INTERNATIONAL – Hotels are turning to new bar experiences to keep luxury customers on their toes and increase favourable food and beverage margins.
Enter in-room cocktail service. While in-room dining has been on the decline – showing a 3 percent dip from 2016 to 2017, according to hospitality insights firm STR, hoteliers are realising that expertly shaken martinis, rather than well-done cheeseburgers, are just what travellers want showing up at their doors.
In some cases, that means dispatching a bartender for in-person service. At other times, it’s about making a room’s minibar more like a home bar.
“As the mother of a 6-year-old, having a perfectly created cocktail in my room creates a really memorable moment,” says Kelly McCourt, director of sales and marketing at the Darcy, which opened in Washington in April 2017 with a cocktail butler who crafts the hotel’s signature drinks from a bedside bar cart.
In Miami Beach, The Nobu Hotel’s Beverage Butler has also been going strong, ferrying a trolley of liquid wares up and down guest corridors since just after it opened in late 2016.
The Campari sodas he shakes are complimentary, but the hotel doesn’t advertise the service in order to “surprise and delight” guests.
Consider this the next evolution in luxury hotel service. After all, why go down to the bar when the drinks can come to you? Here, the leaders of the in-room drinking pack expect to see additional resorts join the ranks in the very near future.
Call the “Cocktail Butler” at the Darcy, and a mixologist will spend 30 minutes customising the property’s signature drinks in your room.
You can order a Darcy Double, which marries soda water, ginger beer and Green Hat Gin with a variety of locally sourced cocktail vinegars, or a Call of the Siren, which puts seasonal twists on a blend of vodka and prosecco.
The catch? You have to book 48 hours ahead – meaning your G&T cravings can’t be met on demand and the butler will cut you off after two rounds. (After that, he’s off to serve someone else.)
Drinks are $17 (R248) a pop, plus a $50 service charge, available from 4.30pm to 9.30pm.
At the minimalist but preppy The Godfrey Hotel, Boston, on Sunday mornings from 10am to 1pm guests can buzz the bar and request the Bloody Mary Cart, a Mad Men-inspired brass-and-mirror affair stocked with your choice of premium vodka, gin, tequila or bourbon.
Also included are the house Bloody Mary mix and your favourite garnishes and accoutrements: celery, olives, seasonal pickled vegetables, jumbo shrimp, even maple-glazed bacon.
The hotel’s marketing director, Paul Sauceda, says the offering – priced on a par with the lobby bar at $14 per cocktail and no service fees – has been “really big with parents who can’t make it to the bar on Sunday mornings with kids”.
This, it seems, is far more doable.
At Mahogany Bay Resort & Beach Club, Belize, first-time hotelier Beth Clifford tried “dressing cocktails” – ones imbibed while getting dressed for dinner – at interior designer Amanda Lindroth’s home in the Bahamas.
She loved the concept so much that she brought it to her hotel in Belize, whose main building was decorated by Lindroth as a contemporary take on British colonial design.
From their white clapboard cottages, guests can order such $8 to $14 drinks as Don’s Old Fashioned, made with Demerara syrup and vintage Dom Omario rum, or a grapefruit-infused Laguna Spritz. They’re delivered by golf cart from 4pm to 6.30pm with optional hors d’oeuvres (and a mandatory 10 percent service charge).
As for Clifford’s dressing cocktail of choice: it’s the Queen Bee, made with watermelon juice, local honey and mint, and a dash of prosecco.
“It’ll get you in the mood for dinner without going to the full martini,” she says.
At the Pulitzer Amsterdam, styled taking inspiration from Amsterdam’s 17th-century canal, general manager Alex van Gastel saw the addition of 1930s-style drink trolleys in each room as an extension of that traditional aesthetic.
They’re more like home bars than minibars. Each has an artisanal wooden design and is stocked with nips of gin, mixers, glasses, cocktail-making gear, and a booklet of recipes. (The drinks whip up for around $16 and are perfect for nightcaps after the lobby bar has closed.)
Of course, there’s also a small fridge in each of the eclectic rooms, where you’ll find chilled Corenwijn jenever and beer for a Dutch Kopstootje combo. “Gulp one and sip the other,” Van Gastel jokes.
At Bisha Hotel, Toronto, it should come as no surprise that, for his first hotel, nightclub impresario and restaurateur Charles Khabouth paid additional attention to his in-room beverage programme.
Since its opening last year, the Bisha Hotel has stood out for its Studio Munge furnishings, including bar carts – a throw-back to retro Hollywood glamour – crowded with 375ml bottles of Belvedere and Kettle One vodka, Hennessy cognac and Tanqueray gin that are priced without the typical minibar mark-up.
Should the one bar cart prove insufficient, the two-floor Bisha suite has one in the kitchen and a second in the upstairs bedroom.