Thanks to commentary from industry experts, we look at how hotel bars are changing and the progressive effects of entertainment.

Consumer preferences and trends can evolve quickly, especially when it comes to hospitality, but over the last two years, tendencies seem to have been ramped up, most likely due to the global pandemic. COVID-19 saw the world on lockdown with individuals forced to be confined to their homes, missing out on the true essence of life that we gain through the world of hospitality. As a result of making up for lost time, we are now seeing consumers looking for more experiential hotel stays.

As the hotel space continues to be incredibly popular, nowadays, simply having a bar on-site just isn’t enough. Hoteliers need to be thinking about the next best thing which is going to drive footfall to their venue, in order to stand out.

Jeremy Daudin, Head of Sales at Zetter Hotels, explained how over the past five years, he has noticed that
hotel bars have really tried to up the ante with what they offer to guests to create unique experiences. Long gone are the days of the odd gin and tonic in an empty bar. Following the pandemic, people are seeking to be out for longer and later into the night, and hotel bars provide for those needs.

“At The Zetter Townhouses, we’ve seen an increase in demand not only just for cocktails, but for experiences. During the pandemic, when people were reminiscing about going back to bars, hotel bars had to step up to meet the market demands. An example of how we have tried to offer an immersive experience is with our Artist in Residence at The Zetter Townhouse, Marylebone, in which artwork from the cocktail book (designed by South London graffiti artist Jerrome ‘Red Romes’ Henry) was placed on canvases around the space, offering that feeling of being surrounded by the cocktails that guests are drinking.”

Utilising the space so that it is part of the entertainment is the way that Jeremy believes you can be innovative without causing too much disruption to the hotel bar experience. The Zetter Townhouses take part in various bar takeovers, partnering with leading bars across the globe, which really allows them to incorporate new venue styles into their space.

A hotel’s entertainment offering can make or break their marketing strategy, so ensuring this is curated effectively is essential. At The Zetter Townhouses, they market their hotels as unique places, with bars that offer innovative and ground-breaking cocktails, created by expert mixologists.

“We also highlight the additional entertainment such as our fabulous in-house singers, Hettie and Michael, as we want to entice not only guests of the hotel but other customers. By showcasing the entertainment through various marketing and social channels, this allows us to offer a teaser as to what guests can expect! We recently held a social media competition in partnership with Everleaf, which promoted the non-alcoholic and daytime offerings of the bar via both our social media account and Everleaf’s – a great opportunity for cross-marketing”, added Jeremy.

At La Sultana Marrakech, their aim is for guests to be immersed in Moroccan culture. With Jemaa el-Fna nights at the on-site Le Odette Rooftop Bar, henna artists, traditional tea and musical performances, the venue highlights these aspects of Moroccan culture, while also ensuring they provide the very best drinks to their guests.

Presentation is important to Xavier Soundrom, Resident Manager at La Sultana Marrakech, as he said: “Our extensive cocktail menu has been revamped and is beautifully presented in our new cocktail book to instantly catch guests’ attention.”

All cocktails at the Le Odette Rooftop Bar are inspired by Morocco and aim to evoke vivid memories of the surrounding area, with flavours that truly embody our fantastic destination.

“By highlighting the cultural integrity of where your bar is located, you are bound to give a unique experience for guests”, added Xavier.

Getting the balance right between offering entertainment and memorable experiences, but not losing sight of the fundamentals of a bar space and great service, is absolutely crucial, whether you keep up with trends or not!

For the team at La Sultana Marrakech, the amazing views from Le Odette Rooftop Bar allow them to always take advantage of the space, Xavier said that: “by appreciating and respecting the physical space of the venue, you can ensure that you maintain a strong balance between the experiences and the classic workings of a bar”.

In terms of creating innovative and unique entertainment options within your hotel bar, to enhance a guest’s experience, Bar Manager of Lobby Hof at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, Frank Grosser, recommends introducing interactive drinking as a means of entertainment.

“For example, you could introduce drinks which require lifting up a glass top from a smoked cocktail”, said Frank.

