ome of the most famous paintings in the
world start to fade if they’re not restored
with fresh colors after a few hundred
years. So shouldn’t a famous breakfast
program that has existed for a mere 23
years be in line for the same “restoration” to adapt
to customer needs?
Embassy Suites has had tremendous success
with its complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast
program since 1984, consistently ranking at or near
the top of J.D. Power’s annual guest satisfaction survey.
Using that achievement as a stepping stone,
Embassy Suites decided to add some “fresh colors.”
“We would be silly not to put breakfast under a
microscope, given the fact that it’s such a driver of
the customer’s decision to stay at Embassy Suites,”
says Jim Holthouser, senior vice president, brand
management, Embassy Suites Hotels.
Embassy Suites spent two years and $2.5 million
on research, menu, and equipment upgrades, followed
by a gradual rollout of an updated breakfast
program to its nearly 190 properties, starting in
April 2006, and finishing this year.
They also surveyed customers to find out what
needed to be changed.
“One of the overwhelming responses we got
from our regular guests was, ‘don’t screw it up,
because it is a winning formula,’” says Kris Beck,
brand director of food & beverage, Embassy Suites
More than 200 changes were made to create a
standardized experience for all Embassy Suites
properties. Since the rollout, Holthouser says the
overall breakfast scores have increased by at least
“When we’re able to see a four- to six-point
increase, that really tells us our guests have
noticed the changes that we’ve put in place,”
REAP WHAT YOU FLOW
More than 90,000 guests take advantage of
Embassy Suites complimentary breakfast each
day, which amounts to more than 2.6 million
breakfasts each month. Because of those enormous
numbers, it was easy to spot what needed
to be improved.
“Flow was probably one of the biggest challenges.
We spent a lot of time watching guests and
how they assemble their breakfast,” Beck says.
Embassy Suites has primarily a self-service
breakfast layout. Without an optimal flow system
in place, waiting times could be frustrating.
Part of addressing flow problems at Embassy
Suites was simply to give the guests more room
to work at their own pace.
“People like clean lines, they like uncluttered
appearance. So where most of our hotels had, for
example, some greenery, some plants, maybe some olive oil jars, maybe some extra
linens used to decorate a buffet, we’re
saying take all that stuff out.
Completely eliminate it,” says Beck.
SIGN OF THE TIMES
Combining aesthetics with practicality
was the next step. What do
guests see first? And can they navigate
their way around the layout quickly?
“We had to determine what kind
of signage would identify these key
stations around the breakfast area,”
Embassy Suites commissioned
Memphis-based artist John Robinette
to design three different types of signs
for the breakfast area: A floor-standing
sign, a countertop sign, and a
hanging banner sign. Robinette created
icons that represent each section of
breakfast, painted in an Impressionist
“It has provided an updated,
almost Mediterranean feel,” says
Dawn Ray, senior manager brand
communications, Embassy Suites
“You look at these iconic images
of breakfast and they immediately say
to the guest, ‘oh, I should go there for
cereal.’ They’re not hunting around the breakfast
area going, ‘where’s the cereal?’” adds Ray.
STATION TO STATION
Now that guests have more room to move,
and signage to guide them, how do they gather
their meals as quickly as possible?
“We had to break the entire breakfast down
into its components, which came down to stations,”
Breakfast stations at Embassy Suites consist
- Cooked-to-order and hot buffet stations
(omelets, pancakes, bacon, sausage).
- Beverage stations (coffee, milk, juice, soft
- Cereal station.
- Fruit station.
- Toast and pastry stations (muffins, bagels,
donuts, Danish, bread).
Each station was given new equipment and a
fresh layout designed to erase flow problems.
“We looked at a lot of ways to speed up that
process by making sure all of our hotels had
interchangeable pieces. Most of the displayware
on the market was never designed to work with
the back of the house,” Beck says.
Embassy Suites worked with Cal-Mil to customize
specific pieces of equipment to meet the
new standards, including:
- Three-tiered bread and pastry cases.
The cases have display trays customized
to a half-sheet pan size so they can be
swapped immediately with full trays
from the back of the house, creating a
- Bulk cereal dispensers. Empties are
swapped with full containers from the
back of the house, just like the pastry
- Three-tiered pitcher racks to hold pitchers
of half and half, skim and 2 percent milk.
- The racks create a streamlined appearance, and
eliminate the need for PC creamers.
- Three-tiered tea caddies with removable
inserts. Duplicate inserts are filled in the back
of the house and exchanged for empty ones.
- Three- and four-tiered condiment bowl
stands, which hold everything from sugar
packets to omelet ingredients. Extra bowls are
filled in the back of the house and swapped for
empty ones. Beck says using tiered stands
brings everything closer to the customer’s eye
level so they can spot what they need faster,
and cuts down clutter and mess at each station.
Other notable changes include:
- Custom seven-inch omelet rings by American
Metalcraft. These let chefs create more omelets
simultaneously in less space and fit perfectly on
the nine-inch Embassy Suites plates.
- No bundled silverware. Each station gets only
the silverware needed there. For example, the
cereal station gets spoons, and the toast station
gets knives. This lets the guest “one-stop shop”
without waiting in line.
- The coffee station was split in two. One is for
the actual java, the other is where customers can
add cream, sugar and all the extras. Guests who
just want their coffee black don’t have to wait for
other guests to finish customizing their beverage.
Embassy Suites introduced the Embassy
Ambassador program to coincide with the rollout.
The Embassy Ambassador is a manager who
acts as a “walking concierge” during breakfast,
greeting guests and answering questions. Beck
says this has had the biggest positive impact on
their scores since last April.
The “fresh colors” applied to the breakfast
program have not only raised guest scores but,
according to Holthouser, have also raised
employee satisfaction scores. They’re excited to
be part of the buzz surrounding the changes.
“At the end of the day, we’re in business to
maximize profits. You can always get better. I don’t
think we’ll ever be satisfied until we’re at 100 percent
occupancy, at the highest possible rates, and
we’re drawing the highest possible level of customer
satisfaction,” says Holthouser.Michael Costa is a Chicago-based freelance writer covering the