Sometimes, less is more—profitable, that is. When the Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara, California, reworked its full-service Spa Café beyond sit-down dining to also be a grab ‘n’ go/quick-service eatery with Wi-Fi, the space turned into a guest-pleasing revenue generator.
Before the makeover, the resort had offered à la carte breakfast at two full-service restaurants, says Executive F&B Director Adam Martindale, who arrived at Bacara at the end of last year from Loews Coronado Bay Resort in San Diego. The outlets were the Bistro—featuring a breakfast buffet in addition to fresh fruit, waffles, pancakes, eggs Benedict, French toast, and the Santa Barbara Farmer’s Market Omelet—and the Spa Café. “We wanted to diversify our offerings in order to better accommodate our guests,” Martindale says.
The Bacara F&B team closed the 74-seat Spa Café for the winter in order to re-think its mission. They decided to downsize operations into a “temporary” grab ‘n’ go format. Part of their rationale was to inject variety into onsite dining options. “The resort lacked a place for guests to go for a quick bite or carry-out,” Martindale says. Adding a range of price points, from sit-down dining to the new carry-out operation, also added a new dining choice to the property.
The revamped Spa Café, with its open-beam ceilings, natural stonework, airy ambience, and outdoor patio overlooking the pool, opened in March with 65 seats. “At first we received feedback from guests who missed the old sit-down restaurant,” Martindale says. “We also had teething pains in adjusting the level of service. We listened to their feedback and made adjustments accordingly… While the [grab ‘n’ go] menu was successful, a portion of our guests still wanted the option to dine in, [so we] created a more formal dining experience. Guests now have a choice. In addition, we extended the hours of operation based on their feedback.”
More than half a year into operations, the grab ‘n’ go makeover at the Spa Café has proved a keeper. “Guest comment cards have been positive, and check averages are on the rise. Not only are we keeping the concept, we’re enhancing our menu,” says Martindale.
Turning A Profit
Comparing year-over-year revenue between the Spa Café’s new format to its previous life as a full-service restaurant is an apples-to-oranges proposition. On the one hand, check averages for the grab ‘n’ go operation are lower than its full-service predecessor. On the other hand, labor requirements have been halved. “We have about four to five FTEs now,” Martindale says. “Last year the Spa Café had about twice that number, plus a manager and chef.”
But the real clincher: The eatery showed a 60% increase in profits from May to June and a 30% increase from June to July this year.
Menu Development & Pricing
Martindale’s team developed the grab ‘n’ go menu offerings by analyzing top items from its previous full-service menu.
“We looked at popular breakfast offerings, such as freshly baked muffins and pastries made by our inhouse bakery, açaí bowls, Greek and organic yogurts, and then looked for ways to add them to our grab ‘n’ go concept while retaining quality and flavor,” Martindale says. “We also wanted to add more foods from local farmers and purveyors, including organic ice cream, cage-free eggs, farmers’ market fruits and berries, and a variety of local wines and beers.”
Among sandwiches, a top-seller has been the Organic Egg-White Turkey-Bacon & Cheese served on a whole wheat English muffin. “In 16 days, we sold more than 800 of them at $8 a sandwich,” says Martindale, describing the item’s menu debut.
For speedier service, key sandwich components are prepared in advance in the main kitchen. “When guests place orders, we assemble components and place completed items in biodegradable carry-out boxes,” Martindale says.
To keep the menu interesting for longer-term or repeat guests, the Spa Café chefs offer a series of lunch specials. “Our business visitors also appreciate having a dining option that’s not part of a group function,” Martindale adds. “The Café gets a lot of traffic on the last day of meetings.”
Pricing was a little more delicate. “We started by looking at Bacara’s in-restaurant dining and our three-meal restaurant pricing,” Martindale recalls. His goal was to provide a lower-priced alternative that would not dilute revenues in the other outlets. “We budgeted for an average of $8.50 for breakfast and $10 for lunch—but, in fact, our Spa Café check averages are closer to $10 at breakfast and $18 at lunch.”
Prices, ingredients, and item descriptions along with the Bacara logo are added to recyclable grab ‘n’ go carriers with the help of labeling software made by a company called Planglow that Martindale discovered at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year.
Equipping the Spa Café
Converting the Spa Café to grab ‘n’ go was relatively easy—especially since the space’s original designer had included order and pick-up areas that were not being used in the Spa Café’s full-service version.
Martindale’s makeover team added menu boards, an open-front refrigerated display case, two panini presses for sandwiches, and market-style baskets to display assorted chips, muffins, and pastries. Already in place were blenders, ovens, and coffee and beverage equipment.
Although more major dining makeovers lie ahead at Bacara, the Spa Café will retain its grab ‘n’ go status. And it’s getting two thumbs up from some of its guests staying at the resort at press time: participants and leaders of the Michael Jordan basketball camp.
Janice Cha has covered the foodservice industry for more than a decade.