By rethinking some menu items, hotels may be able to save bundles on expensive equipment without impacting guest satisfaction.
When Choice Hotels’ Cambria Suites brand first developed its food and beverage program, the idea was to keep the necessary investment in kitchen equipment and infrastructure as minimal as possible, says Phil Beilke, senior director of brand management for Cambria Suites.
“Now that’s everybody’s objective these days,” he adds.
As part of that effort, Cambria specified a key piece of equipment–an all-in-one griddle, convection oven and burner top–that was self-venting in order not to have to install expensive exhaust hoods. But because of permit problems and operational issues, Cambria has since decided to return to the more traditional approach of a separate griddle and convection oven with an overhead exhaust hood.
“It adds to the cost, but ultimately provides the most flexibility,” which is important because many Cambria Suites hotels include meeting space and many operators choose to do their own food and beverage for such spaces, Beilke says.
Cambria, however, continues to review what goes into its kitchens. For example, the brand uses no deep fryers of any sort, Beilke notes. That means no french fries.
“We serve either different types of salads or chips as alternatives,” he says. “French fries were not incredibly important as long as we had alternatives that made sense to guests and were widely accepted items. From a maintenance, upkeep and cleanliness-of-the-kitchen perspective, it just made sense.”
Instead of fries, Cambria offers pasta salad, potato salad, fruit, Terra chips or nacho chips, Bielke notes. “It really doesn’t even register with the guest that we don’t have fries available,” he adds. “We have had no negative guest feedback on that whatsoever.”
Not having fries works very well for Cambria, as it eliminates any need for a fryer.
“There really was nothing [on the menu] that needed that piece of equipment that we couldn’t do better without it or have a healthy alternative to, so we couldn’t justify the expense,” Bielke says. “Even though we have things like buffalo wings on the menu, that product comes ready–all we have to do is bake it versus deep fry it.”
Brad Nelson, vice president of culinary for Marriott International, says he has had thoughts of phasing out the fryer present in Courtyard by Marriott kitchens, but, “I don’t know how far that’s going to go. It depends how the product performs, and quality food is the absolute benchmark that we judge everything by.”
Nelson says Marriott won’t compromise on quality, but “if we can do a great french fry out of something besides a fryer,” the company certainly will do its research there, because for now it is almost exclusively using the fryers for french fries in the evenings.
Then there is the slicer–another piece of equipment Nelson would like to see Courtyard live without. “I’d like to not have it, but it’s truly a test on how it performs for the guest. We spent a lot of time trying to make sure we had a top-quality sliced meat product, and frankly, now we have some new product to look at, and we are testing that in an existing hotel,” he says.
Moving forward, “the slicer may not be part of the equipment package,” he adds. “The slicer and fryer are pieces of equipment we use from a quality standpoint, but we continue to evaluate their use.”
Cambria’s Bielke says his brand also will press on with exploring options and will consider tweaking the menu to evolve. “Right now there’s no set line of equipment required in the kitchen–we continue to look at how to lessen equipment while continuing to offer a menu the guest wants,” he says.
Derek Gale, Senior Editor