Catering to Guests’ Appetites

31st August 2006 (Last Updated August 31st, 2006 18:30)

Guests are demanding more from their all-inclusive packages, particularly in the food & beverage area. Rebecca Burgess compares the European and US markets to see what is being served up.

Catering to Guests’ Appetites

Numerous hotels and resorts offer ‘inclusive’ packages, but providers of the truly ‘all-inclusive’ experience take their market seriously on both sides of the Atlantic. Food and beverage is a key component of the package, alongside accommodation and activities such as watersports and spas.

It is a fine balance of catering for everyone’s needs and while the market is flourishing in Europe, its popularity has yet to reach that of US-based businesses.

QUALITY AT EVERY LEVEL

Sandals, based in the USA, is one of the front runners in the all-inclusive market, with the majority of its resorts located in the Caribbean. With as many as 11 restaurants per resort, the emphasis is on variety, with cuisine ranging from Italian to contemporary Caribbean to seafood to English pub fare.

David Barber, director of products, says that as the company approaches its 25th anniversary the approach is as cost-effective as ever for guests and the business: "Between December last year and now we have had our best ever operation and occupancy rates.

"We are not a cheap holiday; we are in the higher price bracket, but we offer excellent value for money," he adds.

“Club Med challenged me to think outside the box. The food is irresistible, even for carb counters, and embodies the life of Martinique.”

The Sandals all-inclusive package includes meals, snacks and drinks, with additional wine lists available at cost in restaurants. Menus typically include five hors d’oeuvres, two soups, ten different entrées and five desserts.

Barber says that although American guests tend to consume more food than Europeans, they are equally insistent on quality. "We have always made a point of listening to our guests and over 25 years we have refined and honed the dining concept.

"We have also developed our food and beverage concept in terms of our supply chains, working with local farms, using local produce and supporting the local industry."

In addition, Sandals has recently opened its first boutique hotel, the Royal Plantation in Jamaica, focusing on fine wine and dining. Although it does not have to be booked on an all-inclusive basis, Barber says a guest would make significant savings by purchasing the meal plan.

GETTING THE FOOD RIGHT

Another key all-inclusive provider, in both Europe and the USA, is Club Med, which boasts more than 1.4 million guests visiting 100 resorts each year.

An example is the $60m Club Med Buccaneer’s Creek resort in Martinique, which opened in December 2005. To cash in on the US all-inclusive market, Club Med also simultaneously launched its direct charter service from New York’s JFK airport to Fort de France in Martinique.

The resort has three distinct restaurants, La Belle Creole, the buffet-style Pays Meles and Le Madou, the resort’s poolside grill. To ensure that food and beverage was top of the menu, the group brought in head chef Herve Thamar, who has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, to create the menus.

Thamar says: "Club Med challenged me to think outside the box. The food is irresistible, even for carb counters, and embodies the life of Martinique."

Typical hors d’oeuvres include shrimp, marinated fish, mini crab cakes and accras (cod fritters). Specialities include the traditional boucanage (wood-smoked meats and fish with a glaze of sugar cane), bois d’inde and local spices.

ATTRACTING GUESTS BACK

Across the Atlantic, Mark Warner is one of the UK’s leading all-inclusive providers for families, singles and couples in the Mediterranean. Established in 1974, the company specialises in packages to ski and beach locations offering activities with all meals and wine included.

“We are not a cheap holiday, we are in the higher price bracket, but we offer excellent value for money.”

Spokesman Nigel Wragg says the market in Europe was so strong that the company doubled its business between 1998 and 2004: "We built our business, which has been going for 30 years, on the all-inclusive package and we have seen a phenomenal amount of growth, particularly in the last few years."

In particular, Mark Warner is focusing on developing its menus. Wragg explains: "Our food has changed tremendously and now we use more local produce, local dishes and, more importantly, local chefs. We found local chefs have a vested interest in producing good local food and maintaining their reputation. Food is very important because it can make or break a holiday."

The company has a food and beverage controller who ensures standards are maintained across the brand. Wragg adds: "People expect high standards and we get good responses from our guests time and time again. In fact, our food was recently rated 9/10 by the Sunday Times.

"When a guest has discovered Mark Warner they will stick with it for several years, and almost 75% of our business comes from recommendations and rebooking."

The company caters for two different markets: families, and singles and couples. He explains: "It’s quite difficult to feed children so we have had to really develop our menu so that they are offered good, healthy food, but also food they will actually like."

However, the market is going through a lull. Wragg says: "I think the dynamic of the package holiday is changing as people are going for the cheapest deal they can find. We have to look at ways of tailoring our product to come in at that lower price level."

FINDING THE MIDDLE GROUND

Several other European hotels and resorts have considered all-inclusive packages and rejected going all the way. Huw Nurse, managing director of Just Sardinia, works with a number of four- and five-star Delphina hotels and resorts on the island. As in mainland Italy, cuisine is top of the agenda and the family-orientated hotels do tend towards the all-inclusive.

The four-star Dune Village offers six restaurants, including the buffet-style Il Nautilus, Maccaroni, offering homemade pasta, Sorfano with fish and seafood, Il Pomodoro, a pizzeria, Carimbanca, specialising in grilled meat and Il Romantico for candlelit romantic dinners. House wine and water are included.

The four-star Valle Dell’Erica offers a similar package, while the Hotel Capo D’Orso boasts a full-board option at its seafood restaurant – one of the finest on the island.

Nurse says: "I don’t think there’s a particularly large market for four- and five-star all-inclusives because I think people are worried about the image.

"I think it’s good for families that want to know how much they are paying at the beginning of their holiday and good for activities, but in terms of food and wine, the more discerning will opt for a half- or full-board option."

The all-inclusive market appears to be very much one of personal choice. For families, people on a budget and guests with a voracious appetite, the set-menu of the all-inclusive resort presents excellent value. However, for others the temptation will always be to opt for á la carte.