Embassy Suites revamps F and B with two casual dining options

MCLEAN, VA—In 2014, Embassy Suites by Hilton celebrated not only its 30-year anniversary, but also the beginning of a new initiative to revitalize its space; its name is Atrium Refresh, and it was designed to—yes, you guessed it—“refresh” existing hotels by transforming the brand’s signature large, open-air atriums into intimate social lobbies. But every refresh begets another, which is why the brand has rolled out two new dining options.

At the same time Atrium Refresh was unveiled, many Embassy Suites’ franchise agreements were set to expire, making the plan not only timely, but also necessary. Alan Roberts, global head of Embassy Suites by Hilton, was confident in the renewal of these agreements, but understood there needed to be a plan to update these locations. “The beauty of Embassy Suites is that nobody wanted to leave the system. The hotels performed very well; they’re identifiable by how they’re built. It’s very difficult to convert an Embassy Suites into something that’s going to perform as well for owners,” he said.

While Atrium Refresh keeps the hotel design and atmosphere updated, Roberts noted that other areas needed to play catch up. The reimagined space naturally inspired a change in Embassy Suites’ food and beverage program, but it isn’t as simple as putting a few new items on a menu. Embassy Suites is continuing to take advantage of these revitalized spaces with two new dining options, Brickstones Kitchen & Bar (BKB) and E’Terie Bar & Grill, which were both revised last spring. There are currently six of each in operation.

Both dining options employ a “bar-centric” approach for guests who want a selection of lighter options for a quick bite to eat. According to Roberts, although both of these dining experiences embrace a casual, faster dining opportunity, both most likely wouldn’t be seen operating in the same Embassy property. Furthermore, BKB works more efficiently in the newer properties that use its Design Option III prototype, a design concept that features open-air space, which allows for natural light and a more cost-effective and flexible layout. On the contrary, E’Terie functions best in the older legacy models of Embassy Suites that are in the process of undergoing renovation. This is mainly because a lot of the tools and services are already in place at these older locations, which can be used to harness E’Terie’s more bar-oriented layout. Reflecting on the versatility of the legacy properties, Roberts explained, “We took advantage of the existing cook-to-order and bar situation that was already in place for breakfast and the evening reception. We didn’t need to create new space or move anything—it was already all there.”

Every Embassy Suites location offers guests a complimentary evening reception, which features free snacks like small, light appetizers and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Previously held at the hotel’s main bar, the idea behind E’Terie is to bring those from the evening reception to a single, unified space after reception hours, offering more dining options. Roberts mentioned that most owners have traditional-style restaurants in place already, which are being used less and less because most guests are leaning toward this fast-casual dining experience. Phasing out these traditional-style restaurants would allow legacy locations to convert the space into additional guestrooms, meeting spaces and other revenue opportunities for owners.

“To bring it together in one space, you need to redesign the atrium to effectively do that, to have enough seating and to have enough capacity to handle the guests and have one unified experience,” he said. “We needed the E’Terie concept to drive the menu ideas and the ideation around the vibe, and feel now we can tip that into Atrium Refresh and use that to guide our design firms. It’s one big shift that’s happening over the course of about four or five years.”

And while E’Terie takes advantage of existing equipment and space, you’re most likely to see BKB in a newer Embassy Suites location. BKB offers guests more of a traditional dining experience, with table-side service. BKB still offers a casual experience, however, with a lighter menu and expedited service.

Roberts acknowledges that the plan is still very much up for change, especially with its recent revision. “Both were designed with one operation in mind or the other, but they can be interchangeable. It’s not to say an E’Terie wouldn’t work in a new-design hotel if the market was right for that,” he said.

Last spring’s revision process helped both E’Terie and BKB to function more efficiently and better utilize dining tools already in place at locations. “Our early launch signature menu items required additional pieces of equipment that drove expenses up for ownership. You learn certain things you can do more efficiently. We listened to our owners and we scaled back a bit,” he said. “We created a menu that utilized a lot of the same ingredients to create a lot of different dishes. That way you’re able to minimize the storage required. We made sure we were on point with where trends were going, and then we relaunched.”

Some of the most popular updated menu items at E’Terie include tapas-style small dishes that are easy to share like pimento cheese and flatbreads. BKB offers similar smaller plates but also features more substantial options like pasta, steak, salmon, sandwiches and burgers. BKB also has a grab-and-go element, which is typically incorporated at the front desk pantry area, where guests can purchase packaged items if the restaurant is closed.

“Guests can get a meal and know that it has been freshly created in the hotel kitchen. The guest can get something to eat and the owner doesn’t have to have staff standing around during low-demand periods just to sell a sandwich,” Roberts said.

While Embassy Suites is still in the process of perfecting both of these new options, Roberts noted that its goal is always to remain true to the brand’s F&B pillars, complimentary evening receptions and cook-to-order breakfasts, while providing consistency across offerings. “The F&B experience in our hotels is the new hospitality. It’s an opportunity where Hilton can deliver upon the vision of hospitality. If we can get E’Terie and BKB spreading throughout the brand, that gives us the ability to help our owners with menu programming, consistent product and the experience of F&B for our guests,” Roberts said. HB