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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

In-Room Dining: The new all-rounder F&B frontier

xecutive Chef Neeraj Rawoot, Sofitel Mumbai BKC.

Of the many charms of checking into Hyatt Regency Lucknow is the in-room Lucknow Gazette. This tiny 1980-styled newspaper, which offers a road map of Lucknow and chalks out the famous places to eat at, comes with an assortment of goodies in a welcome kit. The kit holds a note on the culinary experiences that the chef can curate with a little ‘advance notice’. The bonus add-ons: some ‘unhotel-like’ dishes such as Tokri Chaat and Malai Makhan (a closer cousin to Daulat ki Chaat) as little treats.

The idea, says Executive Chef Subhash Jana, “was to create this little treat box that not just showcases the city but also the culinary team (and their capabilities) to guests. While we nudge them to explore the city in their free time, this little welcome kit is a gentle reminder that we can create the same experience for them, while they relax in their rooms.”
This clever move by Chef Jana has, in the past few months, attracted guests who come purely to experience the little Lucknow the hotel’s culinary team helps create (and even customise) in their room.
Chef Jana is representative of a group of chefs who have introduced similar initiatives at their hotels as part of the In-room Dining (IRD) experience. Increasingly, an upscale IRD experience puts a hotel in a completely different F&B league.

In-Room Dining as a revenue generator
Krishan Aggarwal, VP–Hotel Openings, IHCL terms IRD as not just a “value addition tool but a revenue generation concept as well.” In fact, adds Aggarwal, “As a concept, it is central to [the experiences offered by] great luxury properties. At the recently opened Taj Aravali Resort & Spa, Udaipur, we use IRD or the Villa Dining concept to benchmark indulgence for our guests and associates. It is a great tool to market not just the surroundings but also our restaurants.”

In fact, IRDs are big ticket revenue earners for a hotel says Saket Gupta, VP, Sales & Marketing, Waterstones Hotel. “By that I am not saying that IRD, despite all the cost incurred, is as big a direct revenue earner as the rooms—the share is around 7-10%. But a good IRD has gradually emerged to be one of the factors to sell rooms at better rates and ensure that guests stay in the hotel more often.”

Executive Chef Subhash Jana, Hyatt Regency Lucknow.

The Park Group of Hotels rejigged its IRD offering with a beverage ‘Happy Hours’ that allow guests to order some of the signature drinks in their rooms. “It began as an initiative by Priya Paul (Chairperson, Apeejay Surendra Park Hotels); every hotel in the group had to create unique in-room experiences that were true to the brand’s hospitality spirit and the city,” recalls Chef Sharad Dewan, Regional Director–Food Production, The Park Kolkata. “We came up with the concept of ‘Picnic In The Room’. The idea was to present chef-curated local culinary experiences that can be served in the room, complete with music, indoor games and an interesting story.”

The other change they made was to the minibar. Adds Chef Dewan, “Instead of the usual chocolates, we customised them to reflect the city’s best, such as a can of rosogulla, a chocolate box from Flurrys’ and, of course, Kasundi sauce to nudge you into ordering something home-style.”

More than just an add-on service
Clearly, IRD has ceased to be an expensive, add-on service for hotels and has become, according to Chef Zubin D’Souza, Executive Chef, Rokeby Manor, “yet another specialised F&B offering with the potential to create brand loyalty among clients. So, hotels are investing in it as much as they are in their restaurants.”

Clever use of IRD is actually more effective in connecting with guests in far more intimate ways, because, well, everyone loves a good dining experience. Chef Dharmendra Lamba, Executive Chef, Trident Hyderabad, says that the ‘Breakfast in the Bed’ experience they create at Trident Hyderabad “is one of the most personal ways to connect with guests. It’s creative and indulgent. We serve the breakfast in silver cutlery and guests enjoy the indulgence.”

At W Goa, Villa Dining has been taken a notch up—simple and classic, yet high-octane in indulgence. Chef Tanveer Kwatra, EAM–Food & Beverage at W Goa says, “Villa Dinning is chef-curated experiential dinners. We also offer barbeques. And a mixology bar in every room has redefined luxury.”

