Level up: Marriott takes F&B programming to new heights

INTERNATIONAL REPORT—Travel binds us all. It connects us to places, people and cultures. Surely, connection takes place through conversation, but one of the most powerful ways to bind cultures and find common ground is through taste. It’s not called breaking bread for no reason—gathering around a table to eat and share food is a true act of connection.

While food may link travelers to other cultures, in the hotel space, F&B must evolve in the way other areas of hotel programming does. For Marriott International, food and beverage concepts continue to grow to not only satisfy travelers but give them a reason to travel.

“Within the industry, food and beverage within hotels has often been viewed as an amenity, but at Marriott, we view our restaurants and bars as destinations for locals and hotel guests,” said Matthew Von Ertfelda, SVP of food and beverage and global operations, Marriott International. “Food and beverage is an integral part of travel, with people increasingly choosing their destinations based on local drinking and dining offerings. That’s why we believe in creating authentic, locally relevant dining and drinking experiences that people talk about. By delivering these bespoke experiences led by our world-class artisans, our restaurants and bars are becoming destinations for both hotel guests and locals alike.”

As far as new concepts, Marriott has 50 restaurants and bars undergoing a pilot study and being treated as “labs for learning.”

“These locations were identified by F&B leaders as destinations with high potential. Many of these restaurants have launched and garnered high praise from guests, ultimately yielding strong financial results for the company,” Von Ertfelda said.

For Marriott, these concepts consider trends to best serve its customers. For example, Generation Z, which now accounts for 25% of all foodservice traffic, is highly focused on sustainability, Von Ertfelda said. Globally, Marriott is committed to sourcing locally, reducing food waste by 50% and introducing more plant-forward offerings.

“For many of our full-service hotel brands, each restaurant and bar is unique in its own right; however, as a global strategy, we aim to create menus that are balanced, reflecting the diverse preferences of our guests. We stay ahead of consumer trends in the market and create concepts and corresponding menus based on market gaps and consumer preferences,” Von Ertfelda said.

To honor these guests, Courtyard by Marriott has partnered with Beyond Meat, a plant-based food company, to introduce plant-based offerings to properties across North America.

“Our hotels are highly empowered and encouraged to develop their own waste and sustainability programs. Many have their own hydroponic gardens and beehives or adjacent farms where they source ingredients,” he said.

For example, the Renaissance Nashville has developed a comprehensive program based on composting, fryer oil recycling, a bee program and adopting a highway.

Von Ertfelda said that another goal is to eliminate food waste by encouraging food and beverage teams to connect with local charities to donate food that otherwise would have been disposed of.

“We recently ran two ‘sustainable seafood’ contests to challenge our associates to share interesting recipes using our approved list of sustainable seafood, or film a video of their team putting sustainable sourcing into action,” Von Ertfelda said. “Many properties are sourcing locally and are buying products from fisheries and farms with third-party certifications such as MSC, ASC and Ocean Wise.”

Marriott is also incorporating more locally relevant programming not only with new and diverse flavors but with the people helming the kitchens.

“Local relevancy is one of our strategic pillars, which is a strategy we will continue for years to come. The majority of our guests want to experience the locale when staying with us, so by offering local ingredients from local partners and locally relevant restaurant and bar concepts, we help them experience the culture of their destination,” Von Ertfelda said, who also mentioned Marriott’s global challenge, which asked F&B leaders to share the “coolest thing they cooked or stirred.”

“Our ‘go local’ strategy came through in myriad ways across more than 400 entries—several chefs consider food as a way to revive and celebrate local cultures and ingredients, or to breathe new life into recipes their grandparents prepared when they were growing up,” he recalled.

Marriott is looking at serving other expectations, especially travelers with alternative diets and diet restrictions with vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free options and staying on-trend with keto offerings.

“Staying true to the Marriott brand of today, while staying fresh and adapting for the future, is all about inspiring, empowering and celebrating our people, Marriott’s artisans,” Von Ertfelda said. “For example, our Americas team recently led a competition called Masters of the Craft, where 3,200 chefs and mixologists from nearly 400 of our restaurants and bars competed in timed, rapid-fire competitions including a ‘mystery ingredient’ in their dish or cocktail. The event resulted in more than two million live views, and inspired people across the region.”

This wide a reach is not only significant to Marriott leadership but to its guests who Von Ertfelda hopes continue to stay inspired by taste.

“We want to be remembered as a destination, not just for travel, but magnetic, inspiring and well-conceived restaurants and bars that people seek out whether they are in their own neighborhood or traveling far from home,” he said. HB

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