New F&B Design Trends for Hotels in 2018


February 2018
By Ray Chung Director of Design, Cooper Carry

With ever higher guest expectations and a healthy competition developing among hoteliers, hotel restaurants and bars need to stay ahead of trend. How a restaurant or bar looks is equally as important as the quality of the food and service.

It comes as no surprise that we are seeing more of our restaurateur friends inside hotels. In the coming year, expect to see more investment in hotel F&B overall, from the quality of the food to the design of the spaces and the creative repurposing of lobbies and rooftops.

An Investment in Design, by Design

Exciting, unique venues can feature prominently in marketing material and persuade travelers to choose one hotel over a long list that might otherwise all look the same. And as hotels tap into the value of bringing locals (non-guests) into their F&B venues, having the right look is critical. In the era of social media and photo sharing, it is hard to ignore the power of visual appeal.

Hotels are seeing the benefit of investing in highly customized design, especially in public areas like the lobby and F&B venues, where they can concentrate their efforts and still be able to reach all guests and non-guests alike. One aspect of customization has to do with making properties site-specific in some way. Increasingly, both branded and independent hotels look for ways to incorporate traditions that are specific to the city or even the neighborhood. Creating ties to the local community and its history into the design creates a sense of authenticity and fulfills the guest’s desire to be somewhere, not just anywhere. And from the point of view of the locals, when this kind of integration is done well, it helps the hotel become a rooted part of the community.

In bars and restaurants, in particular, where people spend considerably more time, more attention is being paid to the details of the design. We are seeing a return to an expression of craft and richness, but not in the traditional ways. Instead of large slabs of marble, there will be carefully proportioned accents. Rather than ornately carved mouldings, precisely detailed joinery. It is a reaction to the bare wood, blackened steel aesthetic that we see everywhere these days from restaurants to workplaces. Going forward, expect to see more comfortable furniture upholstered in gem-toned velvets, exuberant wall coverings and possibly lacquered walls and surfaces.

As part of this search for a new kind of opulence, there will be a greater use of plants in public space design—trees, flowers, and vines but also moss and lichen, which can be stabilized to be used as a decorative surface with sound-absorbing properties. Botanical elements add a fullness and texture to space that people desire, without the connotations of old-world values that often accompanies traditional ornamentation. In restaurants, expect to see not only planters and potted trees but functioning herb gardens, too. A sustained popular interest in wellness and healthy living in general helps drive this profusion of greenery in hospitality design, as plants can be an effective antidote to the machine-made world that surrounds us.

Beyond the visual, at a technical level, there will likely be more investment in acoustics and lighting, aspects that guests appreciate but often only subconsciously. Noise control has an enormous impact on how bars and restaurants feel. There needs to be enough sound and reverberation to make the space exciting, but it should not be so loud that conversations turn into screaming matches. Properly calibrated acoustic insulation can make a space feel just right, and hotel owners will find it well worth the investment.

Similarly, well-designed lighting can transform a room from a dim, forgotten corner into an inviting beacon, a place where guests feel good and want to stay. The most successful bars and restaurants will have multiple light sources at different heights, creating drama through varied light levels. And in keeping with the trend towards fine craft, we will see a wide range of original, artisan-made decorative pendants and sconces.

Guests will continue to seek authenticity and honesty in hotels and restaurants, maybe more than ever given the politics of 2017. Local influences on design will need to ring true and not feel shoehorned in. Themed restaurants that follow the latest trends but have no connection to the site will struggle, while restaurants and bars that can tell a real story about their chefs, bartenders and people will grow more popular.

Ideas of transparency in both food preparation and service will become popular and manifest themselves in more open “expo” kitchens, visible food storage—for example, produce, cheeses, and butchered meats—and service stations integrated into the dining room. Each of these poses an opportunity for not only beautiful but also innovative design. What were once considered necessary but unsightly back-of-house activities will become celebrated displays of quality and professionalism.

