A Glimpse Into the Future of Full-Service Lobby F&B

Lobby Landing: Hyatt Regency LAX flies high with unique three-in-one Unity L.A. concept.

Photos Courtesy of Michael Wilson Architectural Photography

Lobby F&B has been evolving for the past decade in hotels, but that evolution moves in divergent directions depending on the tier of property. Select-service brands tend to lean toward a standardized model from property to property, with a few local touches added, while full-service brands such as Hyatt Regency are embracing a structural idea for how their lobby footprint is used, with the culinary teams allowed to put a wholly unique and regional stamp on menus and concepts.

“Today, we have an opportunity in our full-service properties to combine the restaurant, bar, and grab n’ go market into one unifying lobby theme under a single name, and our guests enjoy the connection and synergies created by that,” says John O’Connell, corporate director of F&B, Americas operations, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts.

Hyatt’s latest version of this synergistic approach is at the newly renovated Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and its three themed F&B venues under the Unity L.A. umbrella.

Unity L.A. is Hyatt’s third lobby transformation using the F&B “trio” template O’Connell describes above. The others are Urbana at the Hyatt Regency Bloomington–Minneapolis and Urban Star at the Hyatt Regency Houston/Galleria. O’Connell says more are in the works for new-build hotels and renovated properties.

Hyatt LAX is one of those revamped Regency hotels; it recently underwent a multi-million dollar, top-to-bottom upgrade, with F&B accounting for about $10 million of the budget. The property was built in the early 1960s and was most recently called the Concourse Hotel before rebranding as Hyatt last year. With 580 rooms, it is now the largest franchise Regency in the U.S.

“Our lobby is huge, so we wanted to create an environment where the guest can see all the F&B options from one viewpoint. People eat with their eyes first and want to be where the action is, so having our three venues together creates more customer density,” says Lori Crowley, corporate director of F&B, Prism Hotels & Resorts, which manages Hyatt LAX. “Because we’re an airport hotel, many of our guests are only here one night, so we want to make that one night as exciting as possible. We don’t want them to get frustrated hunting around the property for food. Our original bar and restaurant in the lobby are where they were before the renovation, but we removed the walls so it’s a wide-open space with lots of flow.”

Filling that space are Unity L.A.’s three venues: Unity L.A. Market, Unity L.A. Restaurant, and Unity L.A. Bar. Aside from sharing the same lobby real estate, the menu theme throughout is almost entirely Los Angeles neighborhood cuisine and street food.

“We’re either Latin, Asian, or Californian on our menus,” explains Executive Chef Charles Fusco. “We did a lot of research around L.A. for food ideas and trends for tabletops and décor that we could incorporate into Unity L.A. Some of our favorite places were Little Sister in Manhattan Beach, Pine & Crane, and Baroo.”

For the Latin flavors, Fusco consulted closer to his hotel. “About 90% of our cooks are of Latin descent, and many of the recipes we’re using are theirs, not mine. The green and red salsa, carne asada, queso fundido with chorizo and asadero cheese, tamales, posole—those are their family dishes on the menu,” Fusco says.

The menu verbiage categorizes items as originating from six Los Angeles neighborhoods. On the Latin side there’s Boyle Heights, East L.A., and Pico Union; on the Asian side there’s K-Town, Thai Town, and Little Tokyo.

“We wanted a concept that was unique, but not too far out that guests couldn’t recognize it. Many travelers staying with us won’t have time to venture into the neighborhoods, so we wanted to bring as many of those flavors to Unity L.A. as we could,” says Jeff Rostek, managing director at Hyatt LAX.

Market Hub

The hub of Unity L.A. is the 24-hour Market, which features counter seating, a community table, grab n’ go cases for beverages and packaged snacks, and an open kitchen with a soup and noodle station, sandwich and salad station, an illy coffee station, and hot food station powered by TurboChef ovens for items including the Thai Town flatbread, topped with tamarind rock shrimp, Fresno chiles, scallions, Thai basil, and lime juice.

Fusco notes the Market is “not a generic grab n’ go. We’re a true market. Everything is made fresh and assembled in front of you, from sandwiches and salads to ramen and pho. The whole point of putting our Market in the lobby is to create continuous energy and immediately attract people through the sights, sounds, and aromas. The cooks are constantly moving, the ovens and equipment are being used, and it helps give us a focal point.”

The hub of Unity L.A. is the 24-hour Market, featuring counter seating, a community table, grab n’ go cases, and separate stations for soup and noodles, sandwiches, salads, coffee, and hot food such as flatbread pizzas. Photos Courtesy of Michael Wilson Architectural Photography

The Market kitchen also produces food for Unity L.A. Bar, while the main restaurant kitchen in the back of the house handles larger, shareable entrees for the dining room. Top-sellers at Unity L.A. Restaurant include Carne Asada from the Boyle Heights menu ($32); Drunken Noodles from the Thai Town menu ($18); Brandt Farms Ribeye from the Pico Union menu ($36); and Ramen from the Little Tokyo menu ($14). Prices overall at the restaurant are between $12 and $36, while the Market menu ranges between $10 and $18.

Unity L.A. just opened in January, but it’s already garnering positive feedback on social media, with high food quality being cited. The Market is especially popular with “flight crews, early-departure guests, and weekend warriors who love the flexibility of the concept,” observes Crowley. “I want Unity L.A. to inspire our owners, GMs, and F&B directors around the company to say, ‘Wow, look what they did at LAX. I wonder if that type of concept would work here?’ It’s worth the investment, because now we have something truly unique that our competition doesn’t offer.”

Michael Costa is editorial director at Hotel F&B.

Cleared for Takeoff

Poolside event lawn gives groups an upgrade at Hyatt LAX.

An airport hotel might not be top of mind when it comes to outdoor events, but at the recently renovated Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), group gatherings fly high with a revamped outdoor pool and event lawn that can host up to 800 people.

“It’s connected to the back of our new conference center, with a 3,000-square-foot patio that flows out to our event lawn, and the pool is the centerpiece,” says Lori Crowley, corporate director of F&B, Prism Hotels & Resorts, which manages Hyatt LAX.

The pool bisects the lawn, with 5,000 square feet (connected to the conference center) on one side and 7,000 square feet on the other. This allows for two simultaneous parties if needed, and both gatherings can enjoy the pool as a backdrop without crossing paths.

From a catering standpoint, Executive Chef Charles Fusco can utilize two BBQ areas for showcase cooking, such as a pig roast, and there’s enough room for action stations reflecting the Unity L.A. menu (see main story) with Latin and Asian favorites, including carne asada, dim sum, and noodles.

“It’s shockingly quiet given where we’re located, but we’re in an area where planes are landing, so it’s not as loud as takeoffs,” says Managing Director Jeff Rostek. “We also landscaped the lawn with beautiful hedges so attendees don’t feel like they’re next to an airport. There’s so many ways we can utilize this space, and there’s nothing close to this in the LAX market right now.”—MC