With The Bradley Hare, as the venue is set within a smaller community, Hotel Manager, Paulina Wojtas, understands that they must never lose sight of the fact that the team also have a responsibility to their local community, as well as their business. Because of this, Paulina explained how they do everything with the local community in mind.

“We are holding our first Bank Holiday festival, ‘Hare Fest’, on August 28th, where our guests can enjoy music by a live local band, delicious pizza and locally sourced ice cream. This will be a great way for us to encourage more business to our bar, but also an opportunity for us to invite in the local community, which is so important to us. This helps us ensure that as well as great service, we provide a hub for the village that can keep us from losing sight of the fundamentals of the bar space”, Paulina explained.

With the demand for alternative bar experiences growing exponentially, Chris Hinton, Sales Director at Shine Catering Systems, spoke on how it’s not just the offering which needs to change in line with this, but the equipment too.

Many hotel bars are now designed with remote glass washing, ice dispensing and refrigerated units, to reduce noise output, especially if situated in conference or banqueting areas. Chris explained how it has become evident to him and his team that designers and suppliers are specifying equipment such as cocktail mixers manufactured with a low decibel rating, for similar reasons.

Many of the current hotel bar designs have to be complementary to the interior design of the seating areas and surrounding décor, in order to be appealing to consumers. Chris explained how this can influence the materials used in top work, frontage and rear bar counters, and there are many options available: “It is essential, however, that the workstations are manufactured in Type 304 heavy gauge stainless steel, as this area will be the engine of any successful bar service.

“One trend we have noticed is the rise in demand for bespoke units, designed and made to exact dimensions for a specific project, rather than ‘off-the-shelf’ modular units”, added Chris.

With specialist design input and in-house fabrication facilities, Shine’s units can include integrated ice trays, drip wells, sinks, basket holders and storage as required,  including full length features for a more appealing finish and greater efficiency.

“One-piece construction ensures greater rigidity and durability than modular units, with seamless units and no joins for enhanced hygiene”, finished Chris.

At The Montenotte Hotel, they are currently planning an immersive series of events that bring guests together, such as a Wine Club – an event that will aim to inspire guests with the culinary pleasures of pairing excellent wine with delicious food.

Louise McNamara, Deputy General Manager at The Montenotte, believes that entertainment options should be created with the intention of exceeding guests’ expectations of a standard experience in a hotel bar, by surprising and delighting them so that their stay is made even more memorable.

The hospitality industry is becoming increasingly creative with their entertainment options, so at The Montenotte they believe it is important to be authentic and selective about what they’re delivering, whilst reflecting the fun and eclectic vibe that characterises their panoramic rooftop bar, The Glasshouse.

With providing a memorable experience being at the top of the priority list for overnight stay venues, it’s important to consider incorporating the growing movement that is technology, in these experiences.

Technology within hotel bars (and other areas of the hotel) are used with the intention of making the guest experience smoother and more accessible. Louise explained how the use of QR codes in hotel bars is the most pertinent development over the past couple of years, where they are placed on each table or near the bar so guests can order their drinks with ease. Further popular additions include the use of contactless payments as a quick and easy way to tie up a guest’s experience, as well as enhanced sound systems to create a more immersive ambience when playing music.

Olivia FitzGerald, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Zonal, sees that when it comes to hotels and their on-site bars, having a fully integrated technology suite is key to providing them with the ability to manage the entire guest journey from start to finish, in real time, with a 360-degree view of the business.

“With our latest GO Technology report pointing towards a staycation boom for the UK hospitality industry in 2023, it is important to have every aspect of the hotel’s operations connected via integration, for example online booking platforms or the EPoS at the hotel’s on-site restaurant or bar. However, the ecosystem of technology needs to work seamlessly at various points of the guest journey, removing points of friction and alleviating staff of laborious and time-consuming tasks, to allow them to focus on doing what they do best, delivering exceptional customer service”, said Olivia.

