While many hotels have had to make severe adjustments to their food and beverage programs due to the coronavirus pandemic, properties that have opened this year haven’t yet experienced what pre-pandemic conditions were like, and consequently, haven’t had to pivot as drastically from an operational standpoint.
The 99-room Hyatt Place Chicago in the city’s Wicker Park neighborhood is one of those hotels launched in 2020. The crown of that property’s F&B program is its Kennedy Rooftop, a spacious indoor/outdoor venue with views of the Windy City skyline, and COVID-19 guidelines for service and guest capacity in place since the day it debuted.
“Because we opened during this pandemic, we didn’t open with our maximum amount of seating so we’re not 100% sure what our seating will look like when we can open up fully, but it will be significantly more than what we have now,” says Hyatt Place Chicago/Wicker Park GM Adam Miller.
Transitioning into winter isn’t easy for an outdoor rooftop venue, especially in a northern climate like Chicago, but those at the hotel say the daily duty of adhering to COVID-19 restrictions since June helped them plan cold-weather, revenue-generating programs with built-in pandemic precautions.
“We have a total of 10 outdoor radiant heaters and four self-standing heaters to keep the rooftop warm, as well as two fire pits. We have two outdoor igloos and each one comes with two space heaters to keep people warm and cozy. Because we have a sizable space it’s easier for us to keep our tables six feet apart,” Miller says.
Temporary igloos and domes in particular are in high demand this winter due to the pandemic and their ready-made social distancing bubbles. For hotels considering outdoor F&B programs and promotions this winter, Miller offers a few tips to help maximize revenue.
Clear COVID-19 guidelines
At Kennedy Rooftop, no mask means no service, so following the rules and consistently maintaining required social distance is key for guests to have an enjoyable experience—and feel comfortable enough to return again—while keeping staff safe during their shifts.
“Our hostess explains that masks must be worn at all times when out of your seat, and when a server approaches you the mask must go back on,” says Miller. “All our staff are trained to ensure they do not approach a table until their masks are on. My team wears PPE at all times to protect themselves and our customers.”
Time limits on igloos and domes
Kennedy Rooftop sets a 105-minute time limit for use of one of their igloos with a maximum of six people, and it’s done by reservation only with F&B packages ranging from $199 to $499, with premium liquor, mixers, ice, fruit, glassware and appetizers from the menu included.
This strategy accomplishes two things from an F&B revenue standpoint: It locks in a set amount of sales for each use of the igloo throughout the night, and it prevents people from camping out in the igloo for hours, which reduces the revenue potential significantly.
“We have one person who takes care of all the igloo reservations. We contact every reservation prior to them showing up to make sure we have their order so everything can be in the igloo waiting for them,” Miller explains.
Under pre-coronavirus conditions, a group may have the option to split the bill among several people. At Kennedy Rooftop, pandemic precautions dictate that “we only take one form of payment per group to ensure we have the least amount of contact with customer belongings,” says Miller.
Menus for guests are either disposable, one-time use paper or can be accessed virtually via QR code to further minimize customer contact.
Appeal to locals
With business and leisure travel down significantly this year, a program like Kennedy Rooftop’s Winter Wonderland, which encompasses the aforementioned igloos and outdoor seating for F&B, along with a separate area for people to participate in the winter sport of curling (made by reservation with a one-hour limit for $30), draws customers primarily from the surrounding neighborhood, who are potential repeat guests and can generate positive word-of-mouth about the hotel. “Locals book a majority of our igloos, but we definitely welcome hotel guest as well,” notes Miller.
Invest in specialized cleaning tools
Miller concludes that a safe winter F&B space during the pandemic is one that’s thoroughly cleaned on a daily basis. “People may not be aware that we use an electrostatic sprayer before every shift, which sprays a chemical on all our furniture called MonoFoil D. It’s a colorless, odorless, ready-to-use healthcare grade disinfectant multi-surface spray that kills all organics, soils, particulates and inorganic residues. This is something I’m pretty sure not a lot of places are using, and it’s EPA approved to kill the COVID-19 virus.”