As major hotels compete to create hip scenes in their lobbies, they're adjusting menus to deliver more and better food options for guests who like to hang out there. "The energy they're seeking is that of a cocktail party," says Jody Pennette of CB5 Restaurant Group, a Greenwich, Conn.-based firm that designs restaurants for hotels.
A few months ago, Marriott, on a test basis, launched a new menu for guests hanging out in the lobby. Earlier in 2007, Wyndham Hotels began installing cafes in its lobbies for customers wishing to pick up snacks or light food items, such as sandwiches and salads. Royalton Hotel in New York, Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco and Omni Mandalay Hotel in Irving, Texas, also are embracing the trend.
A Place to Hang Out, Munch
As a result of the hotels' initiatives, travelers who like to idle, work or converse in lobbies are increasingly likely to find more finger food, appetizers and dishes that can easily be shared without making a big mess. They're often served on smaller plates. In many cases hotels are seeking a touch of the international in their lobby offerings. Among the popular items: ceviche, panini, tapas, mini pot pies, polenta, gnocchi, individual-size pizzas, penne pasta, calamari, cheese plates, prosciutto and small steaks.
For guests, the new options can mean faster service and more snacking variety. It's also another option for those who prefer not to eat alone in the restaurant or order room service.
More diversified food offerings are part of a broader industry drive to make lobbies more than just places to check in. As a way to draw more business, hotels have been aggressively converting lobbies into communal areas in which guests can mingle, relax and linger. In many places, comfortable chairs, intimate tables, free Wi-Fi and hip bars are being used to create a loungelike or European-cafe feel.
At Marriott, the new dishes include edamame (cooked soybeans), hummus and pita chips. "They don't want to come off as flat-footed," Pennette says of Marriott's (MAR) lobby food offerings. "Rather than do traditional pigs-in-a-blanket, there are a lot of options (reflecting) more global awareness."
Inspired by its hipper, boutique-style competitors, Marriott has been aggressively marketing its "great room" campaign, which aims to transform its lobby into a livelier area for guests.
The new menu is one of the campaign's key components. Dubbed "5-10-20," the menu comprises three categories of food and drink that can be prepared in five, 10 or 20 minutes.
The menus are placed throughout the living-room style coffee tables in the lobby, and a server takes orders. Other items include banana chips, shrimp cocktail, artichoke dip, Thai chicken skewers, Hoisin chicken stir-fry and rigatoni.
Marriott is testing the menu at a property in Bethesda, Md., and plans to roll it out to 100 other properties this year at its Marriott, JW Marriott and Renaissance brands, says Matthew Von Ertfelda, the executive overseeing restaurants and bars.
In conjunction with lobby food, the properties will also feature a new bar that can be converted into a counter for daytime meals. "It's the focal point … of a more versatile lobby," says Von Ertfelda.