Most IRD experiences across hotels are a blend of functional and luxury, from Sofitel Mumbai BKC’s 2000-calories-heavy breakfast menu that was created for health conscious guests, to the spa menu at Waterstones, Mumbai, which is a complete experiential.

Chef Dharmendra Lamba, Executive Chef, Trident Hyderabad

At Andaz Delhi, Executive Chef Alex Moser has not just crafted an interesting seasonal menu that can be served in the room, but also offers an ingredients-based special menu that is akin to a Chef’s Menu. “We take one seasonal produce/spice or grain and create an interesting, course-wise dinner itinerary that can be served in the comfort of the room,” he says. “The sheer novelty of having food that reflects our concepts of sustainability and conscious eating is a big pull for many, who opt for the menu over the usual IRD offerings.”

Experiential private dining
At St Regis, Mumbai Chef Paul Kinny, Culinary Director, presents a complete gamut of food. “Our IRD menu is a blend of regional food, iconic food and even comfort food. And while it is an honest decision to include home food into the IRD menus, we still keep the presentation and personalisation very St Regis-style—very regal. After all, it is about creating a nice experience within the hotel.”

At The Leela Palace Bengaluru, Executive Sous Chef Dominic Gerard sends out portable toasters along with the in-room breakfast, so that the toasts are made right there, in the room, and don’t get soggy. “Indian breads, which are the last to be picked up from the kitchen for all orders, are sent in warmers to ensure minimum heat loss. There are personalised chillers for desserts.”

Food is also critical to the Shangri La Bengaluru experience. “It has been a practice at Shangri La to make the salad in the room. We even layer the tiramisu in front of the guest,” says Executive Chef Anurudh Khanna, and though this makes IRD service-heavy and time-consuming, it helps send out the message that the food guests are eating is fresh.

According to Ashish Nehra, Director of Food & Beverage, Four Seasons Hotel Bengaluru, the emphasis is on the quality of food. “The key foundations of a good IRD service can be put down to a few simple basics: you toast the bread in the room, brew tea, and pour soup in front of the guests. It is important to serve food or beverage at its correct temperature.”

The keys to IRD success, especially in view of rising expectations from guests, lies in fresh ingredients, great quality of food, and interesting culinary experiences. Chef Neeraj Rawoot, Executive Chef, Sofitel BKC, reveals that profiling of guests is an on-going process at the hotel. “It allows us to create small in-room amenities, curate a complete meal, even cull-out a chef’s table from the ongoing food promotion for their in-room dining.”

Alex Moser, Executive Chef, Andaz Delhi

Interesting new concepts
The F&B departments in hotels have launched several new initiatives in the IRD segment. One such new concept is the Tiffin, which, says Harshal Bhavsar, Director of Food & Beverage, Taj Palace, New Delhi, “is a far more engaging way of presenting food with an added dose of nostalgia and personalisation. It sits very well with a guest whose though behind ordering IRD is eat a meal that pleases his soul in the comforts of his room.”

In fact, adds Bhavsar, “the play of nostalgia along with anticipatory service, which includes special kids menu and personalised turndown amenities, works beautifully in meeting the innate need of a guest: to be pampered. And that aspect, when taken care of, leads to other priceless rewards such as a guest’s willingness to explore the hotel’s other F&B offerings.”
The Tiffin, or the Bento Box at The Westin Mumbai Garden City, has individually portioned food. Executive Chef Rahul Dhavale believes that the three-course, small-portioned menu has all the makings of a great IRD experience. “It is intuitive, bite-sized and can be changed as frequently as a guest wants or tweaked to showcase a hotels’ new offering. It is almost like a preview with care written all over it.” And it makes for great Instagram pictures.

Digitising menus to help guests co-curate Digitising menus has helped elevate the IRD experience significantly, especially when it comes to properties that have greater room inventories. It has, says Chef Kinny, “become an exciting way to showcase the surroundings and even the interesting innovations that are happening in the hotel.” Chefs can dip into digitised menus, documented according to guest preferences to curate an in-room meal that more than meets his or her expectations.
The visual aid, says Executive Chef Sumanta Chakrabarti, Raichuk-on-Ganges, Kolkata, “is a great suggestive tool to get guests engaged in co-curating their own meal experience—and works beautifully for resorts like ours. That, when combined with a personal chef and a luxurious service, becomes a win-win proposition.”

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