Founder of Livit Design, Benjamin Calleja shares his visions for how F&B offerings can become drivers of the hotel industry, turning loss-making lobbies into game-changing assets.

By Kim Wyon

Every eight hours somewhere in the world, a new restaurant opens with guest-centric design by Livit Design, founded and headed by Benjamin Calleja. Shaping the rollout of major restaurant chains globally (also at hotels), Livit Design is no novice to the challenges of F&B offerings in the hotel industry. GUEST magazine invited Benjamin Calleja to share his visions for how today’s struggling F&B offerings can become driving assets in tomorrow’s hospitality market.

Walk into hotels in Scandinavia and you’ll often see gapingly empty lobbies, cafés and restaurants. How do you turn these liabilities into money-makers? 

“Hotels have lost their soul. They used to be go-to places and destinations in their own right. Many hotels don’t see F&B offerings as a core business activity. We need to re-energise the common space. And you can do so by turning the concept of how to develop a hotel on its head.

“Traditionally, we view the hotel as a vertical stack of accommodation where on the ground floor you add F&B offerings. Basically, we should be doing the opposite. We need to develop F&B concepts that are attractive and sustainable even without placing a hotel on top of them. That way you first create a social hub and then add hotel rooms.”

How do you design hotels to become social hubs?

“You need to address the softer values – create appealing work areas and shared space in the lobby and encourage social connections. That’s the strategy. Hotels are by nature social spaces and the need for social interaction should guide the design. Guest experiences should also be curated, but hotels often do the exact opposite of what is required to create a social hub. They hire concierges to ensure guests enjoy exceptional experiences – outside the hotel premises.

“This is a missed opportunity. Hotels should work to bring the city to the hotel instead of encouraging guests to explore beyond the hotel. There are many ways to achieve this. Hotels can arrange pop-up art and culinary experiences, for instance – and that way ensure they become a social hub and local destination.”

Conference attendance is becoming increasingly micro-managed. Delegates often seek to personalise their experience, picking and choosing from a multitude of options. This means that identifying peak catering hours at conference hotels is becoming less predictable. How can venues turn this around?

“Technology can help track and identify the flow of people at a venue in real time. You can then encourage delegates to take lunch breaks and enjoy food offerings during off-peak hours by adopting dynamic pricing. As consumers, we’re used to paying differentiated prices for hotel stays and airline fares – and for pretty much anything else we buy.

“But when it comes to restaurant offerings, we somehow still feel this is less acceptable. Dynamic pricing can encourage people to go for special offers, which may help even out peak dining hours and turn off-hours into new revenue-makers.”