Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The future of hotel F&B in the post-Covid era

Aug 04. 2020
Jean-Michel Dixte, Dusit International Bangkok’s global vice president of Food & Beverage
Jean-Michel Dixte, Dusit International Bangkok’s global vice president of Food & Beverage
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By The Nation

Jean-Michel Dixte, Dusit International Bangkok’s global vice president of Food & Beverage, shares views on the future of his industry in the post-Covid-19 era.

With the world now facing one of the worst economic crises on record, and millions of people in the hotel F&B industry losing their jobs, all indications are that the true consequences of the Covid-19 crisis are yet to be felt, with more seismic shifts to come – socially and economically.

Changing tastes in focus

Following the pandemic, wellness trends in the dining market will rise. Eating and living with a conscience is going to become a strong food industry ethos, with more businesses taking a greener and sustainable approach.

“Growing local” and “buying local” are two key concepts which have come to the fore in these difficult times, and they will continue to grow as people have fallen in love with this new-found connection in their lives.

People have also woken up to the fact that any green effort to save the planet ultimately equates to an effort to save themselves. They have realised that, for us to live better quality lives for longer, we must treat ourselves and our environments better. Wellness and care must come first.

This will bring a rise in circular economy business models and a resurgence of people “going back to basics”, with many using food as medicines (particularly herbs and vegetables), and learning to live without modern technology. In this environment, wellness will become more mainstream and popular across all levels of society. It will no longer be viewed as the reserve of the elite.

Following the crisis, the vast majority of people will also choose to fuel their happiness by leading healthier lifestyles – replacing any unhealthy eating and drinking habits they may have had with a better balanced diet. Home cooking and street food will be major facilitators of this change.

The impact of tech on service

Technology has changed the dining scene dramatically.

Today, customers can do almost anything with their smartphones – searching restaurants, writing reviews, booking tables, viewing menus, placing orders, and making payments via banks or with cryptocurrency.

Cloud tech and algorithms can enhance the efficiency of any restaurant operation and ensure services are best tailored to meet guests' needs.

Artificial Intelligence will only become more prevalent in hotel F&B industry over the next few year.

It will also vastly change the home dining experience. With people's lives becoming increasingly hectic and more difficult to manage, convenience will take over cooking from scratch. Food delivery, convenience foods on the go, frozen meals, and dining kits will all be in high demand. With Deliveroo teaming up with Amazon, the Blue Ocean Strategy they adopt will dominate the food delivery sector.

Social and economic factors

As business leaders pursue more cost-effective models, hotel companies will subsequently invest less in F&B operations and related manpower, and F&B programming may be massively reduced overall.

Quick Service Restaurants and Fast Casuals will take over the standalone market, each featuring minimum layers of staff – and requiring minimal skills – but still providing decent dining experiences in their related segments.

To compete, hotels will increasingly use high-speed ovens, sous vide techniques, and other versatile cooking machines and methods that offer consistent levels of performance while simplifying cooking processes, allowing for smaller kitchens, and requiring less staff.

Expediting such models will be the fact that sourcing quality staff will only become more difficult – especially for the mid- to high-end segments. Younger generations do not want to do physical labour, at unsocial hours, for little money. They'd much prefer to make a YouTube channel or dance on TikTok for a legion of adoring fans.

As such, the luxury dining sector will become super niche – with table service led by staff who are skilled, knowledgeable, and passionate about their craft. Michelin Star chefs will become affordable by the 1 per cent controlling the planet. High-end restaurants as we know them will become a thing of the past, remembered only by a few, Snowpiercer-style.

How can hotel restaurants respond?

Having developed hundreds of concepts – and operated quite a few – throughout his career, Dixte sees the need for a bar-dining concept that's focused on local street food and crafted drinks. He believes that F&B in hotels will become more connected to local communities, especially street food culture, giving guests the opportunity to enjoy a genuine taste of each respective destination.

This will certainly be the case at ASAI Hotels, Dusit's new lifestyle brand for millennial-minded travellers, which is designed to connect guests with immersive local experiences in vibrant destinations. The first ASAI hotel is slated to open this September in Bangkok's Chinatown.

Following the virus crisis, the entire market will be more price-driven than ever before, and with consumers having less disposable income, affordable meals will be in high demand. People will also look for added value experiences – something that can bring loyalty to a brand – and hotels must respond accordingly.

As for branding, this will become more important than ever – especially when it comes to cementing competitive advantage.

Branding will not only reassure people about the cleanliness and safety of a property, but it will also help customers to express their social and political viewpoints.

Hotels and restaurants have always been strictly neutral when it comes to politics. This is going to change, and branded restaurant and hotel companies will have to take a firm stand for what they believe in.

Think increased transparency across the board – from supply chain and food origin, to social and political views. The world of tomorrow, headed for a better balance of rights, is facing a battle of powers – the haves and have nots. Consumers will be looking closely at their moral compasses, and they will only buy from brands they can trust and really relate to.

Final thoughts

It's important to remember we are now living in an experience-driven market in which people buy products or services to feel a certain way.

Providing them with high quality guest rooms, food, and drinks is no longer enough. Customers want to live emotions; they crave experiences – especially personalised ones that will transport their senses to those different dimensions of happiness where indelible memories are made.

While technology is a great enabler of this personalisation, it can never replace the human touch which delivers the authenticity, warmth and genuine care that truly resonates with guests. Post-Covid-19, this kind of service will become a real luxury, and people will be looking for more of it to truly feel alive.

The true nature of success in the hospitality industry will be defined by those who always have their community's best interests at heart. And in a world where extremes are prevalent, the victors will be those who always put genuine empathy, thoughtfulness, and emotional intelligence first.

Jean-Michel Dixte is the global vice president of Food & Beverage for Dusit International Bangkok.

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