Grocery delivery gaining traction throughout hotel industry

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The lobby of the Affinia Dumont in New York.Hotel grocery delivery is not just for select-service, extended-stay or family resorts anymore.

Denihan Hospitality's Affinia Hotels, a small luxury-boutique chain, reached an agreement last month with the online grocer FreshDirect to provide specially packed meals for guests. The service was introduced at the 241-room Affinia Dumont and has since been added to the other four Affinia-branded hotels in Manhattan.

Affinia has even gone so far as to promote Business Kit and Healthy Kit food options for its guests. The latter includes items such as Greek yogurt and butternut squash salsa, while the former goes slightly more indulgent with items such as Bloody Mary mix and cookies. The kits are priced starting at $75, inclusive of taxes and delivery fees.

"It liberates guests from the limitations of room service and restaurant fare," said Lisa Zandee, senior vice-president of brand management for Affinia Hotels, adding that the service works well because Affinia's rooms include kitchenettes. "Through this partnership, Affinia Hotels can have guests' rooms fully stocked upon arrival, so that they feel like they're at home during their visit."

Grocery delivery is nothing new in lodging. A staple of some extended-stay properties, the service has also gained frequency in the Orlando area, where a number of local grocery operators have worked out agreements to make deliveries to hotel-resorts serving families visiting Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando.

And the service has grown progressively more urban, with Marriott International's Residence Inn offering complimentary grocery delivery to guests at the brand's more than 600 properties. Residence Inn last month opened its second Manhattan hotel in the borough's Midtown East district.

Still, the fact that boutique and luxury hoteliers are integrating grocery delivery into their suite of services speaks to how more lodging operators are choosing to outsource some, if not all, of their food-and-beverage operations.

While brands like Kimpton Hotels continue to sell guests on the inclusion of chef-run restaurants on their properties, other companies are going in the opposite direction in order to reduce expenses.

Indeed, food-and-beverage sales as a percentage of total hotel revenue at full-service hotels has plunged to about 27% from 38% in 1980, according to PKF Hospitality Research.

Most notably, the New York Hilton in June said it was ditching its room-service operations in favor of "grab-and-go" offerings, which have gained favor in select-service hotels.

"Most hotels achieve a loss on food and beverage," said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean at New York University's Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. "Outsourcing, delivery from outside vendors, limited offerings, reduced hours, closing some outlets, nontraditional food-and-beverage concepts and many other options are being explored."

freshdirect logoThe trend also speaks to the growing propensity for guests, especially those arriving from overseas, to eschew full-service hotels within U.S. cities in favor of select-service properties as a way to cut lodging expenses and ensure a more "experiential" trip.

"It's to cater to the collection's growing number of extended-stay guests, from international visitors and families to business travelers," said Affinia's Zandee.

Still, it remains to be seen how many other hoteliers will consider the grocery-delivery option. FreshDirect has a similar agreement with another hotel operator, which declined to be named.

As for the grocery companies themselves, they are more than willing to fill the void created by hotels looking to shed food-and-beverage responsibilities.

"We are always open to new partnerships and looking for new ways to expand our reach and our offer," said FreshDirect spokeswoman Tenley Allen.

Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly. 

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