In a market where luxury brands strive for perfection, it’s becoming harder to stand out in the minds of hotel guests. Nowadays, 5-star properties are continuously plying their ‘A’ game so, successfully differentiating oneself from the competition is becoming a bigger challenge and delivering a memorable experience is becoming a more elusive achievement.
In this environment, hoteliers need to look harder at ways to gain and retain loyalty and there are various approaches to consider. Strategies will vary in scale and complexity but some of the more common solutions will include investment in signature renovations or equipment, elaborate promotions or marketing partnerships and securing higher-skilled talent. Food and Beverage is a prime area where these types of efforts are occurring with the objective of impressing while attempting the latest in lifestyle experiences that resonate with guests.
Imagine a seasoned mixologist recreating colonial shrub recipes using a fully decked out bar in order to make specialty cocktails. Surely, one would want to partner with an artisan spirit or high-end equipment provider. Likewise, partnerships with craft brewers or coffee roasters could be forged in order to serve the latest in beverages from their respective categories. It’s now more common to find Nitro coffee or Kombucha on tap in a hotel bar and it’s still not too late to add a spot for barista poured latte art.
In each case, capital, material and labor expenditures would rise for the sake of this F&B paradigm shift. The return is a melding of service and entertainment that is more commonly being referenced as “experiential”. Perfect for that Instagram moment! However, “experiential” has transformed from buzzword into business model and hotel brands are taking notice. Using cues from the independent early adopters that are presently reaping the benefits, brands are finding innovative ways to build on those successes.
Before diving in, one should look deep into the soul of the brand identity and understand how it relates to its next generation of guests. Are supercharged coffee drinks or crafted alcoholic beverages the ticket to a millennial’s nirvana? Are offerings harmonious with the social and environmental ethos of the next generation? How can one balance product offerings to simultaneously appeal to the current guest genre as well as the next wave of brand patronage? How can these gestures stay in the minds of travelers before, during and after their stay?
More than ever, modern F&B offerings need to support a cause, make the planet a better place and improve your well-being. Bonus if it was grown within a 100-mile radius and you get to meet the farmer.
One of the best modern-day offerings that is meeting the multigenerational needs of today’s top tier hotel guest, from Boomers on down, is known as the luxury tea experience. It’s more than just the colloquial, comforting pot o’ tea. We’re talking about contemporary formulations of teas and herbs with the added benefit of a positive function for the beholder of such cups. Modern technology has facilitated improvements in sourcing, packaging and design leading to greater consumer expectations. Simply put, they seek an adventurous experience in every steeping moment.
Within the luxury tea experience, there’s a blend for every taste, there’s a face for every grower and the best teas cannot be produced by a workforce under duress nor environmental strain. A respectably assembled luxury tea menu can be worldly and regional at the same time. The luxury tea experience is transgenerational, it’s also healthy and hip. Best of all, the luxury tea experience requires only a modest investment in materials, equipment and skill.
In a year, properties will spend 20 to 50 times more on coffee than they will on tea. Much of that is the sheer volume differential between the service of each beverage. In most regions of the world, the obvious emphasis is on coffee, yet tea consumption, particularly in the western hemisphere, is where the desire and passion for a quality experience is becoming more noticeable.
Think of the most common tea choices found in hotel rooms and it’s not hard to imagine why guests that are passionate about tea might bring their own supply. If the F&B outlets have similar offerings then bettering the tea will certainly generate excellent returns. This is not a big challenge. Just look at the annualized spend of this line item in your food budget and know that you can significantly improve your property’s tea program for an added cost that could be less than a first-class plane ticket.
The virtues of better tea are not complicated. Better means fresher, therefore, the packaging should be designed to hold that freshness. Traditional paper tea bags that are wrapped in paper envelopes will betray any state of freshness and diminish whatever quality was present at the time of manufacturing. Did you know that paper doesn’t naturally stick to itself? So, if it’s not glued, then how are paper tea bags sealed? (Hint: ask Google). Better also means more special so it shouldn’t be found on the shelves of mainstream retail. Better means more natural so skip anything that contains artificial flavors and ensure the ingredients being used are of the most natural possible format.
Other attributes of better tea where improvement over the status quo can make a real difference include sustainability, food security, supply chain integration and modern manufacturing methods. Small innovations within each discipline will add up to a seriously optimized tea program that is quite unique compared to other solutions. Simply aligning with the best-known brands won’t necessarily guarantee a better tea experience and you shouldn’t have to study like a tea sommelier in order to identify the right supplier. Evaluate the fundamental features of your chosen tea. Be thorough and pick wisely then pilot the program so you can judge the product based on the reactions from your tea aficionados.
When you find the right purveyor, bespoke blends will be curated to anticipate and satisfy the diverse wants of your guests. Packaging will be made using environmentally friendly materials that don’t compromise performance. The social, sustainable and experiential tenets of such offerings will exceed expectations. Your operational and training needs will be met through innovative and cost-effective digital platforms. You may find that the best providers make their own goods, unlike tea “marketers” that outsource their manufacturing along with other aspects of their supply chain.
Once you start your upgrade, having more knowledgeable customer-facing staff to competently communicate your new tea passion will be required. Effective supplier training forms part of the improvement of the overall guest experience. If done right, your upgraded tea menu and presentation service will justify an increase in your tea menu prices. Better tea and proper service will pay for itself.
For your best chance at success, your revamped tea program should deliver a consistent experience across all your operational channels. Think of the implications of serving a nice tea in a property’s outlets while the in-room amenity option is comparable to grocery store grade. Rooms, F&B, Banquets, Spa and Retail can sing from the same hymn book when their provider delivers a harmonized solution that can meet the budget constraints of the various channels. Lever up by taking this strategy chain-wide, across all brand locations, and provide a truly consistent experience.
What is the pinnacle of a curated tea program? There are cases where a global luxury hotel brand fully commits to serving a “signature label” bespoke tea program that is developed in partnership with their supplier. The tea is now a conduit that helps them drive revenue, contain costs and control the guest experience. Their renowned tea program creates an F&B consumption moment and it boldly becomes the arbiter of a truly memorable experience.
Is that asking a lot from a tea bag? As history would show, tea has been welcoming weary travelers from around the world as early as the Chinese dynasties. Since those days, a good cuppa has been an experience to be appreciated and remembered.
The wants and desires of today’s traveler have fundamentally remained the same, where you see change is in how one meets those needs. The right approach will achieve guest satisfaction that builds success in your operation. Creating satisfaction in today’s environment is akin to finding new journeys that arrive at the same destination. Luxury tea can help you to reinvent that journey by providing an unforgettable adventure with every cup.
About the author
Al Cardenas is a Tea Master, Level 2 working at Metropolitan Tea Company since 2003. He specializes in providing tea solutions for the Luxury Hospitality industry and has hands-on supply chain experience from the tea garden to the cup. He describes his job as going to work, talk to friends and drink tea all day long, then go home.
Metropolitan Tea is a vertically integrated tea manufacturer managing 1000+ ingredients imported from 35 countries. They import, refine, manufacture and export tea products to customers in over 30 countries. Their team of tea masters has 250+ years of combined tea expertise with a couple of members now in their fifth decade trading tea. Their key experiential tea solution for the luxury hospitality industry is known as Metz Luxury Tea.
Metropolitan Luxury Tea Group
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