They’re known as Generation Y,
Millennials, and even Echo
Boomers. Whatever you call them,
this group of more than 60 million
will rival their Baby Boomer
parents in consumer clout.
While no can agree on
which exact birth years define
between 1980 and 2000—there is
consensus among hotel brands
such as Embassy Suites that
ignoring them now would be a
mistake for the future.
“Embassy Suites was always a
model designed by Baby
Boomers for Baby Boomers,”
says Rick McCue, VP for brand
performance and support,
Embassy Suites Hotels. “But as
time passes, Generation Y is
going to be our main source of
What this means from a food and beverage
standpoint is the need for a concept that
appeals to the on-the-go, meals-when-I-wantthem,
where-can-I-plug-in-my-laptop habits of
Specifically at each hotel, the restaurant has
to be replicated as a flexible, turnkey food and
beverage solution for the new-build “Design
Option III” Embassy Suites properties, which
can be scalable from 150 to 300 suites, depending
on the location.
The brand answered this challenge with
Flying Spoons, a “hip casual” concept featuring
extended serving hours, low labor requirements,
and high design. It was three years in the making—
the culmination of intensive research and
beta testing at two properties under the pseudonym
FILLING THE BOX
The first officially branded Flying Spoons
opens this fall in Jackson, Mississippi, and 40 to
50 more are slated to open through 2010. As
ambitious as those plans are, Flying Spoons
actually started as one simple idea.
“We said, ‘Here’s a box in the lobby blueprint.
What makes sense in that box?’ And that
led to where we are now,” says Kris Beck, director,
brand operations support, Embassy Suites
Hotels. “If I’m opening a restaurant in a hotel,
I’m not opening the same old place that you see
everywhere, because they usually don’t work,”
F&B FOR GENERATION Y
Generally speaking, Generation Y was
raised in the era of computers and electronic
gadgets, and they’re rarely without them, especially
when they travel. When they eat, they do
it on their own time. They want something
fast, but not low quality, and usually carry
their electronics with them during meals, so
they’re likely to stay in a restaurant even after
they finish eating.
Around these insights, Embassy Suites
designed the framework for Flying Spoons:
HOURS: 5 a.m. to 1 a.m.
MENU: A handcrafted take on fast-casual cuisine,
with salads, panini, soups, and light
entrées, like lobster enchiladas. A Starbucks
coffee bar is also part of the offering.
DÉCOR: “Hip casual,” populated with multiple
seating choices, geared toward the length of
time someone plans to stay: booths, traditional
tables and chairs, tallboy tables, and wingback
chairs with ottomans. There are also outlets in
every area for guests to plug in laptops, MP3
players, cell phones, and other electronics.
Each Flying Spoons has 45 seats.
LABOR: Minimal staffing, usually one or two
associates on duty during most time periods.
No hostess, restaurant manager, waiters or
waitresses, or line cooks in the kitchen.
“I think we straddle fast-casual and full-service
dining by hitting the middle. The restaurant
invites you in without having to make a big commitment.
You don’t have to feel guilty because
you’re sitting with a cup of coffee and a cookie.
No waiter is coming by with gritted teeth wondering
when he can turn your table,” Beck says.
McCue says it’s not overly branded because
there’s a danger in trying to be too hip, which
would likely turn off their Gen Y customers, and
Gen X for that matter, as they are extremely savvy
when it comes to being marketed to. “There’s not
a spoon hanging in every available space. We’re
doing hip things in subtle ways, creating a sense
of design to make it intriguing.”
In the back of the house, Beck says the key
to this model’s success is how well it cross-utilizes
food, labor, equipment, and tableware
with the rest of the property’s food and beverage
In Design Option III, Flying Spoons is
1,600 square feet. Previous Embassy Suites
models had 4,000 square feet of restaurant
space. But not every location needs a full-service,
fully staffed outlet. The reduced footprint
for Flying Spoons means the central hotel
kitchen that’s used for banquets and the
brand’s complimentary breakfast can also be
called into action for Flying Spoons.
