In what seems to be a neverending quest to find a way to guests’ hearts through their stomachs, Phoenix-based Best Western Hotels & Resorts has introduced new breakfast guidelines for its members.
Beginning April 1, the brand began requiring its 2,100-plus North American properties to meet new minimum culinary and design standards meant to foster consistency and ensure quality across the Best Western portfolio. It turns out that individual Best Western hotels and resorts were ready and willing to improve the guest breakfast experience.
The process of updating and upgrading breakfast began two years before the implementation date. At that time, executives looked at guest satisfaction numbers and saw that some properties were lagging in their breakfast ratings. Director of Regional Services Andrew Harris points out that breakfast scores and overall guest satisfaction ratings are closely linked.
“We noticed that properties that raised breakfast satisfaction numbers also succeeded in increasing their overall guest satisfaction scores,” says Harris. “And according to J.D. Power assessments, breakfast is a key driver of guest satisfaction.” That connection made it clear to the brands that breakfast is an important area of focus.
In the Best Western portfolio, which includes Best Western, Best Western Plus, and Best Western Premier, around 80% of the properties are limited foodservice providers; the other 20% have full service and/or room service. In most instances, breakfast is the best opportunity for most members to impress guests, says Harris.
“J.D. Power has confirmed that more staff interaction with guests leads to higher levels of guest satisfaction,” he notes. So, at limited-service Best Westerns, the front desk staff and the breakfast attendant are really where the guest service rubber meets the road. “Service training for our breakfast attendants is very important,” Harris says. “It’s our best opportunity to interact with our guests on a daily basis.”
Data and Eyes on the Prize
At the beginning of the revision process, Harris took a close look at the available data. His team parsed Medallia scores, TripAdvisor ratings, individual guest feedback, top-performing properties, and social media comments to discover strengths and weaknesses.
“TripAdvisor was a very powerful tool for us,” he says, “and Medallia is 100% the voice of the customer.” Best practices were derived from the input of the top 20% of top performers.
Priscilla Nesbitt, director of supply and studio design for Canada, took a lead role in updating operations for the new program. Her onsite observations at the 200 Canadian properties provided context to guest feedback that often expressed dissatisfaction in less-than-specific comments. Her method was to visit troubled breakfast spots, be the first person in the service space, and watch what happens from setup to breakdown. Nesbitt would, of course, eat breakfast herself to test out quality and freshness.
Functionality was perhaps the easiest aspect of the space to measure. “You have to be able to look at it all from an operational perspective. Flow is a big part of designing the breakfast area,” says Nesbitt. “You have to make sure no areas are congested. For example, we can’t have the toaster beside the waffle iron; some people will be waiting for toast and others waiting two minutes and 56 seconds for their waffle to be ready. That leaves people standing around in the same area and stopping up the flow.”
The potential improvements that came back from research observations and input were molded into an over-arching upgrade program with new features to bring Best Western up to date with current guest expectations. Hotel owners’ standing as “members” gives them a vote in the adoption of such brand-wide decisions. Before that vote, Harris presented the plan to a committee of “governors”—top-performing members chosen by the directors to represent their area. After their approval, the program was sent out to 300 test properties for assessment and adjustments. When testing and tweaking were completed, the plan was presented to members at regional meetings. A year and a half into the process, the revised program was brought to an affirming vote before all members.
Product Manager Tricia Fischenich helped roll out the new breakfast program and had been instrumental in training for the previous Best Western breakfast revamp in 2012. She and her predecessor in this position worked with Harris, Nesbitt, and others to identify the right products for overall quality, help members understand how to create the best flow while accommodating new appliances, get GMs and attendants the training they required, and educate properties about safe food handling.
Among the revised minimum requirements, equipment capital expenditure would be small, perhaps less than $1,000. A glass-front refrigerator, condiment holders, a juice machine, and a longer counter of 25-foot minimum length would be the only necessary additions, if the property didn’t already have them. The parent brand offered an affordable price through corporate channels, members could buy suitable substitutions on their own, or—in the case of the juice machine—individual hotels could try to get the appliance free of charge through an agreement with vendors who supplied their juices.
The minimum required F&B upgrades for traditional breakfast offerings were not jarring for properties either. Coffee would be 100% Arabica, regular and decaf, with dairy and non-dairy creamers, sugar, and two sweeteners available. Two types of juice are required, with one being orange, along with two types of yogurt and a grab ‘n’ go option available early from the front desk. But while guest appetites are largely traditional and habitual at breakfast, special diets, allergy restrictions, and well-being fads are a constantly moving target.
