Archive for February, 2011

Are Food Trucks a Threat to Hotel Catering Business? Part II

Food Trucks may pose a threat to hotel catering business. Last week in the first part of this blog I suggested that:

  1. Food truck foodservice is not a fad, in fact it is here to stay, so get used to it
  2. Food trucks offer some very real – and in 2011 very relevant – advantages compared to hotel catering

In fact, I went so far as to say that were I doing a SWOT analysis for a hotel catering department in a major market, I would list “Food Truck Catering” as a threat.

Then I foolishly promised suggestions in Part II- how to turn this into a competitive advantage for your hotel.

OK so now what?

Go buy a $100,000 food truck? That would be OK, but not, I think practical. Anyway, don’t ask me to do the ROI on that one.

So, no, don’t buy a truck.

Instead, leverage what you do best, what the food trucks cannot do. Then turn it into a competitive advantage. I’ll explain.

It’s simple really, and everybody wins. Partner with a number of high quality food trucks. The way you already partner with outside caterers for certain special needs required by your customers from time to time (I’m thinking kosher events at hotels without a kosher kitchen and ethnic weddings, for example).

Next, create a new section for your catering menu, “Food Truck Events”. Think about it. How many years have you had “Mexican Station” on your menu? And when was the last time you saw a competitor without a comparable offering? Let’s get the potential customer excited. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, please see Part I.

What’s a “Food Truck Event”? It could be a tent with 5 food trucks in your parking lot. It could be your “normal” in-house reception, even wedding reception, but now two of your stations are catered by two popular (brides’ choice?) food trucks.

Catering Directors: this is a win-win-win-win (Hotel-Customer-Food Truck Operator-Employee). You add excitement to your offerings, your menu. You get new business that might not have otherwise booked with you. You’ve negotiated a margin with the food truck owner(s) plus (more important!) some exclusivity for your hotel. You don’t want every hotel offering “your” food truck offerings. The food truck owner has a source of new business. More work for your banquet team.

Why will this work? Because of the innate competitive advantages that hotels have over food trucks:

  • You can serve beverage alcohol, they can’t
  • You can provide a large variety of items, they cannot
  • You have a roof, they don’t
  • You have tables and chairs, a dance floor and lighting – they don’t
  • You are a one-stop-shop, they are not – who wants to book every last thing, including tables and chairs separately?
  • If the event is outdoors, you can offer a backup plan for inclement weather – they cannot

Finally, don’t forget one more thing that they have and you can leverage: a following in social media. Maybe this partner thing could really go somewhere?

So, reach out now. Find the best food trucks in your area, trucks that support your hotel’s quality level and image, and form alliances. And don’t forget to update and market that menu.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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Are Food Trucks a Threat to Hotel Catering Business? Part I

Food trucks competing with a well-equipped catering department at a midscale or even upscale hotel? Forget it, I’m kidding.

[FYI: the second highest Zagat food quality rating for any restaurant in San Francisco, 28, is a food cart that’s available 2 days a week. I’ve been. Zagat’s right.]

I don’t know a single catering director who has expressed concern about this. I’m not sure it’s on anyone’s radar. Yet. In fact I know some pretty smart hoteliers who have hosted food truck events. I wrote about it last year.

[Oops. I just Googled “Weddings & Food Trucks” got 23 million hits.]

[Oops again. The Knot just published its 11 top weddings trends for 2011, and guess what?]

We all know that, really, food trucks are a fad, and anyway health departments will be shutting them all down soon and we can get back to the way things were. For example the city council of Richmond CA just put the kibosh on new licenses for 45 days while they figure out which regulations should apply, and how. Closer to home, Atlanta has very strict enforcement policies.

[On the other hand cities such as L.A. – 10,000 food trucks – and Santa Monica and Chicago are passing strict but reasonable laws to govern the trucks. In fact, food truck owners welcome this, they understand that ultimately it will bring them more and new customers who are now reassured about the safety aspect. The New York Times said this “may be the ultimate sign that this faddiest of food fads is going mainstream”.]

Why is this happening, and why is it a trend – not a fad? Some will cite technology and others the recession and they would not be wrong, but there is more. There is a permanent shift in what we value, and this shift began before the recession. The best explanation I’ve seen for this is found in Spend Shift by John Gerzema & Michael. The subtitle says it all: “How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution Is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell, and Live”. Call it “new normal” or whatever you wish: consumers are rejecting “overconsumption”. The authors of Spend Shift cited 5 emerging values – emerging prior to the recession by the way. Among them are these two:

  • We are “adopting a more nimble, adaptable and thrifty approach to life”
  • Old status symbols appeal less, and “purpose, character, authenticity and creativity” are pathways to the “new good life”

Let’s apply this to food truck catering. What do they have that a top notch hotel doesn’t? Affordability. Variety in venue (pick a venue, any venue the trucks can access). Specialization – oftenFood Trucks are great at just one thing, that’s all they do. And Authenticity. For examples check out the Top 20 Food Trucks in the USA. Fun, Buzz, Creativity – and it’s all wrapped in social media marketing.

