Jekyll Can’t Hide

An island hotel grows a popular but tiny bar menu into a thriving F&B offering by smart kitchen expansion.

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Paper-lined stainless steel wire baskets are used to serve sandwiches, and “beach” pails hold shrimp cocktails and wings. [Photo by Benjamin Galland]
When it opened in 2010, no one would have guessed that a 14-seat bar backed by a food prep area the size of a large walk-in closet would ever hit its target budget of $90,000 per year. But the little bar at the 138-room Hampton Inn & Suites, Jekyll Island, Georgia, has defied all predictions. In its first year, the bar generated $166,000, nearly double the original target. In 2015, bar sales had more than doubled, with annual sales of $404,000. With menu updates and kitchen equipment refinements, the bar’s tallies continue to rise.

 

“We expect the bar to bring in $430,000 in 2016, which works out to just under $31,000 per seat,” says Vince Barrett, VP of F&B for owner New Castle Hotels & Resorts, based in Shelton, Connecticut.

Oven
The popularity of the bar menu necessitated a second, stackable oven in year two.

The bar’s foodservice success is due in part to the Hampton’s location on Jekyll Island, which has relatively few nearby restaurant options. “Guests need a place to eat in the evening, and the bar’s menu keeps them on the property,” Barrett says.

The hotel’s resort-style feel also encourages guests to stay onsite. “The Hampton Jekyll Island has incredible ambiance,” Barrett says. “You can sit at the bar, step outside to enjoy the fire pit, or walk to the beach. Even island residents stop in for lunch or drinks in the evening. It’s become something of a neighborhood bar.”

“More than 80% of guests stop by the bar,” attests hotel GM Andrew Hobbs. “Even if they don’t all order food items, they enjoy a bar beverage. Our bar’s open floor plan, visible from the lobby dining area, encourages guests to enjoy a meal, socialize with friends, or snag a stool at the bar.”

But the real driver behind the bar’s phenomenal foodservice sales lies in upscale presentation, a strategically designed menu, a high-end wine and spirits selection, and a well-equipped mini-kitchen.

WORKING BACKWARDS TO SUCCESS

“We deconstructed rather than constructed,” says Barrett, who worked with New Castle’s VP Corporate Controller Bryan Woodhouse and architect Sherri Cline, president of International Design, Inc., of Powhatan, Virginia, to develop Hampton Jekyll Island’s bar. “We started with the guest and worked backwards.”

In one sense, warewashing played a key role in shaping the bar’s food offerings. “We wanted a higher-end look to our food, but [the serving ware] had to be easy to wash in an under-counter warewasher,” Barrett says. “We visited restaurants up and down the coast for inspiration; most of them serve food from paper-lined plastic baskets.”

The menu, therefore, began to evolve around food that could be served in paper-lined baskets or pails.

The next decision was how hot food would be prepared. For starters, the bar had to be self-sufficient where cooking was concerned. “The hotel’s main kitchen is on the opposite side of the lobby,” Barrett says. “We didn’t want to be running food across the open space.”

The equipment also had to be compact enough to fit into the 65-square-foot space behind the bar and versatile enough to provide options to guests.

MEANS TO A MENU

A Merrychef accelerated oven, which uses convection heat, impingement air, and microwave energy proved to be the answer. The oven, along with a George Foreman grill, cold-prep table, and reach-in refrigerator, are tucked into a 65-square-foot space behind the bar. Servingware and glasses are washed right at the bar in an under-counter, high-temperature dish machine made by Hobart.

The Merrychef handles the menu’s 15 hot items, including wings, burgers, macaroni and cheese, crab cakes, pizzas, and tater tots. Pre-programmed selections and the ability to handle different items simultaneously keep average cooking time at around two and a half minutes.

Each menu item is engineered for efficient production. “We count the number of steps to prepare it—from opening the refrigerator, pulling out product, putting it in a pan, then into the oven, setting the oven, plating the food, then bringing it to the guest,” Barrett says. “Our service times average about five minutes from the time an order is placed to the time the guest receives their food.”

Prepping and pre-portioning are key. “If we had to make orders from scratch, it would require about 18 steps and about 15 minutes—far too long,” Barrett says.

In year two, high demand at the bar led to a mini-kitchen makeover. “We added a second, stackable oven and removed a work table to make space for a second refrigerator,” Barrett says. “Now, wall shelving holds bread and utensils and also doubles as work space.”

TWO-PERSON CREW

The close quarters and limited menu allow the bar and its kitchen to be operated with minimal labor.

“In peak season, we run the bar with one person in front, one in back,” Barrett says. “Our bartenders are trained on how to serve the products. When new menus are rolled out, we get the team together, engineer it, and spend three to five days on presentation and how to prepare it using the ovens.”

“The amount of food our bar staff puts out from such a tiny food prep area is nothing short of miraculous,” Hobbs says. “Kudos to our bar staff and Bar Manager Rob Tribuzio for Team Hampton Hustle.”

A LOOK AHEAD

The Hampton Jekyll Island’s bar is something that can be used in other locations, especially if you “keep the concept simple, choose multipurpose equipment, and keep in mind, ‘who is our customer and what do they want?'” Hobbs says.

“From a business point of view, you’ve got a captive audience in your hotel,” Barrett says. “The Hampton has a great free breakfast. The bar fills the need for guests returning from the beach and golf course or after working all day.”

Janice Cha covers the foodservice industry, focusing on kitchen equipment.