“Everything seems to be trending toward ‘healthy options,’” says Harris. Toward that end, gluten-friendly and nondairy options are mandatory and conspicuous at all properties. Versions of cereals such as Chex, Cheerios, Rice Krispies, oatmeal, or granola are required. Almond, soy, coconut, or rice milks must be provided as non-dairy options.
The real core of the new program—an addition that may once again be about luring guests into interaction—is the selection of “build-your-own” items. Guests have the choice of creating their own yogurt parfait, oatmeal, breakfast sandwich, omelet, waffle, pancake, crêpe, or French toast. Condiments are provided, along with signage urging guests to fashion their own breakfast masterpiece. Many condiments are suggested with the guidelines; for yogurt parfait, offerings include granola, chocolate or peanut butter chips, crushed Oreos, dried fruit such as Craisins or pineapple, local honey, shredded coconut, nut slivers or pieces, and fruit compote—but only three are required per build-your-own item. Members decide which build-your-owns are right for their location, but a choice of two build-your-own options are mandated for Best Western hotels, and a choice of three are required for the Best Western Plus and Premier brands.
Regional Services Manager Vincent Lubrano saw improvement in guest satisfaction scores immediately in his management area. “It’s made a big difference,” says Lubrano. “Some of our properties implemented the recommendations as soon as they got them. Their Medallia scores had already gone up by the time April 1 came around.” Lubrano remains excited for the early adopters who have helped raise his district, which includes New England, the Mid-Atlantic States, and the Canadian Maritime Provinces, above the Best Western average. He says that thanks to the early adoption of the breakfast program upgrade, “For the first time ever, we’re outstripping the brand.”
Harris says Lubrano’s experience with early adopters was common across the continent. “The April 1 deadline was met very easily by all properties,” says Harris. “From April to May, members saw their guest satisfaction with breakfast and intent to return increase. Early adopters had seen their scores increase significantly, by anywhere from five to 19 points. Harris reports that some members jumped on board and implemented the changes before the deadline, on their own “pre-vote,” immediately after seeing the presentation at their regional meetings.
With all North American hotels currently following the revised breakfast program fully, Best Western corporate resources continue to try to perfect it at each property. Nesbitt continues onsite visits to put her experienced eye to work on problem situations, and Fischenich performs “photo reviews” to look for design flaws in images sent to her by managers. Harris continues to watch Medallia scores and TripAdvisor posts to help gauge what’s next for breakfast for older loyal guests craving comfort and on-the-move millennials looking for convenience.
Lubrano says the investment of the few dollars members spend to give guests a complimentary breakfast and the capital investment to upgrade for the breakfast program more than pay for themselves in short order.
“If we provide guests with the opportunity for a better breakfast experience, the perceived value to guests is much higher,” he says. And while past initiatives to improve breakfast have often been to secure market share, Harris says, “This is not necessarily about competition; it’s about providing a consistent experience and increasing guest satisfaction.” But he acknowledges that the result of meeting or exceeding guests’ expectations with the Best Breakfast has produced a brand increase in scores for perceived “value for price paid” and intent to “return and recommend.”
Denny Lewis is a Hotel F&B veteran based in Arlington, Massachusetts.
Lessons from Misfires
Before beta-testing for the menu, Director of Regional Services Andrew Harris, Product Manager Tricia Fischenich, Director of Supply and Studio Design for Canada Priscilla Nesbitt, and the field team had already pared down the potential offerings (“We had 122 syrups out there and 178 kinds of bacon to choose from,” says Harris). A buildyour-own smoothie was expected to be a hit, but guests weren’t impressed. “Guest scores didn’t move,” says Fischenich, “and the machines were too loud.”
Nesbitt tried to formulate a “signature option” for her Canadian properties; members would feature a dish representing a signature culinary item for their locale. “We thought maybe crêpes for Quebec, a lobster roll for the Maritimes, smoked salmon for BC. But it was too difficult,” says Nesbitt. “Each hotel wanted me to tell them exactly what to do. Ontario is famous for its wonderful fruit and vegetables, but we couldn’t decide on the right dish,” Nesbitt says, joking, “We thought poutine was not really appropriate for breakfast.” —DL
The Permissive Nudge of Signage
In Best Western’s experience, one thing guests want for breakfast is simple instructions. “If you present two of the same breakfasts in the same way—one with signage and one without signage—the one with signage will receive better scores,” says Product Manager Tricia fischenich. “It’s like you’re giving the guests permission to do what they want to do anyway.” Especially for build-your-own items, the new program makes full use of the psychology that makes guests want to be told it’s okay to have breakfast their way, with clear, concise, professional signage that identifies condiments and recommends toppings, points out specialty items such as nondairy and gluten-free, and suggests savory and sweet combinations. —DL