And now it’s time to get back to hotel catering. Is this really a “threat” to your business? If you asked me to do a SWOT analysis for your business, and if you are located in a major market, I would have to answer “yes”.

OK so now what?

I’ll suggest a response in Part II next week.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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Is Your Breakfast Menu Up-To-Date?

F&B Directors: how much has your breakfast menu changed in the last two years? How about your dinner menu? I often find that hotels focus more on updating the dinner menu while breakfast stays the same. Except for pricing. But these same hotels serve five to ten times as many guests at breakfast as they do at dinner.  

Next question: what is your breakfast capture rate compared to one or two years ago? Well, it may be “red alert” time. Your competitors had an interesting view of the recession, apparently thinking it was the right time to grow the breakfast segment. While casual dining remained stable, with 17% serving breakfast, and midscale or family dining remained steady at 77%, QSR including coffee shops grew to 48%. “In total 47% of all commercial foodservice units currently menu at least some breakfast items.” All of this data is courtesy the 2011 edition of QSR ONESource Magazine (www.qsrmagazine.com). For their publication on January 14 they used data from a number of sources. Here are some highlights. For much of their breakfast menu insight QSR used data from Datassential menutrends™ Direct (http://tinyurl.com/4zodz92).

  • There is significant growth in menuing  nontraditional proteins, including chorizo, sirloin, crab and salmon.
  • Parmesan and goat cheese are the fastest growing cheeses across all types of operators at breakfast.
  • Upscale dinner preparations/descriptions are showing up at breakfast, including wood-smoked, oven-roasted and fire-roasted.
  • Ethnic items continue to increase in popularity on menus – while Mexican shows up the most, there is growth in Italian and Greek inspired items.
  • I know you’ve heard about “health” as a growing trend for years; this latest information says that your guests are more likely to desire healthy food at breakfast than at any other time, and that even incorporating “healthy attributes” will have an impact. Think whole and multi-grains, super fruits and lean meats they say.

Looks like it’s time for breakfast.

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

 

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Is Your Menu Missing Something?

Your dinner menu lists appetizers, right? Or maybe “Starters” or “Small Plates” or a clever synonym suggesting that this is where you start your meal.

But really, it isn’t the start, is it? I mean the start is usually a beverage. Perhaps you offer a beverage menu or a table tent that promotes beverages. OK.

"I wonder where the cocktails are..."

But experts suggest that you (also) list drinks, including wines, on the food menu.

January 26 was interesting for me. That morning I was asked by a client to review a dinner menu for a top notch hotel in the upscale segment.

The dinner menu I reviewed had no cocktails, beers or wines listed anywhere. This isn’t unusual for hotel dinner menus. The menu did have coffee, milk and juice. I recommended enhancements which would put select beverages at the top left of the menu, at the beginning. Why not let the menu “begin at the beginning”?

That same afternoon I attended 2011 Cheers Conference (www.Cheersconference.com) in New Orleans, and an excellent presentation (one of many at the Conference) – Menu Trends:  What the Top 25 Chains Are Pouring. The presenter was Michael J. Ginley, a Partner at Next Level Marketing (http://www.nextlevel-co.com).  Ginley suggested that 86% of the top twenty-five full service restaurant chains list at least “some” drinks on their menus. He then stated that he was puzzled that the number isn’t 100% since there is evidence that the practice improves sales.

But there’s more. In October 2009 I published a blog “How to Sell Less Wine”. In it I cited the remarkable Cornell wine list placement study. Thanks to Sybil S. Yang and Michael Lynn, Ph.D., and The Center for Hospitality Research at Cornell University we now understand which wine list attributes correlate to increases in wine sales. In their breakthrough finding, “Wine List Characteristics Associated with Greater Wine Sales”  [Cornell Hospitality Report, Vol. 9, No. 11, July 2009, http://tinyurl.com/6c8tsc9], Yang & Lynn detail how they meticulously studied the wine lists and wine sales of 270 restaurants spanning several major markets.

In my blog I summarized the findings, and now refer to this one: Wine list design: only two attributes were found to correlate to higher wine sales: placing the list on the menu (instead of a separate book), and not using the dollar sign ($).

Are you using your dinner menu to optimize beverage sales?

Those are my thoughts, let me know yours.

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