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Watch for hotels in 2013 to increasingly cater to guests' every whim when it comes to eating.

In an age when time-pressed, health-conscious travelers are used to customizing their options at coffee shops and casual eateries, hotels are tweaking the type of food they prepare and where they serve it.

"The typical breakfast, lunch, dinner - appetizer, entree, dessert model is not something that our guests are responding to anymore," says Beth Scott, who's in charge of restaurant concepts for Hilton Worldwide's 3,900 properties.

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"People don't want to ask to be seated and be given menus," says Brad Nelson, corporate chef at Marriott International, which has nearly 3,800 properties. "They want to sit down, maybe meet for an hour and then order. They want flexibility. We can thank Starbucks for that."

In New York at the newly opened Westin New York Grand Central's almost-open LCL: Bar and Kitchen, for example, visitors can grab a locally produced, nutrition-packed Organic Avenue Giving Green Juice ($10), a cup of locally roasted Stumptown coffee that costs about the same as a Starbucks coffee and scrambled eggs to go to kick start their morning.

"We're finding a lot of people prefer to eat like that now," says Scott Gerber, CEO of the Gerber Group, the company - best known for nightlife venues - that runs LCL. "They really want that quick bite instead of sitting down for bacon and eggs."

The space is also a nightlife venue that stays open on weekends until 4 a.m., letting the hotel maximize revenues from high-margin alcohol - some of which will be mixed with the specialty juice.

"Hotels are really trying to move away from that hotel dining room that sits empty seven nights a week," Gerber says.

Food revenues still below 2007 levels

Food and beverage revenues represent the second-largest source of revenue for full-service hotels behind rooms, according to industry tracker PKF Hospitality Research.

And PKF's analysis of revenue from about 670 full-service hotels' restaurants, lounges, room service and catering between 2007 and 2011 revealed that food-and-beverage department revenues are still 13% below pre-recession levels, despite a double-digit jump in 2010 and 2011. Hotels must come up with new innovations to boost revenues in this area, says PKF research director Robert Mandelbaum.

The year 2013 will be a year in which many existing trends - such as small plates - will grow. Hotels that aren't already offering small plates on their menu will roll them out, experts say. At The Bazaar in the newly opened SLS Miami Beach, for instance, acclaimed Spanish chef Jose Andres offers a whimsical, fusion version of pork belly sliders presented on a Chinese bun ($18).

New trends emerging

While still in its infancy, the hotel industry's move toward replacing old-fashioned, underused restaurants with so-called fast casual establishments (think: Panera Bread or Cosi) could eventually become a big trend. One of these restaurants, which does away with traditional waiter service, is currently under construction at the New York Hilton - Manhattan's second-largest hotel. It will open in about four months, Hilton Worldwide's Scott says.

Hotel ownership group Sunstone Investors, which owns the nearby Hilton Times Square and Doubletree by Hilton Times Square, is watching the experiment closely, says Sunstone chief operating officer Marc Hoffman. "I absolutely believe it will move into hotels around the country," Hoffman says. "Fast casual is a real long-term trend."

You might suspect that the fast-casual push reflects consumers' post-recession wallets since restaurants with waiter service typically cost more, but the dominating factors are people's evolving eating habits as well as the changing workforce, experts say. "People are eating more often," says Hilton Worldwide's Scott.

People are also on the road more often, says restaurant industry consultant Michael Whiteman of Baum + Whiteman.

"About a third of working Americans are called irregular workers," he says. "That is to say they don't have an office. They don't necessarily work full-time. Some are freelancers or on commission. That whole lump of people are largely on the road or they're sitting at Starbucks doing freelance work or making sales calls."

Sizing and sourcing

Expect to see more hotels sell wine as well as meals in multiple sizes, says Marriott International's Nelson. "Do you want a three-ounce pour of wine to try it or a nine-ounce pour because you know you like it?" Nelson says. "We're seeing the same thing with food. People will have the ability to portion up or down based on whether you want to be good or not." The Marriott World Center hotel in Orlando is currently working on a menu that features this concept, Nelson says.

Some Marriott hotels began offering guests a choice of wine size in 2007 when it adopted its "great room" living-room-like lobby design. Hilton Worldwide's Hilton hotel located next to its corporate headquarters - where it tests many new concepts - sells wine this way in its atrium lobby lounge.

Last year, Marriott unveiled a sustainable seafood initiative. This year, Nelson says they're seeking to implement humane standards for the pork they serve, which speaks to a trend he says continues to grow. "There's more demand for information about the source and integrity of the product and how it was handled," Nelson says. "It's not just about organic. It's really about food with a story and the story behind the food," Nelson says.

MIAMI BEACH - A glass of freshly made vegetable juice ($7) at Florida Cookery at the James Royal Palm hotel.(Photo: Barbara DeLollis, USA TODAY)
Guest can also expect to see fresh-juice options at more hotels this year, Whiteman says. The Westin Times Square is selling fresh, cold-pressed juices such as kale, carrot, apple, pear and orange. At the James Royal Palm in Miami Beach, you can order a vibrant-red "Wake Up" mix made with beet, carrot and ginger or the "Life Greens" mix with maranga, spinach, celery, cucumber and cassava leaf.

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Transforming dining spaces

Sunstone's Hoffman sees more hotels copying the living room-like spaces established by boutique hotel pioneer Ian Schrager in the 1980s.

"If all hotels don't adapt to a much more, social, lifestyle environment, they're not going to survive in the next five to 10 years," he says.

Sunstone has been transforming many of its 30 hotels into "very social residential style living spaces" in which food and beverage is a key revenue driver. Such changes are underway or have been recently completed at its Newport Beach Hyatt, an older Mission-style resort in Southern California; the Boston Marriott Long Wharf in the heart of Quincy Market, and the large Renaissance in Washington D.C. "In all three of these, we looked to scale down the restaurant, and make the lobbies the focal point of the hotel," he says. Selling food and drinks helps boost revenue and keep customers coming back, he says.

At its Boston Marriott, for instance, Sunstone closed its striking restaurant that overlooked the bay and turned it into a catering space. It then reconfigured its lobby and outdated fern bar into a large living space, with a library, multiple seating spaces, easy-to-find power plugs built into furniture and a breakfast buffet that can be hidden once breakfast is over, Hoffman says. Revenues are up by about 30% and "our customers are significantly happier," Hoffman says.

Hotels are increasingly considering pop-up restaurants to keep energy and interest levels high. Expect edgy design and locations in formerly dead spaces such as on rooftops and in lobbies, Whiteman says. "Formal sit-down hotel restaurants that are there 365 are a big snooze," he says. "They have people when it's raining outside and guests don't want to leave."

A dish you might find at a Marriott hotel restaurant - Shrimp Shu Mai - as hotels offer more Asian dishes.(Photo: Marriott International)
Expect to see bold Latin flavors and more Asian restaurants, the Marriott's Nelson says.

In November, for instance, the InterContinental in downtown Miami opened a location of celebrity chef Richard Sandoval's Toro-Toro, a pan-Latin restaurant that serves grilled steaks, small plates such as ceviche and hand-muddled cocktails at not-outrageous prices. Expect to pay between $7 and $14 for each of the small plates. And don't be surprised by a growing array of odd food combinations, such as hamburgers topped with healthful kale chips, Whiteman says. 


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