Not long ago, the only snacks available in a hotel were inside a vending machine. If a guest was lucky enough to have a pocketful of coins, or an impossibly smooth dollar bill, they could choose from among the four major food groups: M&Ms, Doritos, Grandma’s Cookies and Diet Coke.
Eventually, those items made their way out of vending machines and into little closet-sized “pantries” near the front desk. The lobby market was born. A few more options were now available, and it didn’t matter if your dollar bill had a couple of wrinkles in it.
The progress has continued over the last 10 years, with hotel lobby grab-and-go markets having made amazing strides in delivering convenient choices for weary guests looking for a quick snack at night. They now often boast a bigger footprint, more food & beverage choices, better lighting. These shops now contribute real revenue and profits.
Over the same 10 years, the meteoric rise of better-for-you snack brands such as Skinny Pop, RXBar and Hu Chocolate show that consumer expectations and preferences have evolved even faster than hotel lobby markets.
And yet, data from grab-and-go industry leader Impulsify show that the top-selling items in hotel lobby shops read like a who’s who from the 1990s: Oreo, Snickers candy bars, Doritos, Hot Pockets, Snickers ice cream bars and Coke each lead their respective categories.
While those brands will likely remain atop their categories for years to come, more consumers now seek healthier versions of those old favorites as well as snacks with functional benefits.
Opportunities now exist to surprise and delight guests in your grab-and-go.
What can we learn from the hotel bed wars?
There was a time when the typical hotel bed consisted of a lumpy mattress, two beat-up pillows, and an itchy polyester blanket, set on a metal frame resting on castors—not exactly the definition of luxury.
Then, in 1999, Westin introduced the Heavenly Bed, and everything changed. Within a decade, billions had been spent across the industry upgrading beds and bedding in just about every room.
The new hotel bed experience started as a surprise and delight moment. Over time, however, hotels that didn’t already provide that kind of upscale sleep experience could not afford to be left behind. Upgraded beds swept through the industry. It’s no longer a happy surprise—it’s now a guest expectation.
Many hotels go even further to help enhance the guest sleep experience, commonly investing in blackout curtains, white noise machines, soundproofing technology and more.
These investments make both dollars and sense. JD Power famously reported that delivering a better sleep experience “is a huge opportunity for hotels to differentiate themselves from the pack and earn significant goodwill with guests. Of all the discrete variables of the hotel guest experience we measure, a better-than-expected night’s sleep is the one with the potential to drive the highest levels of overall guest satisfaction for those hotels that can deliver.”
Put another way: guests that sleep better are happier guests.
Here come the hotel snack wars
Knowing how important sleep is to the guest experience, let’s get back to snacking.
Sleep and nutrition experts agree that what you eat before bed can impact sleep quality. Leading health organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University acknowledge the link between what you eat at night and the quality of your sleep.
A recent study out of North Carolina State University published in the Journal of Applied Psychology indicates that eating junk at night leads directly to lower work productivity the next day when people feel guilty about their snack choice the night before.
Many people already report sleeping worse in hotels than in their own bed, often due to the widely studied “first night effect.” Guests who eat unhealthy snacks before bed are likely to struggle even more with their sleep and be less productive the next day.
With an obligation to help guests experience the best sleep possible, hotels can now extend their sleep-supporting efforts out of the guestroom and into the lobby snack shop.
The most popular night snack categories are cookies, chips, candy, and, of course, ice cream. Unfortunately, snacks such as these are higher in sugar, fat, calories and sodium, making them the most sleep-disruptive choices.
Why not make available healthier versions of those old favorites?
Offering snacks with more protein, more fiber and less sugar, less fat, less sodium and fewer calories can be an important step in the right direction for your guests.
You’ll delight the guests to whom these options are important, while supporting better sleep in the process. This does not mean you must stop offering current top-sellers like Cheez-Its, Nutter Butter and Haagen Dazs. This is simply about adding better, healthier, more sleep-friendly options.
You probably would never think to put out a pot of coffee without also making decaf available. Even though this might only impact a small number of guests, you know how important it is to that minority. You can think of snack availability in the same way.
The future of grab-and-go snacking
Mark Twain is quoted as saying “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
Should we expect to see the same kind of upheaval in snacking that we saw in bedding?
The good news is that, unlike bedding, there is almost no investment needed to upgrade your snack offerings. There’s no significant capital outlay, no accounting entries needed for disposal of existing assets with plenty of useful life and no logistical nightmares to navigate when swapping out old beds for new.
You just need to choose some healthier snack options from your current distributor. Look for sleep-friendly characteristics like more protein and fiber, and less sugar, fat, sodium and calories.
Hoteliers can and should expect healthier and sleep-friendly snacking to sweep through the industry in much the same way the bed wars brought upgraded beds to every hotel room in the country.
There will likely come a time when having sleep-friendly snacks in your grab-and-go will have become an expectation. But, for now, the opportunity still exists to surprise and delight.
So, go ahead, take advantage of this easy way to immediately increase guest satisfaction, sleep and productivity.
Place the healthier options next to your top sellers (just like you would with a pot of decaf). To those guests who care about healthier, more sleep-friendly options, this will make a big difference.
And, to your other guests, seeing this kind of attention to detail in supporting better sleep at every touchpoint will score you a ton of points.
Surprise and delight…while you can.
Sean Folkson is founder/CEO of Nightfood, a sleep-friendly night snacks company.
This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.