Web Exclusive | March 2012 | By Amanda Baltazar

Hilton Zeroes In On Quick Serves

The vice president of food and beverage says the hotel chain recognizes that consumers want limited-service options.

Executives open Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at Hilton property.
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Hilton Worldwide announced last week that it plans to open 500 new restaurants worldwide in the next three years, with a specific emphasis on quick serves. Up to a quarter of these restaurants will be within the company’s U.S. hotels.

QSR spoke to Beth Scott, vice president of food and beverage strategy and innovation, about plans for the new stateside restaurants.

Why is now the time to be opening new restaurants? For a long time it was “don’t spend,” and now everybody is catching up. Plus we are building new hotels, and third-party restaurant groups are now more interested in hotels as a way of growing their companies. Restaurant companies that wouldn’t look at nontraditional locations in the past are looking at them now—at hotels, airports, and schools.

How will you select which hotels they go into? Anything new gets them, as well as hotels we’re converting to the Hilton brand.

Will these restaurants be partnerships with existing concepts or unique to Hilton properties? For our luxury brands, like the Conrad hotels and Waldorf-Astoria, there’s a desire to partner with celebrity chefs or higher-end concepts. But overall, some of the quick-service concepts are appealing because of the way people want to eat now.

The rise of grab-and-go market concepts is huge—everyone’s got one now. Even the celebrity chefs are opening them, including Mario Batali and Cat Cora. People are on the move these days and don’t have time to sit down and have a meal. They want higher-end grab-and-go.

Do you expect to have some hotels with only quick-serve concepts? A quick serve probably wouldn’t replace a sit-down restaurant but it could, especially in a city where there’s a plethora of restaurants nearby.

Which brands are already signed up to work with Hilton? We’ve got the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf signed up. They are expanding rapidly throughout the country. We’ve got Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, the Il Mulino group, and Michael Jordan’s restaurant group. We have about 20 concepts listed already.

These are groups that know how to operate in a hotel environment, which is great, as sometimes they are the only restaurant in a hotel. Breakfast and room service are a key part, so if they don’t understand the operating environment, it becomes impossible to manage.

How do you learn what works in each market? We spend a lot of time doing market studies, not just on hotels but also looking at what the local diners are looking for. We have a captive audience, but we strive to build hotels that can stand on their own. So it’s a combination of what’s right for a hotel and the market that it’s going into.

We have a captive audience but we strive to build hotels that can stand on their own.

What are some of the key trends in dining today that you hope to bring to Hilton properties? Not wanting to sit down in the restaurant is key.

We are also looking at having our bars be more attractive for a drink and something to eat, especially for singles.

People want choice and that doesn’t necessarily have to mean five restaurants in the hotel, but more that a restaurant can morph from day to night and that people can come into our restaurant at any time of the day or night and feel comfortable.

Design is also extremely important, as people are more in tune to restaurant design because they eat out more. I have to give credit to these HGTV and Food Network shows, because people are more interested in what’s out there.

And finally I think that healthy sourcing, farm to table, is not going to go away either. It’s the transparency trend. People want to know where their food came from and want to see it being cooked.

Are you changing anything else about dining in Hilton restaurants? We’ve started to change our mindset. [In the past] we’ve designed restaurants for lunch and dinner and they happen to do breakfast as well, rather than the other way around. If you make them breakfast destinations, it can put guests in the mindset of coming back to eat again later.

What does the Hilton customer want from a restaurant? We did a huge project that talked to about 22,000 people about what they wanted and we got some very good restaurant information.

People said they wanted healthy options; food that was relevant to the location they were at; they want quick options; they want choice.