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All Back Issues » July/August 2012

Brand on the Run
Breakfast bags are a tried-and-true success for Hampton Inn & Suites.
By Tad Wilkes

Hampton Inn breakfast bags
“Since the bags are available from 5:30 until 10 a.m., and since we knew from research that some people would take it with them but not eat it until 10 or so, we wanted something in there that would stay fresh two hours later,” says Kurt Smith, VP of product quality and innovation for Focused Service Brands at Hilton Worldwide.

“The need was there from day one,” says Craig Marshall, general manager at Hampton Inn & Suites Memphis Downtown, who was part of the opening team at the first Hampton hotel in 1984. He’s talking about the need for a neat, portable breakfast. “I was there when the very first Hampton breakfast was served. Even then, guests were doing a version of the breakfast bag called a briefcase. They were going up to the breakfast bar, grabbing a little snack and a cup of coffee, and going out the door.”

So why didn’t Hampton launch its On the Run breakfast bags until 2004? “There are two reasons,” Marshall remembers. “The Hampton team at that time were people who were developing and building hotels. They had a concept in mind, but there was also pressure to keep the price down. These are not inexpensive bags; everything costs money. The bags cost us around $2 per occupied room.”

It was in mid-2003 that Kurt Smith, VP of product quality and innovation for the Focused Service Brands at Hilton Worldwide, began doing significant research on breakfast. “Part of our research showed that particularly during the week—even though average breakfast time during the week is five to 10 minutes—we had a lot of folks just hopping out of bed and running out the door to their meetings, and they wanted something that was easy to grab on the way out the door,” Smith says. “So we came up with this On the Run breakfast bag concept.”

Brown Out
The brown paper bag, decorated with a branded On the Run sticker, has filled the need for providing sustenance to those with no sit-down time for breakfast. Smith says they’ve made only minor changes to the concept since its inception. Right now, the bag contains an apple, an Otis Spunkmeyer blueberry muffin, a Kellogg’s Special K breakfast bar, a bottle of Dasani water, and a box of sugar cookie mints.

“We’ve tweaked the breakfast bar a bit and played with options for the muffin, but overall the bag hasn’t changed significantly since 2004,” Smith says. “Every time we tweak it, we get some negative feedback from the guests, so we’ve stayed the course. The flavor of the Special K bar has changed, but the rest has pretty much stayed consistent since ‘04.”

The full breakfast buffet at Hampton hotels features a relatively common dynamic of cold items alongside heartier scrambled eggs, sausage, and gravy. Given the On the Run concept, the contents of the bag couldn’t be messy fare.

“Since the bags are available from 5:30 until 10 a.m., and since we knew from research that some people would take it with them but not eat it until 10 or so, we wanted something in there that would stay fresh two hours later,” Smith says. “We tried a wide variety of things with consumers— different kinds of breakfast bars, muffins, fruit. From doing focus groups, online surveys, and talking to guests in the lobby, these are the products we landed on.”

Marshall estimates that the bags cost the hotel around $2 per occupied room, whereas the full breakfast is probably $4 or more. “But it’s a good value,” he says. “If you went to a convenience store and bought [what’s in the bag], it would be $4 or $5.”

Hot to Trot
If what’s in the bag isn’t what a particular fast-moving guest is looking for, he or she can still augment it with portable items from the breakfast buffet.

“We started serving oatmeal last year in a bowl with a lid on it, so we’re seeing guests taking it to go if they want something hot,” Smith says. “And, of course, we have coffee with lids. We also have a variety of fresh fruit on the breakfast bar, and we see guests grab that, and yogurt as well, to take with them.”

On the Run is geared primarily toward business travelers during the week. “In most of our hotels, we ask them to put it out during the week, not on weekends,” Smith says. “Research has shown us, and we’ve confirmed, that on the weekend people actually take the time to sit down and eat breakfast, to enjoy waffles, scrambled eggs, and other hot items we offer on the breakfast bar. When we tested the bag several years ago, they weren’t really being utilized [by guests] on the weekend.”

The majority of bags are assembled and used Monday through Friday morning at Marshall’s location in Memphis. “Tuesday through Friday, when we’ve got pretty much a full house, they’re assembling between 16 and 20 of these,” says Marshall. “You might have one or two left over.” If they have more demand than pre-assembled bags, he says they just put one together quickly for any guest requesting one. “There’s virtually no waste; the contents are all sealed, with the exception of the apple.”

“In downtown Memphis we have President’s Island, and there’s a lot of manufacturing there. We have two groups right now building manufacturing plants— Electrolux and Mitsubishi,” Marshall adds. “When those groups are in the hotel, we probably make an extra five or 10 of the bags, because they never have time for breakfast. They are out the door running. When we know they will be here, which is usually every other week, we’ll put extra out for them.”

Fitness Fare
Marshall says business travelers doing a dash for the door aren’t the only guests enjoying the bags. “You’ll see people come out of the fitness area and go up to the front desk and grab that bag and take it up to their rooms,” he says. “It’s folks who otherwise would have cherrypicked through the breakfast area to come up with something healthy.”

Smith says anecdotal feedback indicates the breakfast bags may lead to repeat business. “The box of mints serves as a reminder over the rest of the day or even into the next day, ‘Hey, I stayed at Hampton and got breakfast to go’ and that they had a great experience at Hampton.”

The bags are uniform across the brand in North America, but Hampton doesn’t offer them beyond. Research in Europe and other parts of the world found the bags less desirable, “but we’ll continue to look at that again as we grow overseas,” Smith says.

Tad Wilkes is managing editor of Hotel F&B.

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