Hotel buffets, notably, will start to look different. Driven by cost savings but also by a shift in values, buffets will start to operate more efficiently. There will be a focus on dramatically reducing food waste as guests value sensible and sustainable practices more, and indulgent excess less. And for the operator, of course, less waste means more profit. Traditional buffets, with their chafing dishes always filled with bacon, sausage, potatoes and at least two kinds of eggs, will become significantly more compact.

There will be more made-to-order food thanks to modern combi-ovens that can turn out guest orders faster than ever before. These new, cost-effective buffets will start appearing especially at the select service level but also in some of the same ways at the luxury level, where personalized guest service is paramount and ideas of sustainability are becoming essential to a brand’s image.

The New Bar-Lobby Experience

The modern hotel lobby has been undergoing a transformation ever since the first vanguard hotels proved that they could become social gathering and co-working spots activated by F&B. This year that transformation has found a new gear, and we are seeing widespread efforts by hotels to build a lobby experience centered around the bar.

These lobby bars will be larger than usual and have a significant presence in the room, almost always with a dramatic liquor bottle riser as a backdrop. Expect innovations in the backbar design, evolving from stacked shelves of glowing bottles to more three-dimensional, sculptural walls. The bar itself will have plenty of power outlets for today’s traveler and enough light on the bartop for those guests who want to get some work done.

With beverage revenue being as attractive as it is, hotels will want to create as many opportunities as they can for guests to sit and enjoy a drink. Surrounding the bar will be a variety of seating groups in order to appeal to a broad range of guests, from low lounge chairs and cocktail tables to highbacks at a fireplace to comfortable armchairs grouped around work tables. As hotels try out new ways to encourage guests to stay longer, it would not be surprising to see modern, “luxury” pool tables, foosball and even darts find their way into these spaces.

Interestingly, despite—or perhaps because of—the proliferation of technology, we are seeing less audio-visual technology integrated in bars. Except where there is a demand for broadcast sports, large television screens over the bar have given way to bottle displays, chandeliers and wunderkammer-style bookshelves. Interactive projection video, once a cutting-edge feature, is all but gone, outmatched in entertainment value by smartphones. From a broader perspective, this trend toward low-tech, social environments makes sense, as F&B spaces now offer some of the most vibrant, in-real-life experiences in the city.

Activating the Rooftop

Look to the roofs for even more, exciting bar experiences. As long as catering & banquet and beverage sales continue to be strong revenue sources, hotels will find great success up top. Otherwise unused floor area, almost always with great views, can be made into bar/lounges and event spaces. Locating bars adjacent to event spaces will become more common, as event organizers and party planners seek to incorporate unique F&B features like wine tastings and draft beer into their events.

With the growth of rooftop bars, hotels mainly in urban settings and with younger demographics will add rooftop pools in order to stand out—and find even greater profit through nightlife and in warm weather, “daylife” programs. Pool design will evolve, too, with more use of glass walls and bottoms, polygonal shapes and outside-the-box concepts like platform-lift stages that rise up from below, converting the pool into a dance floor.

In the future, rooftop bars and lounges will go from being a later-phase renovation project to becoming a foundational part of the hotel program, leading to better space planning and even more amenities for the guest. Over time we will see more graceful circulation, space for comfortable lounge furniture and a wider variety of seating and mingling areas. Lighting will be more than an afterthought, as flattering mood lighting and careful uplighting play an important role in crafting just the right atmosphere. No two rooftops are the same, and hotels will find they can express their personality here, providing a memorable experience unique to their town or city.

This year look forward to seeing more creative variety in hotel F&B as well as more venues in every property. The time has come to say goodbye to restaurants that look like retrofitted industrial warehouses, and as hotels compete to distinguish themselves, we will see new interpretations of modern hospitality based on restoring a sense of color, richness and craft in bars and restaurants, in the lobby and on the roof.