Hotel F&B’s October issue is rooftop themed, and for most of the past decade, rooftops have been among the most popular, profitable, and continuously evolving F&B aspects of the industry. While rooftop bars atop luxury properties in densely populated cities with skyline views might be common, in recent years we’ve noticed limited-service brands in secondary markets getting into the rooftop game to differentiate themselves among the competition.

And why not? Rooftop bars and restaurants automatically make your hotel a destination for locals, and an enticement for guests and groups to book at your property. They also require no major reconfiguring of indoor hotel real estate—always a challenge when developing and implementing new F&B concepts.

With that in mind, here’s some of what we learned writing our October rooftop issue, in no particular order:

1)    Guests respond to rooftop value: I had the chance to experience a rooftop promotion (all in the name of research, of course) where a glass of well-known, premium Champagne was discounted from $25 to $5 to $8, depending on the hour. The place was packed with locals, and was a reminder that true F&B value is always a consistent draw, so prices don’t need to be inflated because you’re “paying for the view.”

2)    No two rooftops are the same: Cookie-cutter restaurants and bars still populate the hotel industry, but for rooftops, the view, along with menus specific to each location, are different everywhere. Even branded properties that have multiple rooftops in their portfolio don’t duplicate the F&B or décor/design of their top-floor venues. “We want to create some kind of storyline that applies to the destination itself,” says an F&B consultant we interviewed. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be part of the hotel; the rooftop can have its own storyline.”

3)    Guests prefer drinks instead of points. One brand we feature gives guests the option at check-in of rewards points, or a localized coaster, good for a buy one, get one beverage on the rooftop. “About 98% of our guests choose the coaster. We’re having a hard time keeping up with demand, and we sometimes have the coasters on backorder because our guests like to collect them from every property,” says one GM we interviewed.

4)    Craft beer is giving cocktails a run for the rooftop money: Most rooftops have a beverage component, accounting for 70% or more in revenues. While the traditional rooftop template has been “cocktails with a view”, craft beer has elbowed its way into that picture, equaling or exceeding cocktail sales on many rooftops. One brand even emphasizes local craft beer over all other beverages as a top-floor tenet of its rooftop F&B program.

5)    …but that doesn’t mean food should be an afterthought: While beverage sales tower over food sales, putting extra effort into your rooftop bites can add a welcome dimension to your bottom line. “Why wouldn’t you be able to have a phenomenal meal on a rooftop?” asked one hotel executive we interviewed. “We’re building full kitchens on our rooftops because if you have a great food program, you’ll be thought of as more than a seasonal rooftop—you’ll be a destination for people to visit 365 days a year.”

6)    Group buyouts are great, just not on the roof: Nearly every hotelier we interviewed for this issue said group buyouts on their rooftops are rare, because they risk alienating locals—the people that keep a rooftop lively and profitable all year. “There’s nothing worse that turning away regular, local customers because of a private event,” says one F&B director. Smaller groups are instead incorporated into the everyday rooftop experience through flexible spaces and seating.

7)    Hot dogs deserve their own t-shirts: One rooftop we feature has a signature hot dog (scored, fried, and put on a lobster roll bun) that’s so popular with guests, they sell t-shirts featuring that particular hot dog. Proof that rooftops have democratized beyond the lofty “cocktails with a view” template.

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