With spring just around the corner people getting ready to travel for both business and pleasure. Fortunately there are new options and alternatives for travelers looking to stay on budget while still enjoying the getaway.
Hotels and other accommodations are upping their game to lure travelers of all ages, brackets and desires to find a way to “make it happen.”
Coming from all hotel groups is one especially enticing new option … casual dining … offered almost around-the-clock.
In upscale hotels this is a big departure from pricier, sit-down, white-cloth dining offerings.
The new concept is more like grabbing a quick meal from a Panera’s or similar-style self-service restaurant than sitting down to a dinner in a formal hotel restaurant which is sure to require more time and money.
Hyatt Place and Hyatt Restaurants have menus which offer appetizers, drinks, soups and chili, sandwiches and breakfasts, along with greens, sweets and flatbread and pizza.
These contemporary looking and feeling restaurants are located within the hotels are now permitting the hotel guests (and others) to decide what and how much food they want to eat at any time of the day.
When we arrived at nearly midnight last fall at The Courtyard by Marriott Lake Mary/North near Orlando, Florida we were still able to secure some coffee, ice cream and other food item from automated coolers.
The next morning we served ourselves a hot breakfast including everything from eggs and pancakes to French toast.
“Grab the most important meal of the day, at any time of the day. Don’t worry, it’s served with fresh fruit and breakfast potatoes,’’ read one Hyatt Place menu.
The new Bistro restaurants in many of the Courtyard by Marriott hotels and inns offers similar thinking.
These hotels want their guests to “Eat, Drink and Connect.” A great idea for both business travelers and vacationers.
The Courtyard Sandestin at Grand Boulevard in Destin, Florida opened its new Bistro last November. Along with extended dining hours, modern and comfortable new seating areas and Starbucks coffee, this location offers seasonal menu items, cocktails, wines by the glass, craft, imported and domestic beers.
So while one member of your party is having a iced grande Caramel Macchiato, another could be enjoying a Mojito or a Blue Moon Belgian White craft beer.
“Our guests have many new and wonderful food and drink options right within the hotel,” said Jessica Hathorn, sales manager, Marriott International, Inc.
Both the Hyatt and Marriott hotel chains are also offering vegetarian and gluten-free food dishes in these new casual dining facilities.
Since many solo business travelers don’t want to go into a hotel restaurant if it means they are sitting down to a meal alone, some, the new casual eateries are designed with some counter seating makes dining alone less off-putting.
The décor of these new casual restaurants often feature a combination of booth, counter, bar-height and regular height tables and even some sofa and cocktail table seating. Many of the table and countertops are of stone, wood or other forms of solid surfaces.
And some of these restaurants go even further offering within the small group setting a private television enabling one person or small group to watch a show or sporting event of his or their own choice will grabbing a meal. Such was the look and layout of the Fairfield Inn by Marriott in Ocala, Florida.
Some of the individual seating areas even resembled a family room in a private residence.
The new Herb n’ Kitchen at New York’s Hilton Hotel offers gourmet food items in an room that affords the diners a view of the kitchen.
Hotel executives have learned that their guests want convenience, choice and healthy options. “They want to dine in hotel restaurants that provide meals like they might purchase themselves at gourmet or organic food stores such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or Dean & DeLuca.
Travelers have been to or have heard about the European-inspired Food Halls in London and Italy and Mario Batali’s Eataly artisinal marketplace in New York City. So now they want their hotel environment to be like those places.
Research has shown that hotels need to offer a restaurant where guests can have something quick, healthy and easy to eat. Guests want to able to either visit and talk with others or work on their laptop with few interruptions while dining.
Marriott Hotels has urged their traditional restaurant chefs to include whole grains and organic ingredients in their dishes.
At The Bistro eateries in the Marriott Courtyard hotels the calorie counts for each dish or item are available.
Granola yogurt parfaits and oatmeal with nuts are on the breakfast buffet at the Residence Inns.
Guests at all ranges of the hotel dining scale are looking for “spa menus” which include such items as edamame beans and vegetable wraps. Diners also increasingly ask for sauces and dressings on the side, sandwiches without bread (sometimes because of a gluten-intolerance) and baked or broiled dishes instead of fried meats.
Even at the very elegant and upscale Café Boulud in Palm Beach’s Brazilian Court there is casual happy hour that along with two-for-one drinks, offers “three small plates.”
This is the year in which many existing trends, such as small plates will grow. Hotels which aren’t currently offering small plates, will according to many restaurant marketing analysts.
“Hyatt Place at West Palm Beach/ Downtown is well-aware that their guests are not only health-conscious, but also generally in a hurry to get somewhere, be it wedding or a sport outing. They don’t want a typical breakfast, lunch or dinner,’’ said Elizabeth McCabe, assistant general manager. So our Gallery Menu makes perfect sense. “They want flexibility and their coffee, their Starbucks.”
Hotel corporations have gotten the message. If they don’t want their dining rooms sitting empty many nights, they will modify the restaurants and give guests the kind of menus they crave.