Reconfigured Kitchens Help Raise Guest Scores at Embassy Suites Tysons Corner
New equipment and more efficient kitchen strategies make the difference.
Embassy Suites Tysons Corner (ESTC) in Vienna, Virginia, is the brand’s second hotel ever built, opening in 1984 (Embassy Suites Overland Park in Kansas was the first), but it’s second to none when it comes to executing Embassy’s current F&B goals. The 232-room property recently completed a 10-month, $15 million renovation (with a grand reopening in June 2018), emerging with the Hilton-created E’terie concept, offering a flexible menu that works in the ESTC atrium bar/restaurant, as well as room service and catering.
The front-of-house footprint hosting Embassy’s made-to-order breakfast also was refreshed, and with it, a redesign of the brand’s familiar omelet station. For all foodservice at the hotel, new equipment and more efficient kitchen strategies are helping to drive ESTC’s F&B rebirth. Since reopening in June 2018, total guest experience S.A.L.T. scores (Satisfaction and Loyalty Tracking) are up almost 24 points compared to the previous year; breakfast scores increased by eight points; overall room service scores improved nearly 25%, and September 2018 ended with a perfect 100 score for in-room dining—a first for the property. The hotel also is averaging seven or more extra room service orders daily.
“We see a lot more guests staying in and not venturing out because they have great food and beverage options right here in the hotel now,” says GM Kevin Varr. “A few years ago, we had a change of ownership (Noble Investment Group) and they wanted a new, modern direction for the property while involving the Embassy brand in those decisions, so everything was reimagined: guest rooms, F&B, meeting space, and more.”
Behind those skyrocketing scores are months of careful planning to streamline the menu execution at ESTC, with corporate Hilton overseeing and guiding the changes (their offices are about two miles from the hotel). The renovation template created at ESTC is reflected at other Embassy legacy hotels as part of an ongoing brand-wide refresh, with 85 completing the program in 2018, and about a dozen incorporating E’terie concepts so far. There are 40 additional revamps scheduled for 2019.
Embassy is known throughout the industry as a complimentary breakfast pioneer, particularly for front-of-house, made-to-order omelets. The original model for legacy Embassy hotels was, “a cooked-to-order station positioned where the cook’s back was to the guest, because the hood system was along the back wall,” says Shawn McGowan, senior director, global brand F&B, brand services and product development, Hilton Worldwide. “We wanted to switch that paradigm with our current renovations and reposition that cook-to-order chef facing the guest. However, if the hood system is on the back end of the line, and you’re trying to move it to the front end of the line, that can be quite costly.”
The solution to the vent dilemma at many legacy properties was to build a bigger omelet station facing the guest and install induction burners and a downdraft ventilation system that pulls exhaust under the work area instead of toward the ceiling. They also added refrigerated wells between the induction burners so cooks can easily access eggs and condiments without disrupting the work flow—a crucial time-saver during busy breakfasts.
“The new stations saved thousands of dollars because we didn’t have to move and reinstall the hood system on the front end,” McGowan says. “It’s really convenient now for a line cook to face the guest and interact with them, while expediting orders in sequence and speeding up the line flow.”
At ESTC, they already had a front-facing omelet station and overhead hood, so they enlarged that station (part of a 30% overall increase in breakfast area space) and added a new flattop, gas burners, and spacious work area for cooks.
“The previous omelet station was very compact, and it was difficult for two cooks to work back there. Now we can comfortably fit two and even three people back there when it’s really busy,” Varr says.
The roomier breakfast buffet area at ESTC is positioned to the left of the new semi-enclosed, walk-up omelet station and features eight new induction units for hot breakfast items including pork sausage, turkey sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, pancakes, French toast, and more, improving all-around flow in the morning. “It’s so much more efficient now compared to our previous setup,” notes Sufian Unseri, assistant GM at ESTC. “A guest can walk up and order an omelet, then go to the buffet without disrupting the flow among other guests, and return to pick up their omelet when it’s finished. Overall, guests can collect their food faster than before.”
Prior to the expansion, only four hot breakfast items were available on a steam table several feet across from the omelet station, rather than adjacent to it, with guest seating positioned in-between. Those hot items also shared the same footprint as the rest of the buffet.
“The old setup definitely caused some congestion, because the lines of people waiting to plate their food would end up mingling in with the seating area. On busy days, that was an issue with folks already sitting and eating breakfast,” remembers Varr. The previous buffet area is now strictly seating.
After breakfast, the shareable, bar-friendly, comfort food focused E’terie menu takes over for lunch, dinner, evening reception (see sidebar), and room service at ESTC. E’terie is one of two new concepts created by Hilton for Embassy Suites, the other being Brickstones. E’terie is for legacy hotels, while Brickstones is for new-build, Design Option III properties. Because cost is an ongoing concern for owners, both concepts cross-utilize ingredients and minimize labor through kitchen technology to save money. While Brickstones has a full kitchen equipment package built into the design option, E’terie makes use of technology such as combi ovens and Ovention Matchbox impinger/conveyor ovens that, for some owners, might be a small investment, but don’t require a costly teardown and rebuild of the entire back-of-house kitchen to execute.
“Some E’terie menu items use sous vide products that simply require retherming rather than cooking from a raw state, so we can increase our throughput capacity exponentially. We can program the recipes into those particular units and have a retherm capacity that allows our culinarians to work on other pieces of production, like plating. It speeds up the whole process to get consistent, high-quality products to the guest, using a lower labor model,” says McGowan, adding that Hilton develops their own recipes for the sous vide dishes.
As for labor itself, Unseri says the upgrades to ESTC’s F&B program and kitchens—both for breakfast and E’terie—have the added benefit of boosting staff morale and enthusiasm. “Our cooks love it,” he says. “They take great pride in the new equipment, and it’s kind of like they have a brand-new car to take care of now."
Embassy Suites Tysons Corner adds revenue by upselling during complimentary hours.
Embassy Suites is known throughout the industry as an innovator for complimentary breakfast, but they’re also a leader when it comes to evening receptions, where free beer, wine, and light snacks are offered from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
However, with the introduction of the brand’s new E’terie concept (see main story) Embassy saw an opportunity to upsell premium beverages and shareable bites from the E’terie menu during that two-hour gratis window, promoting it to guests as “Raise the Bar.”
“We’ve seen a significant increase in F&B sales, which we typically don’t see during those two hours when everything is complimentary,” says Kevin Varr, GM, Embassy Suites Tysons Corner in Vienna, Virginia. “Guests can upgrade beer, wine, and spirits over the complimentary house brands at a fraction of the regular cost, and we’re seeing a lot of people order appetizers off the E’terie menu during our evening reception too. Our guests are lingering a bit longer now, and our servers are doing a great job of enticing people to try the E’terie menu. It’s been a win-win for the guest experience and also the F&B revenues at our hotel.”—MC