Room to Brew: The Future of In-Room Coffee

My morning coffee is a perpetual delight in my life, warming my insides, prickling my nose with its soothing aroma and sparking my brain for the day ahead. It’s a simple pleasure, a momentary respite and a ritual I do not take lightly. I bet many of you are in the same boat! All subtle addictions aside, coffee is an essential part of many people’s lives and as such, it merits your attention – both at home and at work.

In this case, let’s assume your place of work is a hotel or related to a hospitality setting in some manner or another. But that doesn’t mean that the home coffee experience is not applicable; quite the opposite in fact. We want our guests to ‘feel at home’, and any actions we can take to better emulate a person’s image of the ideal daily caffeine ritual with be greatly appreciated.

With this in mind, I ask you to give your own honest opinion (as a traveler and not as a hotelier proud of his or her place of work): do you actually like in-room coffee? Do you get the same sense of solace and rejuvenation from a hotel cup as you do at home? Does anyone for that matter? Coffeemakers in guestrooms are all but mandatory design elements, but many properties only pay them lip service. Hence, whatever you can do to augment this micro-experience will do wonders towards guest satisfactions because it will come as unexpected.

It’s critical that you reassess your caffeinated endeavors at this juncture because our collective appreciation of these beverages continues to climb through the roof. Call it the ‘Starbuckification’ of coffee as ever since this chain broke out in the 90s, we’ve all come to respect and crave a superior quality brew. This is coming, of course, from a North American perspective as many parts of Europe, Africa and Asia have upheld a high caliber of coffee-making for many decades or centuries prior to this company’s worldwide expansion. Regardless of any oldfangled customs, nowadays Starbucks and its ilk represent somewhat of a gold standard for coffee excellence; if you can’t match what they are doing then you’re failing to impress guests in this regard.

Another important note on diction used is that I am talking about improving the overall ‘coffee experience’ and not just the actual coffeemaker. In this sense, we are talking a bit broader, encompassing in-room possibilities as well as anything pertaining to the ‘club lounge’ or ‘social station’ model. While augmenting in both areas will see results, you need only devote your energies to just one of the twosome, to the point where it becomes a feature worthy of praise.

As it stands right now, most in-room coffeemakers aren’t total eyesores, but they aren’t doing the room any favors either. Their designs often don’t match the room’s theme or color tones, nor are the most common accessories – such as plastic wrappings, cardboard sleeves and Styrofoam cups – very appetizing either, especially for our inner germaphobes. Chic, new and easy-to-use models like those offered by Nespresso or Keurig present a viable option for upgrading your in-room coffee selections. Apart from a few drawbacks such as restocking issues, these single-cup brewing machines provide guests with a variety of delicious flavors beyond stock packets of ground beans, thus adding to the perceived value. Moreover, you can investigate other niche coffee apparatuses like a French press or a cold brew system – anything to differentiate your services and leave an impression with guests.

The other main area to explore pertains to tea. If you aren’t a tea drinker, give it a shot; those three letters will change your life! Green, white, black, oolong, herbal and all in-between, there are so many different types of tea for you to choose from above the normal offerings you see on menus everywhere else. With teas you must also take into account the wide range of accompanying fragrances, which contribute to the extraordinary nature of each individual experience. Yes, give guests one or two familiar options so they don’t feel completely blindsided, but then go for a few esoteric varieties to heighten the sense of surprise and interactivity (that is, unfamiliar or exotic tea bag labels can spur guests’ curiosity by prompting them to read). All the better if your hotel already has its own private label or has partnered with a company that does just that.

Jumping over to the other side of the fence is the break room or social station concept. Often 24-hours in operation, these are perpetually restocked common areas where guests can procure their choice of caffeinated beverages in addition to other food items like fresh croissants, specialty pastries or sweet, savory cookies. Although a topic for a whole other discussion, let’s just say that such companion treats have a tremendous compounding effect on one’s coffee experience and they represent a great boon for differentiating a hotel’s petit dejeuner.

The obvious shortcoming of favoring these lounge concepts over in-room coffee is that guests have to journey beyond their own rooms in order to take advantage of these complimentary treats. Despite this inconvenience, there are far too many advantages to this system for me to side with any in-room partisans, so much so that one could easily see how in-room hotel coffeemakers will become extinct within a matter of years.

First, by catering to everyone at once, it allows you to source a more complex coffee or espresso machine, delivering a far better brew but at the cost of regular maintenance and intimidating a few tenderfoot guests. Next, this lounge style encourages a social environment, which is oh-so-important to today’s grab-and-go, millennial-centric culture. And heaven forbid you don’t offer free WiFi at these locations. Third, with well-placed signage, such stations can become highly educational (who doesn’t want to learn about what they put in their bodies?), transforming a quick coffee break into an interactive mixology event.

Last and importantly, because you can offer fresh food in conjunction with coffee or tea, it’s an excellent opportunity to showcase local produce and to theme your F&B presentation in line with a few of your brand’s exceptional qualities. For a property in the United Kingdom, you better have an impressive spread of English teas, biscuits, shortbreads and scones. Or, if orange is the dominant color of your brand, why not theme your coffee breaks accordingly with orange pekoe tea, fresh citrus fruits and chocolate-tangerine-infused confections? Many cultures and countries have their own takes on how to best prepare these amazing beans and the onus is on you to embrace the authenticity of your surroundings.

With points made both for and against, which side do you fall on? Is in-room coffee a thing of the past or is the proliferation of these social stations just a temporary phenomenon?

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in eHotelier on February 20, 2015)

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