From the Board: Eating Between the Lines

Lobby F&B requires detailed thinking about guest flow and expectations.

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Hotel lobbies and public spaces have been evolving. What started as a space to show the grandeur of the hotel has morphed into a highly active social space. In the past few years, however, the design of and programming in those spaces have seen rapid change.

About 10 years ago, hoteliers started to understand the changing guest desire to be around others. They witnessed guests choosing to sit in open spaces versus hanging around in isolated areas such as bars and restaurants that have hard walls and doors for separation. The habits of the customer started to change, and with that came a fast and furious effort to meet that change in behavior.

So, hotels started to bring all of the social experiences into the lobby, in an effort to connect people, but what resulted was instead a confusing disruption that perplexed the guest. People didn’t know where to go or who to talk to. “Can I sit here?” “Can you help me?” and “Where do I order?” became common questions from our guests. Not only did we blur the lines of operating areas, but then we added on the removal of name tags and “non-uniform” uniforms. Guests were left stumped.

What we are seeing today is a recalibration toward a new goal. Guests still want to be in spaces that are not isolated, but they can now better identify zones. Hotels have started to build half walls or open ceiling spaces within the larger space that help to identify intended purpose (e.g. lounge, restaurant). What we are also seeing is a delineation based on furniture style or flooring. Visual cues work well.

As an operator, having the F&B in the middle of the core social space is desirable. Not only do people want to see and be seen, but it makes it less difficult to pull people into the space. Disney mastered this a long time ago, as did international airports with their duty-free areas. They don’t allow you to move throughout spaces without being enticed to see what you don’t know that you need. In a hotel, if you can easily circumvent the F&B and head right to your room, then we have lost the ability to get one more drink or cup of coffee. You might choose to head outside for that muffin instead of checking out our beautiful (and delicious) presentation right in front of you. Let’s be honest: hotels have some of the  most talented people in our  industry and are more committed to quality than ever.  The core intention of the lobby needs to be respected. People need a place to gather and rest. Lobbies serve an important role in setting the stage for the quality of the hotel. We can breach and merge areas together, but need to remember that navigating through spaces should be intuitive to the guest. Guests should always feel welcome and at home. They have paid good money to be there, and we need to help them get the most of their time with us.

Susan Terry
Member, Hotel F&B Corporate
Advisory Board
VP of Culinary and F&B Operations,
Marcus Hotels & Resorts