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.”
Supplier insights in light of shifting COVID trends
Accom News editor Mandy Clarke spoke with Lepack Director Mark McFadyen, a supplier to the accommodation industry, about how they provide managers with socially distanced, nutritious, and yummy meal and snack options for post-COVID guests.
He said that accom managers and operators have had to re-think the kinds of meals they supply to guests during and even post-crisis as they must be flexible to meet strict and evolving social distancing measures. This is particularly the case for hotels catering to returned travellers as part of the hotel quarantine program or similar.
“While there has been a decrease in supplying to some accommodation places because of the lockdowns and boarder closures, there has also been an increase in other areas like pre-packaged meal packs.”
Mr McFadyen took us through some easy solutions: “Pre-packed long-life breakfast packs can provide a cost-effective, tasty, and safe meal, while adhering to the COVIDSafe measures. They provide absolute simplicity and peace of mind as they can be handed to guests upon check-in or organised when setting up the room through housekeeping. As long-life products, they have an extended shelf-life, so stock turnover will not be an urgent priority.
“Pre-packaged breakfast and meal packs provide a cost-effective, innovative, and convenient grab-and-go meal. There are a large selection of products for the customer to choose from, with different packaging designs and for providers purchasing larger volume, custom printing is also an excellent option to personalise a brand.”
In terms of snack choices available to holiday and business guests, “pre-designed snack ranges or custom-made packs work well as they have gluten free options available”.
“Grab ‘n’ go meals are always popular! Especially, when they contain well-known, well-loved products. They provide a little bit of home comfort but with the added excitement of being away from home.”
What are the options for pre-packed fresh meals for guests?
“Breakfast packs can include a large selection of cereal ranges and brands, combined with a choice of carton/bottled juices, flavoured milks, tub of fruit, muffins, muesli bars, and a selection of packaging.
“Lunch and dinner packs can also be customised to the client’s needs and can include a selection of tuna, crackers, biscuits, cheese, chocolate, drinks and snacks.”