|Posted by Emilton on August 6, 2016 at 7:45 PM|
With so many new dining and socialising options emerging, especially in major cities, the hotel industry has got its work cut out trying to lure external customers into its restaurants and bars.
Coupled with the need to maximise the profitability of its communal areas, this is what sparked a bold idea at Marriott International: what if entrepreneurs – experimental foodies and bar visionaries – could be enticed to transform unused corners of its hotels into something edgy and different that might attract a new crowd?
The resulting Canvas Project – a food and beverage talent incubator – has now entered its second year, with the launch of rooftop bar and restaurant Notch at London’s Marriott Park Lane hotel.
There you can try Japanese street food and homemade cocktails in cans, which take inspiration from the millennial hotspots of Brooklyn and Berlin. Designed as a sky-high industrial playground for adults, Notch mixes reclaimed school tables, scaffolding and swings with a vibrant bar and open kitchen, Fudo Shack.
Notch has taken the baton from the site’s previous pop-up, Roofnic, which turned over a profitable £500,000 during its three-month summer run last year. The same man, Ashley Dawes, is responsible for both. Originally the general manager of Marriott Park Lane’s main restaurant and bar, his execution of Roofnic was so successful that he left to set up a restaurant and bar consultancy, DenLDN.
The idea for Canvas Project came out of a company brainstorming event, where managers were encouraged to reconsider Marriott’s global restaurant and bar strategy. “Rather than take the traditional ‘We know best’ approach, we wanted to see what would happen if we started from the ground up, the idea being that we would learn from the entrepreneurs,” explains Ed Viita, director of food and beverage at Marriott Europe.
Moving away from the standard hotel restaurant and bar experience would enable Marriott to appeal to a new demographic, attracting locals as well as guests staying in the hotel. “One of the most common questions to our concierges is where the locals eat,” Viita notes. “Our aim was to become that place.”
Following the 2014 brainstorm, teams were sent away to develop four “concept labs” for launch the following year. Viita took his own inspiration from Europe’s popular pop-ups and street food ventures.
“The model is completely open to interpretation; there are no restrictions,” Viita says. Once a location has been identified, internal staff and local entrepreneurs are invited to pitch their ideas. The creator of each winning concept is offered a minimal budget – typically£35,000 per project – to build and develop the restaurant or bar.
Park Lane’s Roofnic is held up as the big success story. Taking inspiration from British music festivals such as Latitude and Bestival, Dawes took an unused roof terrace and transformed it into a rustic garden, with simple wooden benches, folding garden furniture and affordable prices. The summer bar often had queues down the street and was selling 1,000 cocktails a day.
Then came St Pancras MI+ME, an urban cheese and charcuterie bar at London’s St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, targeted at travellers. At Marriott’s Courtyard Berlin hotel, the #Hashtag Coffee Shop serves comfort food with a local twist, such as baked potatoes served with curry wurst and doner kebab.
In Budapest, Marriott has partnered with a local entrepreneur, Imre Toth, to create the Marionett Craft Beer House. Toth launched his concept within two months of being selected. If a project is working well, Marriott allows the outlet to continue to operate, and the Marionett Craft Beer House has now been running for 10 months.
So how does the model work for both parties? All intellectual property related to the concept such as name, logo and trademarks remain the property of the entrepreneur, Viita notes. The percentage of the profits the entrepreneur receives is negotiated on an individual basis. In February, Toth renegotiated his contract and started paying rent and now receives a larger share of the profits.
If the entrepreneur is operating the pop-up, there is an expectation that they will devote their energy to the success of the project. “However, we also partner with entrepreneurs as consultants,” Viita notes, pointing to the new relationship with Dawes, who branched out on his own but set up Notch.
For Dawes, working externally has enabled him to get his name out in the wider market and be paid for his ideas. He describes the Canvas Project as the opportunity he had been waiting for. “The idea came through on a company email when I was working at Marriott. It looked great, and the guys behind it were very enthusiastic,” he says.
Roofnic offered a fun time at non-Mayfair prices, setting it apart from Windows, the premium bar and restaurant at the top of the Park Lane Hilton. “Before we took over the rooftop space, there was nothing there – it was concrete, there was no electricity. We opened in eight weeks, and take-up was epic from day one.”
He left once the season finished, taking a well-earned holiday. With his new consultancy business up and running, he started on Notch in March, opening it on 1 May. Within two months it had a reach of 875,000 people across social media.
Running his own ship has improved the rewards. As an internal employee, Dawes had only really received a ‘token’ for his hard work, he says. “That side of things didn’t really work out,” he says, of whether he received a big bonus.
“But it was an opportunity to show what I could do. I’m doing some work for Marriott in LA at the moment – the company will always be a big partner. They’ve led the way: they came up with a great idea and have seen it through, in a market where it can be hard to make change.”
The figures stand up to scrutiny. Worldwide, Marriott launched 10 of 17 proposed Canvas projects last year, investing just over $300,000 (£230,000) and achieving top-line revenues of nearly $2m (£1.5m). Low start-up costs and high turnaround mean revenues are delivered quickly and profitably. This year, to date, Marriott launched 12 additional projects globally – with more in the pipeline. In Europe, Canvas has delivered the new audience Marriott was looking for: 75% of customers have been millennials, exceeding the target. Over 60% are locals.
“In culinary hotspots like London, the appetite for new and fresh ideas is strong and pop-ups are a great solution,” says Peter Ducker, chief executive at the Institute of Hospitality. “This is a brave move from Marriott: they are at the front of the curve and should be applauded.
“One major drawback of pop-up facilities though is that the workload can be equal to opening a permanent restaurant. If you’re including a new kitchen from scratch, you still need all the same regulatory compliance. But working through a company as well-resourced as Marriott should make life easier.”
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Source: The Guardian