At last – is hotel coffee on the way up?

After years of enduring criticism from the coffee trade, the hotel industry is finally fighting back – one of the world’s biggest chains has launched the biggest worldwide coffee-related improvement programme that the trade has ever seen. And in a remarkable piece of imaginative re-design, the Le Meridien chain will even re-design its foyers and lobbies in the style of cool coffee shops.

It is quite remarkable how unanimous the coffee trade can be in its criticism of hotel coffee in general – few subjects have united the coffee trade in such unanimity as the appalling standard of hotel coffee in general. Even those big-name brands who are very happy to take business from the hotel sector are unstinting in their criticism – in a recent interview, the managing director of a renowned coffee-roasting company said that while he would often use one famous five-star hotel for business meetings, he would always tell his guests ‘don’t touch the coffee – stick to the mineral water!’

A clue to the existence of the Le Meridien project came recently when the hotel group announced the results of a survey it had commissioned on global coffee and travel habits.  The world’s press did not see what the chain was getting at, preferring to report the findings that coffee surpasses sex as the ideal wake-up call for hotel guests (according to 53 per cent of respondents) and that three-quarters of hotel guests would rather give up alcohol, social media or sex with their spouse for a year if they could replace it with a decent cup of coffee.

It was only the British coffee press which suspected what Le Meridien was really getting at, and Coffee House magazine challenged Brian Povinelli, Global Brand Leader at Le Meridien, as to whether he is leading a charge to change the image of hotel coffee in general.

“We do believe that Le Méridien is one of the first global hospitality brands to implement brand-wide initiatives that will result in a better coffee experience for our guests,” he responded. “In order to meet the growing demands of coffee lovers worldwide, Le Méridien has launched the Master Barista program in over a hundred hotels around the world. We believe that Le Méridien will now be in a unique position to capture those who appreciate a good cup of coffee, and to provide them with experiences that foster that sense of discovery every time they stay with us.”

Why do so many hotels get their coffee so terribly wrong?

“I think coffee is often treated as an afterthought by hoteliers around the world,” answered the Le Meridien executive. “Our guests tell us they want coffee as part of their stay, and coffee certainly adds to the guest satisfaction.  But I think that many hotels have not figured out an operationally effective way to deliver great coffee to guests.

“Rather than putting coffee in the room, we give a voucher guests can redeem for an espresso or latte as one way to try and upgrade the experience. Honestly, some boutique hotels and small chains are better at it, but it’s still a challenge for the industry as a whole.

“What really sets us apart from other hotels, and even the travel industry as a whole, is the way we view coffee.  We view it as an art and an integral part of the brand’s culture, rather than a commodity that a hotel ‘has’ to offer.  The premium coffee experience is often neglected not only in hotels, but also on planes, trains and even restaurants.  We’re hoping our coffee initiatives might help change all that.”

What, then, must the worldwide hotel industry do to correct the situation?

“Identify great partners,” returned Brian Povinelli immediately. “Illy has helped us to crack the code to deliver a consistent, high-quality experience across the globe. Training is key so that all hotel associates, behind the bar or back of house, truly understand how to make a good cup of coffee, and have respect for the process, and Fritz Storm (world barista champion in 2002) has been our consultant on our coffee initiatives.”

The new Master Barista programme will promote certain members of staff to serve as ‘coffee culture ambassadors’ at each Le Meridien hotel. They will be expected to ‘remain fully immersed in current coffee trends while elevating the local community’s awareness of coffee and what makes a great cup’. Each Master Barista will mentor a team of trained hotel baristas, perform as lead coffee server and as point person for all coffee matters in each hotel.

Each Master Barista will go through an extensive online training program developed by Illy’s Università del Caffè in Trieste, and each will have to continue all levels of training on an annual basis.

The most obvious sign of Le Meridien’s reliance on coffee culture comes in design – the chain will transform many of its hotel foyers and lobbies into areas inspired by great coffee lounges. These new foyer areas will be known as Hubs, and will develop the brand’s ‘arrival experience’, says Le Meridien.

“The Hub interprets the traditional lobby concept into a social gathering place, and it is important that we developed an understanding of global coffee trends,” remarked Brian Povinelli.  “The new Master Barista program will bring to life a quintessential European café culture at Le Méridien hotels around the world.”

Growing interest in coffee among top hotels may be illustrated by the number that attended the Caffe Culture show this year – they included buyers from De Vere, the Four Seasons, Hilton, Inter-Continental, Park Plaza , Radisson and the Peninsula Hotel group.  And indeed, visits to the coffee trade show from hoteliers in general did show an increase this year.




This item, written by Coffee House, has also appeared on the Caffe Culture news portal, the website of the coffee trade’s main show.





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