Hotels take food and beverage offerings outside the box

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A family-style meal served outdoors at Ocean House in Rhode Island.
A family-style meal served outdoors at Ocean House in Rhode Island.

As hotels across the U.S. start to ramp back up, operators are getting creative when it comes to crafting new, socially distant dining and bar experiences.

“Most likely, a restaurant that used to have a certain number of tables will now only have half as many,” said Lynn Mohrfeld, president and CEO of the California Hotel & Lodging Association. “Hotels have to figure out, will that restaurant go to reservation only? Are people going to be congregating while waiting? There’s a lot to consider.”

California hotels are permitted to begin welcoming back leisure travelers starting June 12. According to Mohrfeld, guests will likely find the traditional hotel breakfast buffet replaced by individually packaged grab-and-go items, while at properties where kitchens remain closed, restaurant delivery options might be offered in lieu of room service. Other hotels have already pivoted their food and beverage operations amid the pandemic, catering to locals by launching takeout and curbside pickup options.

A recent loosening of state law also allows California venues to sell cocktails and other alcoholic beverages to go, which Mohrfeld said has proven especially popular.

“Californians have been very appreciative of that rule getting relaxed,” he added. “And I think, quite frankly, it’s created a new revenue opportunity.”

At the luxury end, some hotel restaurants are taking at-home dining to the next level. In April, California’s Malibu Beach Inn debuted a series of virtual dinner parties for Los Angeles-area locals, offering four-course dinners from the property’s Carbon Beach Club, complete with wine or spirits pairings. The meal and drinks are delivered to participants the day of the event, with diners then logging on to a Zoom meeting at a predetermined time and enjoying a guided and interactive pairing experience.

Malibu Beach Club’s next virtual dinner party, set to be held on June 25, will be hosted in partnership with Volcan Tequila and priced at approximately $100 to $150 per couple.

For those looking to dine out, Malibu Beach Club has also been offering a Private Dining Suite package. In addition to a one-night stay, the package includes a customized tasting menu with wine pairings and a pre-dinner cocktail, all served in a suite with a beachfront terrace. The Private Dining Suite experience is priced at $995 and must be booked at least 72 hours in advance.

An outdoor dining pavilion at the Resort at Paws Up in Montana.
An outdoor dining pavilion at the Resort at Paws Up in Montana.

For other properties, dining in a post-Covid-19 world will mean bringing more meals into the great outdoors. The Resort at Paws Up in Montana has taken full advantage of its 37,000-acre ranch setting, recently expanding its outdoor dining options with an outdoor open-fire kitchen concept and mobile pizza truck. Outdoor dining pavilions and picnic table areas are plentiful, and the resort’s accommodations, all of which are standalone homes or glamping sites, lend themselves well to private dining experiences.

“Our guests can have a chef come into their home, or we can up set up everything for an in-home barbecue, and just last year, we added a brick oven pizza delivery service,” said Drew Bishop, director of sales for Paws Up. “We’re also adding more areas to dine outside, and with all our land, anything at Paws Up can become private dining. So that’s certainly something we’ve brought to the forefront, because we know it’s something that’ll be attractive to our guests right now.”

Scheduled to reopen June 16, Ocean House in Watch Hill, R.I., is similarly leveraging its surrounding green space with a private “luxury picnic” experience that the property can set up anywhere outdoors. Priced at $65 per person, a small group can customize a family style, sharable menu from a selection of sides, entrees and desserts.

“You can request a table on the lawn, in a private beach cabana or on the patio in your suite,” said Daniel Hostettler, group managing director at Ocean House Management Collection. “Everything will already be set up when you arrive, but there will be a server there, and you can wave them over if you need them. The idea is really to offer this very upscale, elegant picnic in the location of your choice, at the time of your choice.”

With traditional bars still prohibited from reopening in the near term in Rhode Island, Ocean House came up with a workaround in the form of a Ferrari-red bar cart. A bartender will take the cart door to door between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., offering wine, mixed drinks or a cocktail of the day as well as serving complimentary, individually boxed canapes. 

Likewise, Ocean House’s small Secret Garden dining venue, which operates in partnership with Champagne brand Veuve Clicquot, has been reconceptualized as a private dining and event area, which can be rented out in two-hour blocks to groups of 15 or less, in line with state regulation, with a $500 food and beverage minimum. According to Hostettler, the space had received 10 reservations just one day after opening up to bookings on June 10. 

Guests can mix drinks on the blender bike at Ocean House's Taco Shack pop-up restaurant.
Guests can mix drinks on the blender bike at Ocean House's Taco Shack pop-up restaurant.

On the more casual side, Ocean House added an outdoor dining concept with the launch of its Taco Shack pop-up, which showcases grab-and-go tacos and cocktails featuring Tito’s Vodka. Within the shack, guests can mount stationary bikes with pedal-powered blenders to mix, for instance, a TitoRita margarita.

“People can grab their tacos and sit outside or walk the beach,” Hostettler said. “It’s a good way to social distance while still offering a fun and Instagrammable experience. People are looking for something memorable when they get away, and we didn’t want that to change with Covid-19. Our goal is to continue offering a great experience while still acknowledging that the world’s in a different place.”

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