If you operate a hotel, you're probably painfully aware of how important your online reputation is for growing your business. No matter how big or small or scrappy or sophisticated your business is, the coveted 5-star (in some cases 10-star) review means the same thing to every hospitality operator: more revenue and repeat business.
Breakfast offerings - particularly free breakfast - represent one key area where hotels can win over their guests and score more 5-star reviews. At many budget and mid-tier hotels, free breakfast is now expected as opposed to being a perk like it was several years ago.
But how are you supposed to stand out from the noise if every operator is doing the same thing?
We'll show you how to take your free breakfast offerings from good to great, leading you to better online reviews and increased revenue.
Why Offer Free Breakfast to Hotel Guests?
Free breakfast is a big selling point for budget and mid-tier hotels, and often a deciding factor for travelers. More so than pricier properties, folks staying at budget and mid-tier hotels are looking for value, perceived or real.
These folks are often families on vacation or average business travelers with limited budgets. Free breakfast can make the difference between earning their business or not because:
- Guests feel like they're getting a good deal
- Free breakfast creates a high convenience factor
- Taking care of breakfast for your guests means one less meal occasion they have to plan
Hotels don't necessarily make money on free breakfast itself. But it's one of the best ways to differentiate themselves from the guys across the street. It's a single offering that helps hospitality operators earn more reviews with better ratings, which leads to more business, which leads to increased revenue.
However, just throwing out some mini boxes of cereal alongside school cafeteria sized cartons of milk won't exactly blow the socks off anyone and if done badly can create negative reviews. Adding some simple hot food options increases the perceived value even more. It doesn't have to be gourmet, either. Just basic scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage patties are usually enough to please your guests.
However, going one step further and considering how your food is displayed is a simple and effective way to get your online reviews to the next level. We'll explain.
Take Your Breakfast Offering from Good to Great with the Right Serveware
The better your food looks and is served, the more value your guests will perceive because we eat with our eyes and our stomachs. When your serveware is beautiful, you don't even have to change your menu or ingredients. You can serve the same food you always have, but its impact on your guests' experience can be 10x better. Additionally, keeping hot food hot and cold food cold goes a long way toward satisfying your guests.
If you're wondering whether distinctive serveware would look out of place at budget or mid-tier properties, the answer is no. It looks nice. It tells your guests that you pay attention to the small things and that they're worthy of that level of detail. And when your guests feel cared for, they'll show it with extra stars in your online reviews.
Let's check out a particular kind of serveware for hot food - chafing dishes - and take a moment to review our favorite brand.
When it Comes to Chafers, Choose Wisely
For hot food service like scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage patties, etc., many hotels look to chafing dishes. Run-of-the-mill chafing dishes typically aren't very expensive, but they:
- Can break easily requiring ongoing repairs that usually have to be performed by the company, which means you'll need to ship your dishes offsite to get fixed
- Often get replaced about every 6 months to a year, creating an inconsistent service environment and a continual operational cost
- Typically feature lower end stainless steel that can pit over time, causing the chafer to lose its luster
- Have lids that bang shut instead of closing quietly, which detracts from an otherwise hospitable atmosphere and can embarrass guests
Look for chafers made from grade 18/10 stainless steel with soft-close hinges. These two features alone can upgrade the whole look, sound, and overall guest experience of a free breakfast bar. Grade 18/10 stainless has the best shine and durability of the three most common food-safe stainless steel options.
Pictured: Smart Buffet Ware's Domino Triple Wood Induction Set with Large Round Chafers
PRO TIP: Use smaller food pans on your chafers, like two 1/2 pans, a 2/3 pan + a 1/3, or three 1/3 pans to fill the space of a single hotel pan. Doing so will force you to serve less food, more often. In turn you'll:
- Dish up fresher product
- Keep you pans looking fuller, longer
- Keep your food from drying out
- Reduce food waste
- Be handsomely rewarded in your online reviews
Our Favorite Brand of Chafers
Smart Buffet Ware is a favorite option because their chafers solve for the issues discussed above. Among plenty other benefits and options, their chafers:
- Are all made from 18/10 stainless steel
- Feature soft-close hinges
- Are designed to be repaired onsite using kits specific to the chafers
- They even produce step-by-step videos anyone can follow so you never have to ship your chafer out for what should be a quick fix but usually isn't (like tightening or straightening a hinge)
- Include an eco-friendly collection which uses significantly less electricity when used in tandem with their induction bases, adding flexibility to setup options while saving on utility costs
- Will last for decades, saving you money in the long run
They might be a little more expensive than an average chafer, but generally any chafer with these features are going to be on the higher end of most options on the market. Additionally, improving the look and experience of your free breakfast bar will make your guests feel like their overall visit was upgraded, and they'll rate you online accordingly. In time, you'll be able to charge a bit more for your rooms.
The Proof Is In the Pudding
By this point, you may be thinking that simply adding higher-end chafers to your free breakfast buffet is too easy to actually impact your online reviews. Brace yourself: This may be the one time in your life that you're wrong.
We've got a heck of a success story for you, and it's another reason why Smart Buffet Ware is one of our favorite brands of chafers.
A few years ago, the owner and founder of Smart Buffet Ware, David Moreland, was asked to attend a trade show where some budget hotels would also be. He was skeptical at first because he thought there'd be no way to move any of his higher-end chafers considering his audience. He was wrong.
A few franchisees for a major international budget hotel chain (whom we can't name, unfortunately, but you have definitely heard of them) opted to try out his chafers.
The next year, he returned to the trade show again, not expecting much action. And again, he was wrong. The same franchisees from the prior year had told several of their partners at other properties within the chain how much their "numbers" went up because of their improved chafers. And a handful more purchased his chafers, saying that they, too, wanted their "numbers" to go up.
Pictured: Smart Buffet Ware's Double Soup Wood Induction Server Set with Medium Round Chafer
David didn't know what they meant by "numbers," so he started asking around. It turns out the original three franchisees increased their TripAdvisor ratings from a measly 1-2 stars to the coveted 9-10 star ranking after implementing the chafers. Their new-found online review success was attributed to simply investing in nicer looking and better functioning chafers. They didn't even change the food they were serving.
The original 3 franchisees considered raising their rates by $6/day due to their more successful reviews and higher-volume business. For a 100-room hotel, that would mean about $219,000 in additional annual revenue.
But they decided to raise prices by $12/day, which, for a 100-room hotel, translates into about $438,000 additional annual revenue. Their price increase was small enough that they didn't lose any business to it.
Needless to say, word spread quickly, and franchisees of this hotel chain continue to invest in Smart Buffet Ware at increasing rates.
The best news is that you now have the tools to do this, too. So give your free breakfast buffet a little face lift and your investment can more than pay for itself in less than a year.
If you'd like to learn more from Dave Moreland, the mastermind behind Smart Buffet Ware, check out his guest post where he shares one great tip about "How to Minimize Catering Food Waste."