Having the right tech in place can make it easier for guests to make use of an on-site bar, which in turn enhances the overall guest experience and helps to increase revenue for the hotel. We know that convenience is king for today’s guests, and so technology that provides them with a simple, streamlined and exceptional experience in the hotel bar is key.

Olivia revealed that almost half of guests (47%) have ordered room service in a hotel according to Zonal’s research, and with increased demand for stays in UK hotels this year, hoteliers should be looking to technology to capitalise on this opportunity and boost drinks sales from the bar.

“For example, hotel bars that offer ‘order to room’ as a service to customers will enable them to bring the bar experience to their room, further enabling guests to shape their stay as they wish. Not only this, but hoteliers that integrate EPoS and PMS systems will be able to charge a customer’s bar tab to their room, making it easier for guests staying at the hotel to use the bar”, said Olivia.

Making customers’ hotel and bar experience seamless will encourage guests to make use of all the facilities available at a hotel rather than going elsewhere, driving additional spend per head.

Olivia also spoke on how digital ordering and payment has become an important part of the overall customer experience in hospitality, and presents an opportunity for hotel bars to provide customers with choice.

Consumers report that they enjoy the speed of service tech offers, with research in partnership with KAM Media finding that 42% of people say that a venue offering mobile phone ordering and payment has become more important to them.

“Our GO Technology research findings, in partnership with CGA, echo this, with 79% of consumers stating they are happy with the ease and speed of payment when paying digitally. While consumers will always value face to face interaction in pubs and bars, offering customers the option of contactless order and pay solves a common pain point for consumers – reducing wait time at the bar or to pay a tab. Therefore, it is important to recognise that digital ordering and payment tech is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. In the first instance, it is important for hoteliers to consider which type of solution is best suited to the venue’s needs, for example considering web-based order and pay as well as an app. Whichever operators choose, the most important consideration is that it provides a frictionless experience for guests, offering them choice to either order and pay digitally or chat to a member of staff – or a combination of both”, added Olivia.

It is important to remember that now more than ever, consumers are looking for personalised experiences. In fact, we know that 80% of consumers are interested in some form of personalisation from the hospitality venues they visit and two of the most popular forms of personalisation  include personalised discounts and deals, as well as loyalty schemes.

Finally, just like any other pub or bar, Olivia revealed that hoteliers would benefit from implementing technology that helps improve operational efficiency. In order for a hotel bar to be successful and popular amongst both guests and customers not staying at the venue, it is important to avoid having a lack of stock, which can cause customer frustration and impact sales. Technology can help remove the risk of this happening before it has even occurred.

Ultimately, for hoteliers to entice customers to use the hotel bar and to deliver an exceptional guest experience, technology is key.

“Implementing the right technology can also help hoteliers make operations more streamlined and efficient, reducing the risk of errors and providing staff with more time to focus on customers’ needs, all of which is vital in delivering an exceptional guest experience”, Olivia finished.

Steve Ellis, Restaurant General Manager at Lime Wood Hotel, explained how the bar at Lime Wood is definitely the central hub of the hotel; noting the change of the drinks selection getting wider, he said: “Not just at Lime Wood but everywhere. Everything from craft beers to inventive cocktails are having a real renaissance.”

At Lime Wood, they recognise the importance of defining a hotel bar’s identity and clearly establishing what type of experiences they want to offer, whilst also keeping in mind expectations of the target audience and staying true to the vision of the hotel.

“Exceptional service is something that we pride ourselves on at Lime Wood and remains a top priority when
considering entertainment options for the bar.”

“Another element which we have noted when considering the introduction of entertainment, following Lime Wood’s recent refurbishment, we have really noticed how important the design layout of the bar is. The clusters of chairs and sofas are thoughtful in creating spaces that allow for both entertainment and atmosphere, as well as our quieter, more private spots for a relaxing drink, such as The Drawing Room and The Library, which are set just off the hotel’s main bar.”

Hotel bars are moving away from the traditional cookie-cutter designs, and adopting unique themes and concepts to create a more immersive experience for their guests. The focus now is on creating a distinct ambience, and introducing memorable elements which will set you aside from the fierce competition.