Archive for May, 2010

Lobby Wars: Clash of the Titans

A note to F&B Directors:

For years I’ve wondered about the Clash. No, not the legendary punk group from London. I mean, I’ve wondered about them too but that isn’t germane to today’s topic. I’m talking about hotel Titans: the General Manager and the F&B Director. From my F&B point of view, it’s quite simple: the Lobby is the entry point to the hotel, often the only entry point. Therefore it should both inform the incoming guest and excite them. And encourage them to spend money. 

By “excite them” I mean “drive them to the F&B outlets”. With respect, “try our new (pick a scent) amenity toiletries” may not excite the guest. On the other hand, for example, a description and picture of something like the remarkable Beet Berry Pop I enjoyed at the even more remarkable Holeman & Finch Public House last weekend would, let’s just say, pique my interest (cazadores blanco, la muse verte absinthe, beet berry soda + fresh lime juice).

So what is the clash? Let me illustrate with my own story: yes, I am a veteran of Lobby Wars, 1988. I was a Food & Beverage Director, and we had a bar that spilled out into the lobby, or came close to doing so. I wanted to put a small $2 chef-served buffet in the lobby to attract passers by, as the lobby was a walk-through for many office workers in the connected office building. The Titan GM, a great manager and even greater person, said no. It would wreak havoc with the lobby (which of course was my intent: mix things up with a little chaos, generate excitement). A short time after he said “no”, guess who went to Europe for two weeks? Cutting to the chase: we erected a buffet, put up a sign, and when the GM came back there was a line of 25 patrons going through the $2 buffet, bar sales were up 38% and I had added seating in the bar as we were now at overflow. After he fired me (this happened more than once) we compromised on a location at the “edge” of the lobby and I know that the promotion was going strong a decade later.

So, are GM’s too touchy about their lobbies? Do they not “get it”? If only our business challenges could be met with such easy answers. No, GM’s are not the problem, their focus is and should be the “big picture”. But there IS a conflict. I think a designer’s and GM’s perspective is that a lobby must first and foremost drive the hotel’s image (and indirectly ADR). Whether the desired impression is one of “elegance” or “class” or “professionalism” or “at your service”…that impression may not be one of excitement.

Over in F&B however, excitement is the name of the game. Especially where bars are concerned. We (and by this I mean “you”) work hard to create an environment that fosters  a certain feeling – maybe fun or  mystery or adventure or curiosity? A nicely done poster in the lobby might help convey this feeling. But I recommend doing something that will GRAB the guest’s attention.. Can this be done without a clash? Is a clash really a bad thing?

If you would like to create an attention-getting promotion, think outside of the box (poster). Project a movie of your bar scene on the lobby floor (or wall or ceiling). B&W works fine. Spray water-color stenciled images (foot prints?) on the lobby floor, that lead to the bar (check out: www.gogorillamedia.com). Get a brightly colored light-rope and string it from a point in the lobby (“start here”) to the bar (run it along the ceiling, or along the walls, etc. – and don’t go in a perfectly straight line).

Finally, my all time favorite combines wayfinding, humor and mystery. If you’re old enough to remember Burma Shave you should be fishing, not reading this. Regardless, construct a small humorous story, put a piece of the story on each of several signs, and let the signs lead your guests where they want to go. Change the signs/story often. Try a 4-day rotation. Like this. You travel too much | You work too hard | When is it time? | To let down your guard? | (name of lounge) | One hour, two hours, | Even three | Happy they are | Come at 5 and see! | (name of lounge) See also:  www.burma-shave.org.

By the way: you might want to wait for the GM to go on vacation.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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How to Manage a Light Bulb

Let’s get this out right now: this is not “how many _______ does it take to screw in a light bulb” or anything like that. I’m not good at screwing in light bulbs. My wife will ask her seven-year-old daughter to replace a bulb, before she’ll ask me. Sure, I’m exaggerating. Sometimes she asks the ten-year-old.

But once that bulb is in, I can manage it as well as anyone. No so at some bars and restaurants I’ve seen in hotels. Bright lights in the bar. Bright lights at dinner. Lighting levels that change dramatically for no apparent reason. Lighting levels that differ from area to area within a restaurant or lounge, for no apparent reason.

Light Bulb Energy

We often overlook the importance of managing lighting levels. Lighting levels? How about music levels? Type of music? And TV’s. What’s showing – and why? It’s 9 o’clock, do you know where your mute button is? Do your guests like the cacophony of three separate programs blaring in your bar? We don’t understand why our places are sometimes empty, yet we’ve effectively killed any and every opportunity for energy.

