Food & BeverageNews In Brief

Pre-packaged room service the new normal as hotel quarantine swaps out mini-bar

Specialised dietary requirements have become an increasing characteristic among guests in hotel quarantine during the COVID-19 crisis.

While the breakfast buffet and mini-bar have been temporarily retired from hotels and restaurants because of health regulations, more and more guests are taking the opportunity of enforced isolation to experiment with vegan and gluten free meals.

Michael Johnson, the CEO of Tourism Accommodation Australia, said an increase in “specialised dietary requirements’’ among guests in quarantine was a noticeable feature for hotel operators.

Johnson, who has had more than 35 years of experience managing four and five star business hotels, resorts and tourist attractions in Australia and New Zealand, said quarantine was making many guests experiment more with their meals.

“A lot of guests in quarantine are using it as an opportunity to implement new foods into their diet,” Mr Johnson said.

I guess it’s a bit like when you’re at a function and someone has a spectacular vegetarian meal and everyone around them says they’d like to try vegetarian food too. So we are getting a lot more special dietary requests.

COVID-19 has required enormous changes to the way hotels serve guests and, temporarily at least, it has seen the retirement of buffets and mini-bars because of hygiene safeguards.

Mr Johnson said COVID had decimated hotel revenues which were down to “below 10 per cent midweek’’ at many properties.

“And while revenues are down expenses have increased,’’ he said. “Hotels are required to have hygiene marshals among their additional staff. The loss of buffet style meals also hits hotels in  two ways – they do not have the attractive display off food that entices guests but instead they actually have to employ many more staff to cook and serve a la carte meals.”

“But hotels are very resilient and they would much rather have additional costs and still be swerving guests.

Mr Johnson said Australian hotels had “gone above and beyond’’ in looking after guests under the Federal Government’s quarantine program.

“By necessity, hotels that are being used as quarantine accommodation have to offer limited service – quarantine at a five-star hotel is not the usual five-star experience,’’ he said, “but the hotels have worked hard to help guests make the best of the situation even if it is just in offering dietary changes.”

Meals are served by a knock on the door and they come in take-away containers that are then thrown away.

“Contact with staff is extremely limited and guests can’t come down to the restaurants.”

“The food might still be great quality – but the service is nothing like you would have from five-star room service under normal circumstances.”

“The mini-bar is gone from rooms, too, and there are restrictions over how much alcohol can be delivered to guests because of the problems that intoxicated people can present for security.’’

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