But are branded chain restaurants or food halls what today's diners really want? Or do they not care, just as long as the food's good and so is the overall dining experience?
— Deanna Ting
Paris-based Accor is one of the world’s largest hospitality companies, with more than 4,500 places to stay (homes and hotels) in 100 countries and 10,000 dining outlets that — according to Accor CEO of food and beverage and lifestyle, Amir Nahai — generate more than 5 billion euros, or $5.7 billion U.S. dollars, in revenue on an annual basis.
And now that SBE, the Los Angeles-based hospitality group whose hotel and restaurant brands include the Mondrian, SLS, Delano, Cleo, Katsuya, and Umami Burger, is partly owned by Accor, you can expect to see more of those thousands of restaurants and bars being rebranded under SBE.
Over the next seven years, Accor and SBE plan to open at least 100 Umami Burger restaurants worldwide, as well as focus on opening other SBE dining and beverage brands such as Carna, SkyBar, and Dandelyan within Accor properties.
Why start with Umami Burger? SBE CEO Sam Nazarian said that the brand, which can be easily adapted to fast casual and quick-service models, is an easy fit with multiple Accor hotel brands and, not only that, “Umami is more than a burger product” with “a global following” that’s undergone a sort of brand repositioning following SBE’s full acquisition of the brand in 2016, and initial investment dating back to 2011.
That process included closing less successful locations of the brand, streamlining the menu, adding healthier options, and partnering with brands that include Impossible meats, purveyors of lab-grown meat.
The power of branded dining concepts isn’t lost on hoteliers like Nazarian.
“I’ve always felt that we have to be about the brand, not about the chef,” he added, regarding his decision to manage his hotels’ food and beverage and to “create a business around F&B.”
And when trying to convince fellow hotel owners and operators to go with certain dining concepts, said Nahai, the power of brands is immeasurable.
“Having a partnership with a group like SBE is so valuable for us because it allows you to give concepts and brands that have proven track records,” Nahai said. “You can clearly talk about the ROI piece, then you can give them the confidence that you have the ability to do it.”
And for SBE, the power of Accor’s network will help the company fuel its growth and expansion plans for all of its brands. “For any operator of our size — even when you look at Shake Shack, for instance, their biggest growth was through a licensing partnership with Alshaya in the Middle East,” Nazarian noted. “Having the Accor network, as a restaurant group, is a tremendous value to us … and we’re very focused on constantly innovating new brands that fit all of their categories.”
Accor has, for at least the past two years, been building toward an overall business strategy that it calls “augmented hospitality,” and dining, Nazarian and Nahai said, plays a large part of it.
“The philosophy of [Accor CEO] Sebastien [Bazin] has made with augmented hospitality is literally more than just the hotel rooms,” Nazarian said. And that is one major reason why SBE decided to enter into a joint-venture with the company.
Nahai added that dining “is central to the augmented hospitality strategy” because “it enables the most important parts of it, which is, No. 1, to make your core product more attractive to travelers and it becomes an anchor in your community.” He said that at Accor’s Novotels brand, for example, some 70 to 80 percent of its diners are not even hotel guests.
Hotels Hone in on Food & Beverage More Than Ever
Accor and SBE aren’t alone in their dining ambitions as far as hotel companies go, and to be fair, dining has always been a major focus for a number of hotels, especially full-service properties.
Hyatt, for a number of years, has had its own dedicated food-and-beverage teams. InterContinental Hotels Group’s (IHG) Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, as its name implies, has a division of its business entirely dedicated to dining.
Most recently, Jumeirah appointed its first-ever chief culinary officer, Michael Ellis, the former international director of the Michelin Guides, in an effort to bring Michelin-level quality to all of Jumeirah’s dining outlets.
Last year, Standard International, whose hotel brands include The Standard and Bunkhouse Hotels, appointed chef Angela Dimayuga as its creative director of food and culture. Already, Dimayuga has established herself as a trendsetter, opening a gay bar at the Standard East Village in New York City and bringing back chef Rocco DiSpirito to run the kitchen at the Standard Grill, also in New York.
It’s a clear sign that, increasingly, more hotel groups are realizing the importance of dining, not only for the overall hotel guest experience, but especially for their bottom lines.
“Food and beverage has really become central to our core strategy over the past couple of years,” Nahai said. “One manifestation of that is, candidly, my role,” which includes a seat at the table of the Accor executive committee. “That has a big impact with owners.”
Skift recently spoke to Accor’s Nahai and SBE’s Nazarian, separately, to gather their thoughts on where they see the future hospitality dining headed. While both agreed on the power of branded dining concepts, they also had some diverging thoughts on what they see trending in hotel restaurants and bars.
Stop Calling It ‘F&B’
Nahai, for one, wishes the hotel industry would stop referring to its dining operations as food and beverage, or F&B, for short.
“Maybe the most important things I’ve done since I’ve arrived at Accor — the one that’s created the most profound change — is to stop talking about hotel food and beverage,” he said. “I think that the industry, for a long time, was focused on the things that make a hotel different. Of course, there are some differences, but at the end of the day, I don’t like to talk about a hotel restaurant, or a lobby bar. I talk about creating incredible bars and restaurants that happen to be in hotels.”
For hotels that hope to attract non-traveler clientele to their dining outlets, this is especially important.
“We don’t get a pass because we’re in a hotel,” he added. “We need to continually create better [dining] experiences because people are going to have more and more choices.”
SBE, Nahai added, was one of the first hospitality companies to understand that. “They had hotels, and then they had great brands that were restaurants in those hotels.”
The (Debatable) Rise of the Food Hall
Both Nahai and Nazarian said that the decision to establish a quick-service restaurant versus a full-service one is entirely dependent on a number of factors, but whereas Nahai doesn’t necessarily see more food halls or food courts emerging in hotels, Nazarian sees them as a growing possibility.
Nazarian said that, even before SBE decided to work with acclaimed chef Jose Andres on its SLS Beverly Hills restaurant, which would eventually become The Bazaar, it was “in many ways conceived to be a glorified food court …. where people can actually see their food being made and they can, in many ways, pick their food being made and pick on the beverage side.”
Food-hall inspired dining concepts, Nazarian thinks, will “be a very competitive edge moving forward. I definitely think that’s the way the hotels, at least that we’re seeing, are going.”
Nahai, for one, said, “I don’t think you could say that hotels tomorrow are going to be more or less food courts. If that location warrants having a food court, then great. If it warrants fast casual, then great. It’s more location than hotel specific.”
Social media, Nazarian said, has something to do with the rise of the food hall, too. “The world of social media has limited the experience you go up to these little bars and restaurants for,” he said. “When people want to be around a destination that’s not as expensive, that also provides multiple options, that also provides a social community hub — that’s really what glorified food halls are.”
On Developing the Right Restaurant for a Hotel
Nahai described the process for settling on the right hotel dining concept as a “blend between art and science.”
It’s about who will be going to the hotel and to the restaurant, what the local market is like, what the market can bear in terms of price point, what kind of atmosphere is warranted, and what kind of cuisine is needed.
“Frankly, we’re in a world where white spaces are increasingly rare,” Nahai noted. “If I’m opening a hotel in London, chances are every kind of restaurant is going to be there. Then it becomes about finding the right operator and people that we are confident have the skills, the brands, and the ability to make it successful, and people who are motivated to work with us on that project.”
And when it comes to what defines a successful restaurant, he said, “If you think about what makes a restaurant successful today, it’s not just what’s on the plate. It’s actually the whole experience around it. Of course, you need a chef, but you also need experts in design, in music, in lighting. You need people who know how to hire the best hosts and hostesses.”