If you think you can’t rein in unruly ingredient costs, increase traffic and still support brand identity, learn a lesson from Cambria Suites. Since a new foodservice program rolled out in March at two properties of the 19-unit hotel chain, food costs have dropped from an average of 50 percent to less than 40 percent and dining sales are growing.
It didn’t happen overnight. High food costs, menus varying in content and quality, inconsistent tracking of suppliers and inventory and lack of uniform reporting undermined profits across the chain, and guests chose other options over the dining room.
“We had to ask ourselves: ‘Does what we’ve been doing support what we want to be? Is our hotel restaurant an amenity or a profit center?’” explains Michael Murphy, senior v.p. of Cambria Suites.
After a year of detailed research, consultations and interviews with the properties’ general managers and guidance from consulting chef Michael DeMaria, co-owner of M Culinary Concepts in Scottsdale, AZ, Murphy’s team presented a top-to-bottom makeover to general managers from top-performing units.
At the heart of the program is a shift from health-focused menus to a “fun, fresh, and familiar” dining experience featuring American comfort cuisine: upscale burgers and entrées; sharable appetizers and desserts; local and craft beers, wine, and cocktail classic;, locally grown produce; and regional signature dishes. The pared-down menu incorporates cross-usage of high-quality ingredients, consistently prepared and plated according to recipe specifications. A new omelet station augments the scaled-back à la carte breakfast spread, which can be adjusted to accommodate the hotel’s occupancy level. New tableware replaces eclectic place settings, and new uniforms—selected for comfort, practicality, ease of maintenance, and gender suitability—reinforce the upscale, casual dining message.
Catering—a potential profit center for Cambria’s business traveler demographic—is based around the property’s core menu, which is selected by its GM from a palette of options.
Reducing inventory; limiting food waste; negotiating product quality, pricing, variety and delivery terms with national and local purveyors; and constantly measuring costs, service, menu mix and guest feedback are central to cost control. At the heart of the effort is the company’s point of sale program. “All food costs can be tracked daily, and all hotel costs can be checked as needed,” Murphy says of the return-on-investment tool. The program acts as a data hub: the central database contains all menu items, but each property’s system is customized for the items on its menu. The mastery system captures unit data on sales, costs, inventory, labor and waste, which generates real-time custom reports that enable Murphy to manage the chain on a macro level.
But success of the best-orchestrated program depends on the people who use it daily. Aware that foodservice staffing has an eight-month churn rate, Murphy’s team models its hiring on “the April effect,” named for a Columbus, OH, server with extraordinary customer service skills: it’s a high energy level, a desire to please, a friendly, likeable personality and ease in conversation. Candidates use an online assessment tool that matches their responses to a series of questions against a profile of the ideal worker in that job. “It cuts down on turnover by putting people in the jobs they’ll be happiest in,” Murphy explains.
Kitchen staff enter a multilevel training and certification program. In addition to learning purchasing, ordering and inventory management and reporting, they receive online video-guided instruction in preparing and plating core menu items, followed by a self-test. The next step is hands-on preparation of all menu items under the guidance of DeMaria, followed by testing and certification.
Finally, front- and back-of-house staff, kitchen cleanliness, process, production flow, design and refrigeration/dry storage/freezer storage requirements are evaluated at least quarterly using a management tool—Strive for Excellence—and the GMs regularly inspect the foodservice operations.
Does Cambria’s new program work? Two months after it was rolled out in two Midwest properties, Columbus and Noblesville, IN, both had F&B costs of 37 percent—down from 48 percent—and the capture rate for in-house dining rose.
“We now have a reason for guests to stay in the hotel,” Columbus general manager Dean Rump says. “The employees have a sense of pride, and they have lots to talk about with the guests.”