Breakfast, Suite Breakfast
Hilton’s Homewood Suites brand has accumulated a number of J.D. Power & Associates awards for excellence in the 20 years it has been around. But the one area where Homewood Suites and the extended-stay hotel category in general were seldom receiving top marks, and the area J.D. Power said was ripe for improvement, was breakfast.
When the brand was born in 1989, one of Homewood Suites’ selling propositions was a fresh-baked continental breakfast. The idea was to have the homey aroma of hot-out-of-the-oven muffins and rolls wafting through the lobby every morning. Over the years, however, as its extended-stay brethren upped the ante, Homewood executives realized that serving a full hot breakfast was necessary to stay competitive.
Roy Johnson, Homewood’s senior director of product development, says the decision to launch a hot breakfast came largely from guest feedback—it was something they expected, and they wondered why it wasn’t available. So by 2003, it was. But vagaries in the guidelines left the new menu, sourcing of food products, and training methods open to interpretation and thus to inconsistency among the brand’s properties.
By 2007, Homewood Suites had begun developing a comprehensive breakfast concept that would offer flexibility combined with strict yet easy-to-follow standards.
“Given that we were opening 35 to 40 hotels a year,” Johnson says, “we knew we had to create a more consistent breakfast experience, as it has such a high impact on guest satisfaction levels.” So Johnson, along with consulting chef Adam Mickenberg, went on a road trip. Over the course of several months, the pair traveled to nearly 30 hotels across the country, each with a different owner, a different client demographic, and many with varying kitchen setups.
Johnson and Mickenberg realized the first step in the process needed to be the standardization of cooking equipment, so each hotel was required to have a small prep kitchen containing a convection oven, holding oven, chopper, and an induction burner for making omelets and other stovetopfriendly items. The total cost for the new appliances for each hotel was approximately $6,000.
Menu design was the next step. Since Homewood Suites is an extended-stay brand where guests tend to stay for a week or more, menu variety was key. Mickenberg developed a series of eight themed menus with names such as Canadian Maple Leaf, French Connection, Santa Fe Sunrise, and Orchard Eye Opener.
Each menu contains four categories of breakfast foods—eggs, meat, sides, and bakery items. There are several options within each category. Hoteliers offering the Canadian Maple Leaf breakfast could serve Canadian, smokehouse, or maple-peppered bacon, for example, while offering a side option of maple pecan oatmeal, hash browns, or potato pancakes. On French Connection days, guests can choose from swiss-and-chive scrambled eggs or quiche. The Farmers’ Market breakfast has a wide choice of baked goods, including croissants, Danish, turnovers, apple-cinnamon bread pudding, and blueberry bread pudding. Themes are traded out every day, and there is no repetition throughout each week.
All of the menus consist of several core items, making the purchasing list concise and cost-effective. While specific products have been pre-identified through food distributor Sysco, hoteliers can use other suppliers if they choose. However, Homewood and parent company Hilton have negotiated significant volume and price discounts with Sysco. The staffing requirements for Homewood’s breakfast include at least one dedicated breakfast attendant who comes in 60 to 90 minutes before opening to prepare the various items. When more than 55 to 60 suites are occupied, a second breakfast attendant is required.
For training staff members, Homewood developed a four-inch-thick binder of brand standards and recipes, and they provided staff with two-minute training podcasts on everything from handling the equipment to providing the proper service. The podcasts allow trainees to move around and look at equipment and ingredients while becoming familiar with the program. “The younger generation staff think it’s a really cool way to learn,” Johnson observes.
“The binders are spectacular and provide not only easy-to-follow recipe cards, but also tools and tips to handle any situation...like special guest demographics and how to adjust to any occupancy level,” explains Cindi Hasty of the Homewood Suites Pensacola (Florida) Airport. “Our team also used a hands-on Top Chef approach. To this day, when we want to try out new recipes, we will put a couple of teams together to experiment.”
According to Michael Berryman, general manager of San Antonio’s Homewood Suites North, the innovative training methods helped employees embrace the new breakfast almost immediately. “The biggest challenge for my employees is the fear of change; they get comfortable in their daily routine. Once we got the employees over the initial fear of change, everything else seemed easy and fun, and they enjoyed the challenge of cooking different items.”
Getting franchisees to abandon their fear of change was partially a matter of giving them a stake in the decision-making process, Berryman says. Several hotels, including his, were part of the initial testing period. “Our present breakfast offering has had a great deal of thought put into how and what the end product will be for our guests throughout the entire brand,” Berryman says. “I love the fact that the brand team considered the whole picture prior to implementing the concept. They gave us the tools and resources to implement it with consistency throughout the brand, which allows us to be successful at our jobs.”
Johnson says the brand realized the major goal of standardizing recipes, service times, and display equipment in July. The change, he says, “has really put our breakfast on a level playing field. In the future, when we modify any of the recipes or develop new ones, everyone will be able to execute them consistently across all of the hotels.”Laura Powell has covered the travel industry for nearly 20 years. She appears on television stations across the country as a travel expert and blogs at www.dailysuitcase.com.
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