Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch Scores With Market-Style Meeting Breaks
Dedicated spaces give attendees a separate break area more like a grab-and-go market.
In walks a meeting break attendant to tidy up the coffee and tea station at the side of the room, distracting meeting attendees’ attention away from the speaker. Ten minutes later, someone in the group gets up to refill his coffee, clinking his mug and creating more disturbance and drawing eyes and ears away from the program. The speaker was a hard get for the occasion, and he’s visibly annoyed.
It’s a scene as old as meeting breaks themselves, but the Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch, a Destination Hotels property, has implemented an alternative to that old paradigm—not only saving time, labor, equipment, and budget but reducing waste and impressing groups and meeting planners, for whom the planning process is more simplified.
Two new break rooms, each on a different floor and adjacent to, but outside, different meeting spaces, are more like grab-and-go markets in design and offerings, with breakfast and snack items throughout the day for meeting guests to enjoy at their leisure. The two spaces, the General Store (on the first floor) and the Trading Post (second floor), provide fresh pastries, gourmet breakfast breads, fresh fruit and yogurt parfaits, sweet treats, grab-and-go bars, and protein options as well as locally inspired selections from the hotel’s culinary team. Beverages include bottled and sparkling water, gourmet teas, fountain soft drinks, and a coffee bar station with flavored syrups and a variety of sweeteners.
The two rooms are part of the resort’s continued enhancement efforts that began with an $11 million renovation in September 2015. The new breaks concept began to germinate when the hotel team started asking meeting planners what kind of improvements they’d like to see in the standard morning and afternoon coffee break setups, explains Patrick Connors, area director of sales and marketing.
“A lot of them had one, similar, negative feedback: They wished there was a way hotels didn’t have to roll breaks into the meeting room and disrupt the meeting—either bringing a new break in or refreshing a current break,” says Connors. “We thought about it for at least 90 days of gathering feedback from corporations, associations, and even social events that had a meeting before their banquet.”
The team also received similar feedback on price. “Depending on what city you’re in, coffee might be over $100 a gallon,” Connors says. “Another common feedback was that there’s a lot of waste.”
So, they took inspiration from a sister property, the Tempe Mission Palms, which Connors says had been running a similar break station format for a few years. “The majority of their business is package business,” he says. “Their groups will have a modified or full American Plan package [a traditional break setup], including these unlimited breaks. They’re outside the meeting room in designated areas, and it’s been very successful there. We took that concept and brought it into the present to really enhance the product and the environment.”
Space and Flow
The General Store room previously was an audio-visual equipment storage room, used by the hotel’s onsite AV company, while the room upstairs that would become the Trading Post was a banquet storage room. The resort had to add some plumbing and refrigeration in each and moved the AV equipment to a storage facility in the back of the grand ballroom, which had been fairly empty. “It’s better storage, because it has 20-foot ceilings and built-in steel shelving,” Connors says. “It has 12-foot-wide doors, and you can pull a truck right up to it.”
The resort completed construction of the General Store and Trading post in mid-2017 and went live in September, flowing smoothly.
“There are certain cases where you may have 150 to 200 people all breaking at the same time,” Connors says of the rooms, the flow of which is set up in a clockwise setup. “Most people in a break, the first thing they’ll do is grab a water, juices, and sodas. The beverages are all in line with one another.”
A refrigeration unit features water, apple and orange juices, V8, milk, and more. Coca-Cola supplies the hotel with soda machines and refrigeration, and Royal Cup provides a coffee machine for each of the two rooms that does everything from regular coffees to cappuccinos, espressos, mochas, and lattes.
“There’s a center island in the middle that divides the room, with grab-and-go offerings such as muffins, fresh fruit on wooden skewers—things people can put on a plate and walk out quickly,” Connors continues. “There are two other lines. One has two toasters for bread and bagels. Another has pull-out drawers and cabinets; in the morning, we’ll have breakfast bars and other offerings that are packaged. In the afternoon, that might switch to trail mix, peanuts, chips, and things like that.”
The center island, which can be moved out if needed, affords a great deal of flexibility. Outlets in the center of the floor enable the team to put toasters on the tables and even have portable ice cream carts they can roll into the room and plug in. The center table is a standard rectangular banquet table with a custom aluminum overlay. A couple others at the property have copper tops.
The General Store is larger than the Trading Post overall in that it includes an adjacent UPS business center and a café seating area with five high-boy tables in the back—a “cyber café” setup, as Connors puts it. The actual General Store, not counting the UPS center and café area, is about 30 feet long by 15 feet wide, and the Trading Post is the same. Though the rooms are closed and locked when a meeting isn’t happening, the General Store’s UPS center and café can be left open.
A nice byproduct of the new General Store and Trading Post, says F&B Director Bernard Philippe, is a cleaner aesthetic. Corridors and rooms aren’t crowded with stations and people clambering around them. Meanwhile, operation inside the break room is seamless.
“At 7:30 in the morning, it’s open prior to the meeting starting, and it’s going through the day until around 11:30 or noon,” Philippe explains. “Then, we close it for an hour to refresh and refill and reopen and go until 4:30 or 5.”
It didn’t take long for the concept to shine, says Connors.
“We’ve had groups that weren’t contracted to use these breaks, and when they showed up and saw them, they said, ‘The next two days, I want that. I don’t want my coffee break in my meeting room anymore,’” he says. In pitching the concept to new clients, Connors says they point out that if you price out two separate breaks versus one cost per person for unlimited, it’s a significant budget advantage to do the latter, and it’s easier. “If you’re here a three-day meeting with two breaks a day, this takes six planned menus off the planner’s plate and six BEOs they don’t have to sign,” he says.
Genesys North America Solution Consultants recently had their first experience with the resort for a multi-day training meeting. “I’ve been planning events for 11 years, and this is the first time I’ve seen a break option like this,” says Liza Rey, an executive assistant at Genesys, who notes that the design of the room allowed for the program’s 140 attendees to flow through the space and grab whatever snacks or drinks on their way to the next session. “Attendees were pleased with the availability of the abundance of snack options, including healthy snacks,” she recalls. “The hours of availability coincided with our agenda, and no one felt rushed. The break room was always well stocked and clean. I wish more hotels and conference centers would incorporate a similar break option.”
The resort does still offer traditional breaks, such as the full American Plan, which includes break stations for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or a full a la carte package, or a combination of both.
“But, from an F&B point of view, you have to have more resources (for traditional breaks), meeting tables, equipment, coffee pots, tea setup, and the food that’s out there,” says Philippe. “You have to have staff monitoring all the time and running from the back of the house to the room to make sure the offerings are fresh.”
“The scores continue to go up—both with internal surveys the companies do and the surveys we do to the company and meeting guests,” Connors says. “The food cost and food waste is so much better. There are so many offerings, and a lot of it you don’t have to prepare like you would if you were putting out a breakfast. We don’t need three chefs or a lot of banquet servers.”
Philippe notes that when both rooms are in use, but there are no other breaks on the property, they have only two locations to manage, keep clean, organize, refill. One attendant stays on duty in each room. During peak times, such as first thing in the morning, he or she can communicate by radio with a runner, who can go back and forth from the back of the house. “Instead of having eight people taking care of breaks throughout the property, we can usually do the job with three people,” Philippe says. “Depending on the day and combination of meetings, we have reduced labor for breaks by 30% to 50%.