How do you fix this? Sure, sometimes a better speaker or two and an additional dimmer switch might be required. But mostly it’s about strategy and scheduling.

We schedule our teams to service the guest. Every week. No problem. So why can’t we schedule the environment in which the guest will be served as well? The answer is, we can. Here’s one way to do it.

Make a grid for each outlet, with the hours of operation in columns, an hour for each column. TIP: if the outlet is open to or visible from a public area when closed, it’s just as important to manage its look and “feel” for that time period as well.

First, The FORECAST

At the top row, write “customer” – who is the customer you are targeting each hour the outlet is open?

Next row, write “occasion” – what is the occasion of their visit? Breakfast (re-fueling)? Meeting? Unwind after work? Unwind after meetings? Returning from dinner outside the hotel? Etc.

Finally, third row, write “energy level” or “mood” or whatever best sets the tone for the “feel” you want to support.

Now, the SCHEDULE

Record the appropriate level or channel or number for each hour, for each of the managed ambience items, including:

  • Lighting level #
  • Music volume
  • Music channel
  • TV station (mute except for scheduled “events”)

You will have multiple light controls, multiple TV’s, etc. And you can add items – maybe how the bar looks (“meal set” for certain hours, for example).

Recently I was at a smartly managed hotel in the New York area and the Lobby Lizard – here known as a Lobby Ambassador – has a checklist that includes six items that influence bar atmosphere, and they are checked multiple times each evening. I like that.

Teach your lizard how to manage that light bulb.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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Why You Need Ten New Restaurants Next Door

“So, should you tell him, or should I”, the General Manager says to the F&B Director. This is never good. I am “him”. I’m on assignment to meet with these gents, two of the best I might add, and help them figure out how to raise revenues. I’m an expert, you see. An outside pair of eyes. An objective observer. Right.

So, the GM loses the coin-toss and says, “Well, tomorrow we’ll have ten food trucks in the lot adjacent to the hotel. I thought you should know.”

“So…your restaurants are that busy, can’t handle the overflow?” is my witty response.

Long story short the hotel participates in an association that includes several nearby hotels, and this is a promotion for them and for the association. He had the space, and the open mind, so he said “Bring ‘em to my place”.

“Oh, and by the way…” the F&B Director chimed in, “We’re going to do this every Tuesday at lunch time.”

Well, close the restaurants now, right? This hotel has a food court and full service restaurant and full service lounge serving food and beverage at lunch – do they need ten more competitors, even if just one in seven days? And while I’m whining, what is it about F&B that makes GM’s (and DOSM’s) spend significant hours pondering what the next great giveaway will be?

There are two lessons here, two that I can think of anyway.

First, this is a fabulous idea. Here’s why. It didn’t cost anything for them to bring 500-700 qualified potential customers into their back yard. Think about it. Nearly everyone walked or drove from nearby. They are all potential customers and the hotel can give flyers, post banners, dress up staff in sign boards, hire entertainers to entertain and by the way promote the hotel. How much would YOU pay to be able to get your marketing message in front of 700 nearby office and other workers. How many thousands of emails would you have to send to reach those 700. And it might be a different 700 next week. Who now all know about the hotel’s entertainment, its happy hour, its sushi bar, its coffee bar, its food court, its mother’s day brunch…and what was that cost again?

Second, why do people flock to food trucks. You may have heard about this craze by now. It’s cool. It’s trendy. And so on. But the real draw I think is the fun that comes with the variety. The experience of trying something new. The experience of having ten restaurants parked at your feet. And here’s our lesson F&B people. How do we replicate that excitement in our everyday operations. When is the last time we teased our guests with something new, interesting, intriguing, different? Korean BBQ. Gourmet Cupcakes, Mexican-Chines Tacos, Gourmet Brats, Japanese Burgers, Sushi, East Indian, Korean Tacos, Dim Sum, Wings, and on.

Learning and trying new things is fun for our guest, it creates memorable experiences.

If you are a hotel F&B you probably serve buffets. Breakfast at least. Maybe brunch. Maybe lunch. Catering almost certainly. What an incredible opportunity to introduce new cuisines, types of items, dishes, twists.

The empty buffet is your empty parking lot. Put a food truck on it and see what happens.  

These are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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