“The financial advantage is all upfront. It’s a
30 to 50 percent reduction in construction
costs over previous models because Flying
Spoons is smaller,” Beck says.
According to Jim Holthouser, senior VP,
brand management, Embassy Suites Hotels, a
typical year for the brand formerly involved
“between two to five franchise deals. However,
the first year we offered Design Option III, we
sold 22 franchises. And last year, we sold more
Beck says once the Flying Spoons kitchen
logistics were decided, the next task was creating a menu and labor model that operated
as a single entity.
SMALL MENU = LOW LABOR
“There are some items you can’t leave off a
menu because of customer demand,” says
Beck. “You need a burger, a chicken Caesar
salad, and a club sandwich, to name a few. But
then you look closer at those ingredients, and
ask, ‘How can we cross-utilize those?’ Those
core items led us to the rest of the menu.”
Using ingredients that span more than one
dish—the crab for the crab salad sandwich is
also used for the crab Caesar salad, for example—
simplifies everything, including labor.
Back-of-the-house prep doesn’t take long, and
during slow periods, one cook runs the show,
including making salads and sandwiches for
guests at the counter.
“We can take somebody off the street and
teach them how to work Flying Spoons in a
couple of weeks,” says Beck. “Executing the
menu is simple. Here’s your picture of the finished
product, here’s the recipe, and it should
look like this when you’re done.”
For hot food like soups and certain dinner
entrées, Flying Spoons uses sous vide products,
heated in a commercial microwave, which also
Because staffing needs are low, Holthouser
says Flying Spoons can easily stay open from 5
a.m. to 1 a.m., giving guests an early option
before the 6 a.m. complimentary breakfast or a
late-night snack outside of room service.
TABLEWARE AND GLASSWARE
The same cross-utilizing philosophy
extends to tableware and glassware. Flying
Spoons doesn’t have its own high-priced customized pieces. Instead, they use the same
type of flatware, 11-inch porcelain plates, and
glassware from Libbey and Cardinal that are
used for banquets, breakfast, and the nightly
manager’s cocktail receptions.
All of the items can be used in other parts
of the hotel if they’re needed, and they’re
already back-of-the-house compatible with
washing and storage. Beck says it was “a simple
and easy decision” to continue using what they
know will work at Embassy Suites, through
vendors with whom they already have a
Once the overall concept for Flying Spoons
was finished, Embassy Suites needed to test it.
They set up Flying Spoons prototypes at their
Fort Worth and Detroit Metro Airport properties
under the name Marketplace and watched
the outlets evolve without the pressure of having
to succeed as an official Flying Spoons.
“We’ve learned a lot from those locations
as to what really works for the customer,” says
McCue. “Both places exceeded all expectations
and hit numbers beyond what was projected.”
What worked, according to Beck, was “a
lot of unexpected traffic coming from outside
the hotel for coffee and baked goods in the
morning. The properties thought the concept
would be a guest amenity, but they’re attracting
outside business from local passersby.”
He also says the Detroit Metro Airport location
did very well in capturing business travelers
for sandwiches and salads during the day.
At the Fort Worth property, he credits the
coffee bar and an inviting interior keeping
“Right off the bat we had quite a few folks
looking for their daily Starbucks fix. But patrons
also enjoyed having a place to sit down that’s a
little bit larger but still has a cozy, intimate feeling,”
says Ken Schell, general manager, Embassy
Suites Fort Worth.
FULL SPOONS AHEAD
The outside business at the prototypes is a
bonus for Embassy Suites, but Holthouser says
they haven’t lost sight of targeting Generation
Y as their long-term customer base and are
confident Flying Spoons will be around longterm
“We aren’t winning the J.D. Power and
Associates award (10 years in the food and
beverage category) because we give our breakfast
away. We’ve always prided ourselves on
the quality and consistency of our food and
beverage, and I think Flying Spoons is just
an extension of what we’ve done really well in
the past,” Holthouser says.
Michael Costa is industry relations editor for HOTEL F&B.