Round Trip: Circling Back to Hyatt LAX's Ambitious Lobby F&B Program
A Q&A with Lori Crowley at Prism Hotels & Resorts.
In our March/April 2017 issue, we featured the extensive renovation of Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport (Hyatt LAX) and, in particular, its trio of lobby-located F&B venues: Unity LA Restaurant, Unity LA Open Market, and Unity LA Bar.
The F&B strategy was devised by Dallas-based management company Prism Hotels & Resorts, and led by Prism’s Corporate Director of F&B Lori Crowley.
At the time of our March/April 2017 issue, the hotel and its Unity LA concept had just opened, so we recently caught up with Crowley to see how that lobby F&B concept has progressed during the past year.
Hotel F&B: How has Hyatt LAX performed since our story last year?
Crowley: The hotel and Unity LA have exceeded our expectations for revenues and customer satisfaction scores. We’ve also won two Hyatt awards: Hotel of the Year for Brand Conversion and Hotel of the Year for Operational Excellence. Our customer satisfaction scores are well above the brand expectations for F&B and rooms. The opening hotel budget was very aggressive, and I think F&B did an unbelievable job from a revenue standpoint. Beverage revenues in particular exceeded our budget by about 55%.
I believe our success also can be traced to the leadership at the hotel, the staff, and their focus on never-ending improvement and anticipating guest needs. That team works very hard to make every interaction personalized for the customer, and that’s been a driving factor in our progress.
How important is the lobby location to the success of Unity LA?
From a customer’s viewpoint they can see all three of our outlets from the lobby, and they’re attracted to the energy in the bar, the market, and the restaurant. We’ve provided them with places to plug in their devices and visual stimulation with televisions, and they have a multitude of seating options like couches to sprawl out on, places to put their feet up, and communal tables where they can gather in groups, so there’s a lot of different experiences we’ve created for them in that arena.
A lot of our customers are regulars, and they give us great feedback about what they like or want changed. What surprises me is the consistency of our business every single day, due to our hotel occupancy being close to 96% for the year.
We have 450 rooms in and out every day, and with the average stay at only 1.2 days, our goal is to create an energetic environment and interesting, local dishes and drinks that give guests a Los Angeles experience without having to leave the hotel, especially since their time is limited and they may not have a chance to see the city.
How has Unity LA been received by locals?
Our hotel is right across from the Southwest Airlines terminal, and Hyatt LAX has a contract with Southwest for their crews to stay with us. So there’s about 60 rooms set aside for Southwest crews every day. The Southwest employees who live in Los Angeles park in the parking garage just behind our hotel, so they’re a big piece of our local customer base. They’ll come into Unity LA either on their way to work or after finishing their shift and get something to go at Unity LA Open Market. Or, if they’re done for the day, they may stop in and have a meal and a drink with us, and spend some downtime in our lobby. Also, our hotel is near a big office building, so we pick up those workers too. Overall, I’d say about 10% of the daily business in our first year was from those locals.
What tweaks have you made to Unity LA since opening a year ago?
We’re always striving to improve our offerings, and one area we adjusted after opening was Unity LA Open Market. It was initially one of the most challenging outlets to solidify because we worked around a very basic footprint for equipment and space.
We started with a bit more grab-and-go, like pre-made sandwiches, all wrapped and ready in the morning for our guests. They would come down and buy a sandwich before leaving, and our executive chef (Charles Fusco) was not happy, because he goes out of his way to source great bread, and the bread quality diminishes the longer it sits in a container as part of a sandwich—and the bread is cold too because the sandwiches are refrigerated. So we cross-trained our staff to make sandwiches fresh around the clock, so nothing is sitting around that was created hours ago; the guest gets it made-to-order now. We also added additional pre-packaged snack items like hummus and high-end yogurts for grab-and-go based on customer requests.
How has the success of Hyatt LAX opened more doors for Prism Hospitality?
When we won the Hyatt awards, it was truly the highlight of our year at the Prism corporate office. Those awards have opened up doors to us for additional management contracts. The success of Hyatt LAX has made owners take a closer look at Prism and say, “Wow, can they do that for me too?”
What advice would you give hoteliers looking to reinvent their lobby F&B?
First, make sure there’s enough seats, and enough variety of seating in the lobby lounge area—it will often be more than you think you need. F&B sold in lobby lounges is, in many cases, exceeding revenues in hotel restaurants throughout the industry, so seating options are crucial.
Also, make sure you have enough visual and audio stimulation like TVs and music to activate the room and keep the energy up, and that you have enough electrical outlets for everyone’s gadgets.
Finally, when designing your bar, make sure the area behind the bar is big enough for staff to do their jobs. You want to fight this battle at the beginning, in the renderings stage, and think through everything employees will need, making sure there’s appropriate space allocated for their equipment and tools. Sometimes, people who design bars just hand us their ideas, when they’ve never actually worked behind a bar, so they don’t understand the logistics. Base your plans on how many people you want working back there and what your target business volume will be. The earlier you get involved in the process, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
This feature originally appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of Hotel F&B. It is one of our best-read Reader Favorites and is updated regularly.