Using design, food and beverage, and self-service technology to improve the guest experience and strengthen the bottom line

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by Bobby Martyna

Innovative architecture and design, curated F&B experiences, and self-service kiosks are creating exciting, well-curated, and transformative guest experiences in the lobby. At the same time, handling the additional workload to create and manage the lobby grab-and-go is a challenge for owner/operators and at the front desk.

The traditional lobby retail store – markets, pantries, and gift shops – continues to dominate the landscape at select-service as well as full-service chain hotels. The concept has been a winner when executed well by the hotel associates, but the model is getting tired. The stores are typified by the small, often hidden location, standard “convenience store” design, limited selection of F&B options, and the requirement for front desk associates to check out all purchases. The reinvigoration of the boutique and lifestyle hotel, preponderance of soft brands, and Airbnb options require today’s hoteliers to break the old mold and innovate.

Importantly, room-service options are being discontinued at a rapid pace due to guest complaints and difficulties in running a profitable operation. The answer is bringing the day-part model of the grab-and-go into the 24-7 world.

ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN
It’s been fairly straightforward to take a standard brand design for a market or pantry and implement it as specified. But there are many more options that will be brand approved that mirror the location, extend the selling area into the lobby, mirror the destination, and create an overall exciting and memorable guest experience. The A&D model also needs to accommodate the larger format of the unbounded grab-and-go, transcending the store walls and allowing for quick food preparation options. This specialized type of design requires not just an understanding of retail but also food preparation, safety, and delivery.

FOOD AND BEVERAGE INNOVATIONS
Hotel guests have options that include fine dining, the lobby, bar, and nationally branded packaged goods in the lobby retail store. In fewer and fewer full-service hotels and resorts, room service is offered. With the F&B trends moving toward fresh, local, and prepared, the guest is left with a very narrow set of options for quick and fresh options during all day parts. The grab-and-go, which can operate unattended 24-7 during non-core hours, can be a fantastic solution.

GUEST SELF-CHECKOUT
While it’s hard to find “long lines at the front desk” as a top-10 complaint cited by frequent travelers, anyone who has had to stand at the hotel front desk check-in line for more than a few minutes would push that complaint very close to the top of the list. A survey by Cornell University has shown that a five-minute or more wait lowers guest satisfaction by 50 percent, indicating that while guests don’t specifically complain about long lines, they are a serious detractor from the guest experience.

Hotel chains and operators have known that these problems can be vexing for guests. When RevPAR is flat or declining, alternatives to loading up the front desk with additional labor hours isn’t a viable solution. Additionally, hiring is very difficult in the current environment, hourly rates are rising, and good associates are hard to find.

In response, technology innovations have allowed the guest to bypass the check-in process, saving the guest time and frustration while reducing labor costs for the owner/operator.

Kiosks in the lobby allow guests to check in and check out quickly and easily. Beyond just the check-in process in which the guest credit card is authorized and keys are issued, many allow guests the option to check in early, change or upgrade the reservation, and select a specific room.

Hotel chain loyalty-program members have been able to use their smartphones to check-in and check out as well as upgrade, select specific rooms, and book reservations.

Beyond room check-in and check out, handling purchases from the lobby retail stores (markets and pantries) as well as the very popular grab-and-go marketplaces can also add to the front desk associate workload. Line wait times will increase check-in times substantially when the front desk associate and the PMS and POS systems are tied up. Guests and others trying to make retail purchases may abandon the purchase altogether rather than wait in line.

As a result, enterprising hoteliers are deploying guest self-checkout, point-of-sale tablets, and kiosks from leading companies that can combine innovative design, lever into F&B trends, and deliver a complete solution for the grab-and-go. Enabling guests to quickly and easily complete their own purchases and charge them to a room or to a credit card is a phenomenal way to decrease lines and improve guest satisfaction, not to mention the “cool technology” factor that guests find indicative of a forward-thinking brand and owner/operator.

Self-checkout is popular in other venues and most consumers are increasingly more comfortable checking out their own purchases at locations such as grocery stores and airport gift shops. However, most of those solutions utilize bar code scanning, meaning there is the requirement to “tumble” the item to find the barcode or paste barcode stickers on produce and fresh items.

A visual system that allows guests to tap on images is preferable to scanning and results in a higher transaction speed and less need for front desk assistance to complete the transactions. Hoteliers can deploy one or more kiosks in the lobby retail space or grab-and-go that are visible directly or via cameras for monitoring and assistance.

In summary, the combination of innovative A&D, curated F&B and grab-and-go, and self-checkout technology is transforming the guest experience and improving the profitability profile for owner/operators.

Bobby Martyna is co-founder, president, and CEO of Tradavo (www.tradavo.com). Tradavo has been designing, developing, and deploying successful retail solutions for brands, owners, and operators in the lodging industry.

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