Four Considerations in Developing a Grab-and-Go Concept
Hotel pros speak from experience on getting the grab.
Jonathan Raduns, a visual food merchandising consultant with Merchandise Foods, has been helping hotels and resorts plan, launch, and revamp grab-and-go markets since 2010. Joey Worley, director of F&B at Windsor Court Hotel New Orleans, opened the property’s new market, Café Anglais, in December 2016. Lindsay Maddock, assistant director of F&B of the Grand Hyatt New York in New York City, runs The Market, which launched in 2010 and is open 24 hours.
The three shared with us the most important considerations hoteliers should keep in mind for a successful grab-and-go operation and examples of how these professionals have used those concepts.
1. Provide a unique experience.
Maddock suggests adding a special element such as wine, cheese, and cured meats. “There are so many dining experience options in New York City,” she says. “We decided to add wine, and our sommelier did a good job of creating a wine list for us. We decided to create a charcuterie and cheese and crackers area to go along with that to give our guests more.” Maddock says they saw positive results in the first two weeks after adding the offerings. “It’s been great to see an increase in our beverage sales.”
Providing regionally produced, outsourced, packaged artisan snacks is a profitable touch, advises Raduns.
“Developing a custom-curated shopping experience of artisan food snacks and sweets can add to the experience and encourage exploration in the in-hotel eatery, cafe or food market,” he says. “We call these items ‘food souvenirs.’ It is surprising how many guests will consider taking home a pound of coffee beans or a box of artisan chocolates. When guests are visiting friends and business partners, enjoying a personal indulgence, or bringing home a culinary gift for others, there’s more than just the eat-it-here-now demand in the market.”
Also, consider sustainable business practices, Worley says. “We wanted to keep our offerings as local as possible,” he explains. “The market here appreciates the use of local vendors and providers. We use French Truck Coffee, which is a newer, growing local coffee provider that goes above and beyond. They have locations in Memphis and New Orleans and source sustainably from farmers all over the world. They pay a fair price, they charge us a fair price, and we can tell them when we want to change styles and want something different. They’re a great company to work with because they’re on the cutting edge of their business.”
2. Allow room to adjust.
Raduns notes that trial and error is helpful. He suggests trying different packaging and locations within the market when testing out a new product. “Don’t rule out a new market packaged product or in-house idea after only a few tries,” he says. “Sometimes ideas need different or consistent execution before they become a success. Before you toss the idea, ask yourself whether a different format of this item would work better, with different packaging, labeling, or even location within the market. Did we make or present enough of the product in cases or shelves for it to even show up on the customer’s radar?”
Consider reworking menu items, Worley advises, recalling a portabella mushroom sandwich that was on his menu when Café Anglais first opened. “We found that people weren’t as interested in a vegetarian sandwich as they were in a salad,” he says. “If there was interest in the sandwich, we weren’t selling a lot, so the chef made it into a wrap instead of a sandwich, which made it a little more appealing and a bit healthier of an option. We also enhanced some of the vegetarian salads we were offering. Our barista supervisor suggested a lunch special for $12 that included a drink and a piece of fruit or chips. Right away, we saw a surge in sales with the sandwiches and salads due to the fact that we called it a special. It was appealing to people who wanted a quick, affordable, easy, get-it-and-go option. Tweaking the menu and lunch special helped us really hit our stride.”
And never stop figuring out what guests want. “A lot of what we do in the market is trial and error,” Maddock says. “We try to figure out what products work and what products don’t work. That’s been the biggest challenge—trying to stay competitive and have the most fun products we can put out there that are practical.”
3. Pay attention.
See where guests go to get what they need. “We’re pretty centrally located in the central business district of downtown New Orleans,” says Worley. “There are lots of other restaurants, coffee shops and other things of that nature available to guests and locals. We’ve been noticing over the years that guests would leave the hotel and run across the street, just a few steps from the hotel. They would go to Starbucks or a local chain to get coffee and a piece of fruit. If you stood in the lobby at nine in the morning, you’d notice people doing that. We realized there was a demand for that casual, on-the-go type of food and beverage experience. We were sending guests out of the hotel to get something that with some creativity and redesign of our space we could offer here.”
Raduns stresses that placement is important. “The details matter in visual presentation of products,” he says. “Are your employees filling shelves regularly and consistently? Have you optimized shelf and case sets for profitability? How you place products on every shelf can substantially impact profitability? We have coached a major grab-and-go packaged food producer on adjusting how they placed food products in their refrigerated shelves. With no other expense than changing the case layout, they reported over a 10% increase in sales.”
And give items a designated amount of time, Maddock says. “We’ll plan special menus. For $15, they get a drink, fruit and a specialty item. It is challenging to try new products and not be afraid to try new things.”
4. Allow others to provide input.
Always remember that different groups have different needs. “I think with hotels, it’s always changing,” Maddock observes. “There are always new groups coming in and groups need change by the day. That’s been our biggest challenge and what I’m trying to work on. We have groups that com in that are on their own for lunch and dinner. How do we market ourselves for our grab-and-go, when in New York City, they have everything at their fingertips? We spend time looking at their group, and what kind of group they are, and making changes in our market.”
Worley makes sure to allow staff and customers to provide insight. “If something is not selling, we’ll try to display it in a different way,” he says. “How we merchandise things and how it looks and appeals to people when they walk in can make all the difference. It’s been a fun and interesting process to be a part of.”
This feature originally appeared in a previous issue of Hotel F&B and is updated regularly.