Web Exclusive: Danny Py shares F&B insight

Food and beverage—although lately it’s been more beverage and food—is becoming more and more important in the lineup of hotel amenities. In fact, an engaging, exciting F&B outlet is less of a bonus right now, and more of a necessity. Danny Py, VP, food & beverage, First Hospitality, shared with Hotel Business some F&B trends, challenges and opportunities he’s seeing in the space:

Where did your passion for F&B come from?
My passion for F&B came from my family. My father was an accomplished architect who grew his business into hotel development. I was wandering around hotel construction sites at an early age and was introduced to people in the hotel industry throughout my childhood, so I was always in that style of environment. At age 14, the young rebel in me went to a local catering company in Winter Park, FL, where a friend of mine was working in the warehouse. I asked a gentleman named Berry Gertz if I could work because I wanted a new surfboard and other water toys and didn’t want to ask my parents. To say the least, my father wasn’t too happy with me getting a job at 14. He was pretty upset. I worked in the warehouse and was recruited into the kitchen to help with production at certain times and trust me, I also did my fair share of dish engineering. This whole time I was intrigued by the kitchen, the daily routine, the hustle and bustle and the chef that took me under his wing and spent time teaching and opening my eyes to the world of food and some of the science behind it all. I worked for the catering company through high school and summers home from college. I was mentored by a chef named Steve Gunning and influenced by several others throughout my journey. Food and beverage connect people, and I enjoy that part of it.

How have you seen F&B evolve post-COVID?
Embracing technology: The pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology in the food and beverage industry. Restaurants implemented digital ordering systems, QR codes for menus and online reservation systems to reduce contact and enhance the customer experience. Technology was also used to improve overall operations for better inventory management, supply chain optimization, and data analysis.

Menu simplification and innovation: Many establishments simplified their menus to streamline processes and reduce costs during the pandemic. This also helped them focus on offering popular items and reducing food waste. Additionally, there was a rise in innovation, with restaurants introducing meal kits, DIY cooking experiences, and virtual cooking classes to engage customers at home.

Focus on local and sustainable sourcing: The pandemic highlighted the vulnerabilities of global supply chains, leading to an increased emphasis on local sourcing and supporting local producers. Restaurants and consumers alike showed a growing interest in sustainable and eco-friendly practices, including reducing food waste and promoting environmentally friendly packaging.

What are you doing at First Hospitality to keep up with changing demands?
We are embracing the tech side of things and constantly vetting technology that can make us more efficient— streamlining menus and focusing on cross-utilization. We have also brought back fully designed menus and have gotten away from the QR codes in the full-service restaurants. Guests want to get back to some of the full experience, and menus and cocktail books are part of that.

What F&B trends are you noticing right now?
There is an increasing demand for mocktails, superfood beverages and plant-based menu items with a continued focus on wellness. Sustainable packaging. Small plate options. Bourbon and whiskeys are still popular. The quality, variety and popularity of canned beverages continue to grow, from exotic flavors and carbonated, to canned wines and liquors. The classics are also making a comeback, old fashioned cocktails, classic cuts of meat are coming back, as well as retro desserts like bananas foster and baked Alaska.

What are some trends you’re forecasting for the next few years?
Unique spices and more fusion into American-style cooking (steak and potatoes with flair). More tech and AI are coming into F&B via marketing and guest profile capture metrics. We need to know the guests more, how to make their experience more well-rounded and their dining habits. Keep making F&B fun and help develop the next generation of hospitality-forward staff with a service heart mentality.

What current challenges is the industry facing with F&B? How do you suggest it works to overcome those?

  • Staffing: We must work with hospitality schools, down to high schools, to develop the next generation of hospitality staff. There has been a shift away from college kids and/or people looking to make side money via a hospitality job. While not the total case, gig economy and other income means have influenced people away from the hospitality sector with roads less traveled.
  • Inflation/supply chain: An egg used to cost three cents; now an egg costs between 13-15 cents. Inflation and the cost of food/beverage are the highest I have seen over the last year. While guests will pay for a perceived value and experience, going out is the first thing they will cut when times become too tight on the home front. Paying folks higher wages from the farm or field producer to the table is also pushing prices higher. Still, sometimes an issue is supply chain and disruption that may cause a menu or simply getting new China or glass in a timely manner.
  • Cost of maintenance and equipment: Maintenance costs have always been challenging since time immemorial in all industries, but in food & beverage, the costs bite more into the lower margin products. And with the current food, commodity and energy prices being difficult to influence internally, maintenance costs are the perfect area to make strategic improvements. That doesn’t mean slashing the budget. Equipment costs to buy new have gone up to sometimes upwards of 30% or more, which means, for smaller operations and even bigger ones, looking at the barely used market for items.

How is technology affecting F&B operations?

  • Improved efficiency
  • Increased guest engagement
  • Saving labor. There is still a people component to managing all the data and using the data or metrics to improve your operation.

What about sustainability? How are you incorporating this into your F&B practices?
Reducing food waste, making a footprint to help curve the global 40% waste worldwide. Reducing the plastic footprint by using more eco-friendly containers. Sustainable farming and seafood.

Images courtesy of First Hospitality