These days few cosmopolitan Brits are more than a couple of steps away from their next latte, and with popularity showing no signs of abating, hoteliers can cash in on cappuccino culture, too. Catherine Quinn finds out more.
While weekends see millennial cafés enjoying a brisk turnover of cappuccinos, espressos, and Frappuccinos, most hoteliers enjoy a surge in custom only at mealtimes. But as many hotels boast attractive lobbies and dearly-bought coffee facilities, a few establishments have decided to capitalise on the recent coffee craze. Rather than marketing their restaurant options, they've made inviting cafés of their lobbies and bars, tempting customers at all hours of the day.
"Coffee culture is undoubtedly thriving in the UK and we wanted to offer our guests the chance to enjoy coffee of the kind they might find on the high street, and in similarly comfortable surroundings," says Glenn Hallam, of the Tower hotel, which has made a deal with Starbucks.
"The café has been immensely popular with guests, and customers from off the street also come in for coffee, so the move has been very successful in both adding value to our existing product and bringing in a new offering for non-guests."
The logic behind making a coffee area which is open to the public is not only good business sense, but it's seen by many as a vital extension of an initial investment. After all, if you've spent many thousands on designing a chic lobby space, and installing a light lunch provision for casual guests, then it makes perfect sense to make this outlay work for you in more ways than one.
Part of the attraction is to do with the enormous mark-up which is possible on drinks, but in particular on hot drinks such as coffee. Although the caveat here, of course, is the investment in several thousand pounds worth of equipment.
Vital, too, is the decision between training your staff as "baristas" or paying extra for a machine which can do some of the job on their behalf.
"We usually advise hotels to go for a traditional coffee machine - and if they're planning on using this in a café type context this is essential," explains Paul Mooring, director of coffee machine specialist Caffé Society.
"If you're having the machine behind the bar just to serve the occasional coffee you can use bean to cup, but the traditional machines when used properly make a superior cup of coffee."
While the investment in both staff training and £3,000-£4,000 worth of equipment might seem daunting, Mooring is quick to point out the likely returns. "If a hotel is selling more than 50 cups a day at £1.50 they can expect to make a return of around £23,000 and that's accounting for investment in equipment," he explains.
"Some hotels are selling 200-400 cups a day and sales like this can equate to £250,000 in profits. I would advise against the free on-loan arrangements for coffee machines though. You could be tied in to buy an inferior bean at inflated prices."
For some hoteliers, however, rather than take the trouble of kitting out themselves, they've taken on big chains to do the job for them. Several large hotel chains now call upon the services of big coffee brands, and when the price of shop-fitting for a Costa can amount to £100,000, it's easy to see why the arrangement could be symbiotic.
Currently Hilton has teamed up with Costa Coffee and the Tower Hotel has joined forces with Starbucks in order to deploy some mutually beneficial investment in coffee sales. And with the dual brands working in harmony, the chains are hoping profits will be reflective.
"The concept began with a strategy to work with a leading coffee brand supplier that is familiar with UK consumers," says James Glover, vice-president for food and beverage in Europe for Hilton Worldwide, which has rolled out Costa cafés to more than half of its UK hotels since last year.
"We have seen additional custom from people calling in for a coffee-to-go, or to drink-in, as well as benefiting guests staying in the hotel. We have seen a significant increase in revenue linked to the outlets and welcome guests at many locations for a Costa coffee while visiting one of our hotels."
Don't despair if you're a smaller operator, however, as there is plenty of scope to create a unique offering which can easily compete with the slick chains. The trick is generating a genuine love and enthusiasm for your beans. Costa still employs its original master-roaster from Italy and keeps a local roaster in Vauxhall, and there's no reason why an independent hotelier can't show the same dedication in sourcing coffee.
In fact, in an age where people are happy to utilise a coffee shop on every corner, hoteliers really should be cashing in. But as customers really are expecting a decent cup of coffee, it looks likely to be the discerning providers who make the best profits.
TIPS FOR TRANSFORMING YOUR LOBBY INTO A CAFE
â- Make a guest-only provision, such as secure Wi-Fi access.
â- Take the coffee seriously. Where you source your beans will make an enormous difference to the taste in the cup as well as your bottom line. Avoid free on-loan machinery which may tie you into sub-standard beans.
â- Celebrate your staff. Train staff to use coffee equipment and teach managers the principles of good coffee. If you don't know yourself, most coffee roasters and equipment retailers will be only too happy to inform you.
â- Clean up afterwards. Coffee equipment can easily build up thick oils which will rapidly damage expensive machinery. Make a comprehensive cleaning of equipment part of the shift at the end of the day.
MY HOTEL, MERKABA
At the forefront of the boutique hotel trend, MyHotel wanted to create an offering which took inspiration from the "third space" notion of popular coffee chains. Each of its hotels features an extended public space which changes function throughout the day, specialising in coffee and light lunches during the daylight hours.
"We were very much focused on the idea of a 'third space' and of creating an environment for people to meet and greet and enjoy a cup of coffee," explains Imran Hussein, MyHotel communications director. "In our lobbies the lighting changes throughout the day, so we have a breakfast offering in the morning, which changes to a light lunch and then becomes a bar in the evening."
When it came to coffee, the hotel chain places a great emphasis on sourcing, with both equipment and beans a high consideration. "In London we source our beans from Mozzo and in Brighton we use Illy," says Hussein.
Also important to MyHotel is that having invested in prime locations in corporate areas of major cities, it can capitalise on its property.
"We're situated in places where people are looking for facilities for informal meetings and places to have a coffee in a business setting which is also informal," explains Hussein. "And having a provision for a café meets that need."
STRAND PALACE HOTEL, DIVA CAFE
With a slew of business guests, the Strand Palace hotel in London decided to capitalise on cappuccino culture to create a rapid service breakfast facility, but as general manager David McRae explains, it soon found demand suggested a café-style outlet.
"Originally it was designed as an express breakfast counter for guests who didn't have time to have a sit-down breakfast but as there was so much demand for it, we decided to expand it," he says.
"The café also has a street-facing entrance, so the decision was taken in 2008 to open it up to public access rather than limiting it to hotel guests."
Two years on and the café is thriving to such an extent that it now has its own menus as distinct from other offerings in the hotel.
"The product offer has gradually increased over time from just serving continental breakfasts to now serving soups, carvery sandwiches, pastas and jacket potatoes" McRae says.
"There are tables and chairs for those wanting to eat-in as well as a self-service counter to enable people to grab breakfast or lunch quickly and efficiently, which is popular with busy London workers and tourists."
But cashing in on the millennial pace of life is not the only tip to be gleaned from this hotel café. Diva has also been styled as distinct to the rest of the hotel, which makes it more approachable for non guests, and increases popularity with drop-in customers.