The new "a.m. Kitchen Skillet" program at Hyatt Place, featuring freshly made hot breakfast sandwiches served from homey iron skillets, has been winning rave reviews from guests. Since the a.m. Kitchen Skillet rollout in 2012 to the 170 Hyatt Place locations, guest satisfaction scores "have risen into the double digits compared to this time last year. The early read has been exceptionally positive," says Chris Walker, vice president of brands for Hyatt Place and Hyatt House. "On the question of food variety, scores have virtually doubled—a huge improvement."
"We're also finding that more guests are taking the time to write specific comments about breakfast—something we rarely saw with the previous breakfast program," adds Jerry Evans, general manager at Hyatt Place Lombard (Illinois). "A lot of times they'll write to thank us for customizing sandwiches for them or bringing out something special."
Creating the Program
The program was in the works for close to two years. "In 2010, Hyatt Place guest feedback showed that breakfast was an area where we could do a better job on delivering," Walker says. Their first attempt, at made-to-order breakfasts, proved too successful.
"We designated several beta hotels and tried doing omelets and eggs made to order," says VP of Operations Michael Koffler. "That test was killed in 90 days—we couldn't keep up with demand. Then we began thinking about sandwiches, which was something we could produce with existing kitchen equipment."
The a.m. Kitchen Skillet development team, which included people from Hyatt's full-service operations group, chefs, owners, franchisees, and customer research groups, had three goals as they were reinventing Hyatt Place's complimentary breakfast program: to improve guest satisfaction, to increase the variety and quality of food offered, and to do it all using existing equipment in the support kitchen.
Creating buy-in and understanding for the program played a huge role in its success. "We developed an implementation guide that tells hotels what to buy and where to install it," says Koffler.
"The guide included a 'planogram'—a map of each station, showing where the bowls go and what they should contain. A series of webinars, conference calls, and site visits from corporate also helped create acceptance on all levels."
The new a.m. Kitchen Skillet offers a bigger, better complimentary breakfast, with a selection of breakfast sandwiches served on enameled iron skillets and spotlighted by heat lamps as the main attraction.
Hyatt Place's three most popular breakfast sandwiches include the Signature Sandwich, with a potato roll, egg patty, applewood-smoked bacon, and gouda cheese; the Santa Fe Bagel, a whole-wheat bagel with ham, egg patty, fresh spinach, tomato, and chipotle mayo; and the Sunrise Croissant, with egg patty, pepper jack cheese, tomato, turkey, and green salsa.
Other rotating offerings include morning favorites such as cinnamon French toast, buttermilk pancakes, waffles, pastries, steel-cut oatmeal with toppings, yogurts, fresh fruit, sourdough and multigrain breads, fresh juices, and coffee.
In all, the Skillets breakfast program has increased morning food offerings by about a third. At the Hyatt Place Lombard, weekday breakfast covers run about 175 to 225 per day, rising to 300 to 450 on weekends.
Equipped for Success
A typical Hyatt Place servery area is only about 600 square feet. The space includes serving counters around three walls, displaying stations for juice and coffee, pastries, bread and toast, fresh fruits, and, as the star and focal point, the skillets.
The sandwich-filled skillets—three colorful enameled iron pieces made by Le Creuset—sit atop a drop-in induction heater. Above the skillets, pendant-style heat lamps help keep the food hot while spotlighting the station. A pass-through window behind the skillets gives kitchen workers instant access so the skillets stay full.
"We wanted an open, visual display to better create a kitchen atmosphere, a homey feel," Koffler says. "So rather than closed chafing dishes, we opted for the skillets and in-counter induction heating. The cabinets above are all open—no doors—so guests can get their own plates and glasses, as they would at home. We also expanded the size of the community table to eight seats, up from six."
The existing support kitchen takes up about 250 square feet. It's equipped with coolers, freezers, coffee makers and a warewasher, but there's also an impinger for heating rolls and croissants; a convection oven for baking pastries, heating egg patties, and melting cheese, and a five-shelf countertop hot-holding cabinet to hold assembled sandwiches. Undercounter cold drawers hold sandwich components within easy reach.
Costs and Benefits
The cost of the a.m. Kitchen Skillet makeover tallied about $17,000 per location, "for equipment, smallwares, cabinetry, lighting, sneeze guards, art pieces, and labor," Koffler says.
Labor-wise, additional costs associated with assembling the sandwiches have required that properties budget four more hours of labor per day, Koffler explains. One person stays in the kitchen as the sous chef dedicated to food prep, while other staffers, usually about three, rotate between front desk, servery, and kitchen doing whatever is needed. Food costs also edged up slightly, but "nothing substantial," Koffler says.
The a.m. Kitchen Skillet's benefits, however, are expected to solidify brand loyalty among its business and leisure traveler clientele. "We're continually updating and refreshing the Hyatt Place brand," Walker says. "While we cannot categorically tie any metrics to the new breakfast other than customer satisfaction, we're confident that this program plus other enhancements will help us maintain guest occupancy levels in a very competitive environment."
Janice Cha has covered the foodservice industry for more than a decade, focusing on kitchen equipment for the past several years.