts, minibars are evolving into a more useful and affordable amenity. ACME Hotel Company's Chicago property, for example, does offer an in-room minibar, but rather grocery store prices for in-room sodas and snacks. And at Laguna Beach House in Southern California, minibars are no longer offering standard fare. Instead, guests can purchase quirky items like underwater cameras, beach blankets and games, portable speakers and even Pop Rocks and Pez dispensers.

Some hotels, like the new Conrad Chicago, which will open this spring, are dropping their minibar entirely to give guests extra fridge space. At the Irvine Company's resort properties, including Island Hotel and The Resort at Pelican Hill in Orange County, California, the in-house fresh market is intended to replace minibars, allowing guests to purchase local goods at the market and store it in their in-room refrigerator.

Going Local

These days, more travelers are looking for bespoke and curated experiences. "Guests want personalization and passionate service," says Gordon Taylor III, director of sales and marketing for the Conrad Chicago, pointing out that customers are looking for a sense of place. At this property, guests wake up and know they are in Chicago and not feel like they could be in any city, he says.

This expectation extends to hotel dining as well, with properties incorporating fresh, local ingredients into their culinary offerings. At Sheraton properties, for example, guests can stop by the lobby bar as part of the Sheraton Paired program to taste small globally inspired plates coupled with local craft beers and the Sheraton Selects premium wine menu. "Sheraton guests crave new and personalized experiences, and when they travel, they look to create these opportunities," says Dave Marr, global brand leader for Sheraton Hotels & Resorts.

Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts, which opened its first hotel in Paris, offers traditional French éclair pastries at all of its properties across the globe, but have special locally-influenced éclair varieties to reflect the character and gastronomic influences of its diverse locations. For example, guests can order the Coffee-Chicory Éclair in New Orleans, the Darjeeling-Jaggery Éclair in New Delhi or the Texas Honey Pecan Éclair in Dallas – all created by pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini.

Healthier Alternatives

Health-conscious consumers are demanding nutritious dining choices while traveling. Nowadays, it's common to find complimentary yogurt, granola and fresh fruit breakfast offerings alongside sugary cereals and waffles. For example, the Hampton brand, an extension of the Hilton Worldwide, has removed all trans fats and almost all high-fructose corn syrup from its breakfast offerings. Meanwhile, DoubleTree by Hilton's Made Market, a contemporary restaurant, focuses on freshly-prepared meals made from healthy ingredients. And a rising number of properties around the globe, such as San Diego's Hotel del Coronado, have started sourcing fresh ingredients from on-site herb gardens. The Del's beachfront herb garden produces more than 25 varieties of plants, including fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs for dishes prepared at its eclectic restaurants.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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