Whether you want to chow down on a spaghetti carbonara in Rome or sip a wheat beer in Belgium, today’s consumers are searching for a true taste of their locality.
Embarking on a major overhaul of its restaurant and bar offerings, Marriott International is serving up an authentic slice of European cuisine and it seems that both hotels guests and locals alike are eating it up.
At the age of 15, Gustaf Pilebjer worked as a kitchen porter and since then worked his way through every single position within the restaurant and bar sector. Most recently having spent the past decade as a consultant developing F&B concepts for the hotel industry and independent operators.
In doing so, he has gained a wealth of experience and insight into the mechanics of a successful restaurant and bar operation and has risen up the ranks to become the Director of Food and Beverage, Europe, for the world’s largest hotel chain.
Bespoke restaurants and bars
Whilst Marriott may be better-known for its hotel offerings, Pilebjer says that food and beverage sits front and centre in its strategic plan.
“The hotel Industry as a whole has really awakened to the importance of the food and beverage market,” he says. “Food and beverage are at the heart of Marriott's strategic thinking. It's one of our key priorities to be able to stay relevant and lead the way in the restaurant and bar market.”
With stringent competition and a global brand to uphold, creating a ground-breaking restaurant or bar concept is no easy feat. But Pilebjer believes Marriott has a meticulous plan for success.
“I think our key differentiator is that we appreciate there is no cookie-cutter solution for food and beverage, particularly when we look at a continent like Europe where we're looking to be present in over 30 countries and where every single outlet needs to be relevant to that space,” he says.
“If you try to use a uniform mould of what a restaurant or bar should look like you’re not going to create something that’s attractive to the local crowd,” he continues. “We don’t create food and beverage outlets solely for our hotel. We also position them so that they are relevant to the local market so that local guests will want to come to these outlets.
“This is at the heart of the strategy: we want to be locally relevant and we aim to attract 80% of the locals and 20% of the hotel guests. I think it's very important that we open up the space for the local community to utilise it. We want to honour the local traditions, local cuisines, and the local concepts that are in that market. It’s about being mindful of what the local community desires.”
An authentic, culturally-relevant experience
For Pilebjer, the importance of a locally relevant, authentic cuisine experience cannot be overstated and it is a trend which has swept right across the food and beverage landscape.
The experience movement is certainly more prevalent than ever, with three in four millennial consumers saying that they would rather pay for an experience than a product, according to a study by Eventbrite.
“Today there is a great amount of pride in what the local cuisine is,” notes Pilebjer. “Whether it's in Budapest, whether it's in Stuttgart, whether it’s in London or elsewhere, we're seeing a trend whereby people want to taste the local cuisine.
“It’s also about experience,” he adds. “Diners today are seeking out culinary experiences. When our travellers fly to Istanbul, they don't want to sit down and have a slice of pizza. They want to have an authentic taste of where they are.
“We know that the millennial generation is already now, the largest segment of the travel industry and that's only going to be increasing in the coming years. This overarching food and beverage strategy which we have ensures that we are able to cater to this curious generation, to make sure that we not only stay relevant but that we also try and lead in this millennial space.”
Since its acquisition of Starwood Hotels and Resorts two years ago, Marriott International has gone from strength to strength.
It’s an exciting time for the company – it has doubled in size and has expanded its restaurant and bar offering – and with a range of new builds and refurbishments underway, Pilebjer says it’s only the beginning of things to come.
“My team I have worked on over 100 different types of renovations, repositions, and new build F&B projects,” Pilebjer says. “Food and beverage is a very individual market, and it's also always a little bit of a gamble, in terms of whether an outlet is going to be successful or not. Whether the local market will be susceptible to it or not is always a little bit of an unknown.
“But the one thing you can control is the way that you go about researching, brainstorming, developing, designing, and deciding if this is something that is appropriate to the market and designing it accordingly.”
Meticulous planning and research
Tapping into his experience as a restaurant and bar concept consultant, Pilebjer takes a collaborative approach when designing both brand and concept.
By working with a roster of some of the industry’s leading food and beverage consultants, interior designers, property owners, and more, Marriott International strives to create a bespoke restaurant and bar concept which adds something different to the current marketplace.
Although such scrupulous research and planning may seem time-consuming, it’s a critical aspect of Marriott’s strategy.
“I think that the one thing which I'm very, very passionate about, very strict about, is the fact that we go through the feasibility and the concept ideation phase before going into design,” says Pilebjer.
“It can be a bit of a battle sometimes but it’s important to see the process through and stay consistent with the original concept which has undergone the sound process of market feasibility studies. If you get all these things right, then you can create a locally relevant and beautiful food and beverage outlet.”
As high streets become saturated with food and beverage outlets, Marriott has ensured that it cuts through the noise with its unique attention to detail which puts the guests at the forefront of everything it does.
Whether guests are working over brunch or going to a romantic dinner in the evening, Marriott understands that different guests will use the space for different reasons.
Therefore, Pilebjer and his team have worked diligently to ensure that Marriott’s offerings are multi-purpose and transition throughout the day. This thought process impacts how the company designs its spaces and even the type of service that guests may need.
“That's the difference between accessible and non-accessible F&B outlets: it’s having that attention to the detail and following the right steps in order to be able to develop something that is compelling and authentic through the day,” Pilebjer notes.
“It’s about ensuring that the space transitions throughout the day; that the music, the lights, and the service stay true to each time period,” he continues. “Depending on whether you're having a coffee, sitting and working on a laptop by yourself for a couple of hours, or if you're sitting down and having a dinner, there's a different type of attentiveness that you want from your service staff to deliver also.”
Casual, attentive and knowledgeable: this is how Pilebjer defines the service that Marriott International provides and it is this which has helped to differentiate the firm as a major player in the sector.
With around 700 restaurants in its portfolio, Marriott International has become a platform for some of the industry’s leading talent and expertise.
Explaining the appeal of Marriott, Pilebjer says: “On a more global and strategic level, we have worked to make Marriott attractive to the artisan – those people who care and dedicate their lives to a certain field, whether it’s being a bartender or a chef or even a front of house manager. We’re working very hard to identify this talent, showcase them and tell their story in that way. In Marriott’s hands, they are an employee for the future.”
Standing as the largest hotel company in the world, Marriott International has gained a glowing reputation for its hospitality offerings and now, as it champions local, culturally-relevant cuisines and concepts, it seems its restaurant and bar offerings are gaining the spotlight also.