Operators are falling well short of the customer expectation curve when it comes to breakfast drinks. Ian Boughton reports
Customers, it has to be admitted, are not enthusiastic about what they are served with their breakfast. A major factor in whether a guest will return to a hotel is the standard of its coffee and tea – yet it is widely accepted that the nation behind the good old British cuppa typically offers guests no more than a so-so brew.
This is a surprisingly well-researched subject. One survey reports that more than half of hotel guests consider breakfast tea and coffee to be the most important feature of their hotel stay, while another survey says 30% of guests reckon the standard of the breakfast brew influences their choice of hotel.
Coffee company UCC says that an astonishing 75% of guests rate their hotel coffee as poor or average – probably because they are now so used to speciality coffee elsewhere. UCC adds that guests rank British B&Bs higher than branded hotels for tea and coffee quality, while boutique hotels are bottom of the customer ratings league.
The B&B sector gives another example of how professionals are behind public expectations in hot beverages. The AA's most recent Breakfast of the Year award virtually ignores beverages in its judging: its sole reference to hot drinks is that the winner for England, the Old House at Gotten Manor on the Isle of Wight, serves "plentiful pots of quality tea and coffee".
It is simply not good enough, according to Phil Smith, head of category at UCC. He says: "A good breakfast experience should begin and end with great coffee, but coffee in hotels is not given the same consideration as a food or wine menu. This is astounding, as 57% of consumers order coffee with their breakfasts, and 32% would visit a hotel more frequently if the coffee were better."
The same consideration applies to tea, says Michelle Jee, brand manager at Tetley, which has now launched its Breakfast Guide Nespresso (pictured above), offering insights and ideas for imaginative breakfast service. She says: "This is a day part that shouldn't be ignored.
For regular travellers, breakfast can become repetitive and boring. Presenting guests with options outside the standard will set you apart."
By region and season
Surprisingly, you can now do exactly that with the most common tea of all. The standard black catering tea is English Breakfast, which in its classic form is a blend of Assam, Kenyan and Ceylon teas, but so many new ideas are now cropping up in this sector that it is possible to stand out by promoting your breakfast tea as a local ‘special'. Hot beverage supplier Bewley's offers Dublin Breakfast (a blend of African teas), and Suki sells Belfast Brew (90% Assam, with a rich malty content). Meanwhile, this year's Great Taste Awards recognised an English Lakes Breakfast tea (a blend of Indian and Ceylon), a Cheshire Breakfast (Kenyan and Assam) and a Sussex Breakfast. More glamorous ideas for breakfast tea come from T2 Tea, an Australian brand that recently launched in Britain.
Marketing co-ordinator Anna Clemson says T2 creates a breakfast tea for every area it operates in – so you can now offer an English Breakfast, an Irish Breakfast (cheekily described as "stout"), a New York Breakfast (a full-bodied black tea "boasting the taste of hot pancakes"), a Sydney Breakfast and a Singapore Breakfast. Clemson adds: "Melbourne Breakfast is our signature black tea, an Assam and Keemun blend with a hint of vanilla, a sweet brew with depth of character."
Storm in a teapot
English Breakfast is the blend behind the traditional British cuppa, and our big brands have suddenly got vocal about why it is served so badly in the hospitality sector. At Twinings, marketing manager Jacqui Chapman says the reason that catering tea is often perceived as weak is because some caterers hope that cheaper one-cup bags will brew to pot volume.
She adds: "Coffee has upped its game, and people are happy to pay a lot of money for it, but we still need to give people a reason to choose tea out of home and pay more for it. Most tea bags are for one cup – ours are suited to the hospitality environment, and our mixologists have now delivered blends created specifically for the out-of-home market in a heavier pyramid bag weight designed for a 12oz/330ml serve, the equivalent of a teapot."
Taylors of Harrogate, continuing its Campaign for a Proper Brew, has also worked on the content of its teabags, and agrees that caterers are simply using the wrong size of bag and serving tea that is too weak.
This is why too few customers choose tea in a catering situation, says out-of-home manager Natalie Cross. A Taylors survey found that a quarter of consumers were not satisfied with the last out-of-home tea they had been served, with 40% reckoning it was simply not as good as the tea they make at home.
"Research clearly shows that consumers are disappointed, although 48% of them say they would visit an outlet if they knew it served good-quality tea, and a fifth of tea drinkers would be willing to pay more than the average for a proper brew," says Cross.
In the bag
Teabags as such are not the problem, all suppliers agree. Modern bags, which contain good-quality loose-leaf tea, can do a fine job as long as they are presented properly, according to John Mellor at Shibui.
He explains: "Serving loose leaf tea isn't the easiest thing to do in a busy breakfast environment, but customers know how little a supermarket paper tea bag costs, and if the guest sees one paper bag in the bottom of the pot, or a cup with a cheap and scruffy string hanging out, their perception of your service is Teapigs Cold Brew cheapness and poor quality.
"But pyramid bags are now well known for offering the quality of whole-leaf tea. Now, when a customer sees a quality tag hanging down the side of a good teapot, they recognise you have given some thought to your tea and not just nipped off to the cash-and-carry. Displaying your choice of a quality pyramid tea bag is a simple gesture of quality which will make you stand out."
English Breakfast is not the be-all and endall of breakfast tea, points out Alan Pirret, managing director at Novus, and here, the modern pyramid bag is the convenient answer.
"Green teas are becoming a really popular, healthy choice, and for customers less familiar with it, our Eight Secrets is a full-bodied, flavoursome and refreshing drink that offers more punch than traditional green tea, making it akin to an English Breakfast," he says.
"However, not everyone wants a hot drink at breakfast, and cold-brew tea is this summer's favourite refreshment. It is sugar-free, has a gentle, natural sweetness and no calories, and contains all the health benefits of tea. It is seen as a drink for grown-ups, and is simple to introduce into your breakfast menu."
He is not alone in advocating cold brews at breakfast service."In the breakfast room, coldbrew teas have become very popular," says Louise Cheadle, founder of Teapigs. "Large Kilner jars or jugs mean that guests can help themselves, as they would with juices."
However, she warns that self-service can be the source of problems. "Tea service starts in the room: the busy business bod may not even step into your breakfast room, so if they have to grab an in-room tea, you must make it a decent one.
Supply a selection of enveloped teas, including herbal teas; tell them that matcha is a great replacement for coffee in the morning; and give them a nice pot, not a metal one which burns their hands."
Not my cup of tea
The same problems apply to coffee. The Allegra research organisation has remarked that "just a promise of tea and coffee-making facilities in rooms is no longer a positive", and the WMF machine company recently declared that putting instant coffee sachets in rooms is just asking for a bad review on TripAdvisor.
And yet the breakfast service is "a thoroughly important occasion", according to Charlea Samuel, category marketing manager at Jacobs Douwe Egberts. "It is a crucial factor in our daily routines," she says.
Her solution is the Cafitesse Excellence Touch, a liquid-coffee machine with a touchscreen control that allows guests to choose the strength and volume of their coffee.
Breakfast room coffee service need not be difficult, points out Jackson Law, head of development at Caffeine. More customers now choose filter coffee at breakfast, so the problems of barista work are solved by the modern bulk-brew machines.
"The ability to bulk-brew a batch in advance is now the great fast-serve option for breakfast service." Ben Rogers, regional manager at Extract Coffee, agrees. "A stress-free, exceptional coffee service is now absolutely possible in the breakfast room," he says. "A high-quality batch brewer means you can prepare and hold large volumes of consistently delicious coffee, and if you decant into smaller serving jugs or carafes, it can be beautifully presented at the table."
For speed and presentation, don't dismiss the cafetière, advises Scott Russell of Paddy & Scott's. He says: "Individual cafetières at table are charming, and customers love them, but cleaning them is a nightmare. We're seeing a shift towards craft coffee bags, which can go into a cafetière. This is quicker and more portable than ground coffee, and the quality is excellent – brew bags are now our second best-selling product."
Inside the capsule
For simplicity in serving quality coffee, Nespresso has always advocated the capsule system. What is often overlooked, according to the company, is the fact that the capsules can be used for cold coffee creations too, because the machines will provide cold milk froth. Nespresso with ice is straightforward, but the company even suggests its On Ice Macchiato at breakfast during the warmer months: ice cubes, an espresso shot, then 90g of cold milk froth.
Jacobs Douwe Egberts http://www.jacobsdouweegberts.co.uk
Paddy & Scott's http://www.paddyandscotts.co.uk
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