Additionally, Sheraton has tried to inject a bit of pizazz to all its lobbies by adding upscale wine lists, each rated by Wine Spectator magazine.
Having better wines gives waitresses “something more to talk about than ‘Can I take your drink and where are you from?’ ” says Rick Ueno, general manager of the Sheraton Chicago.
It also gives the hotel more revenue. In the first six months of this year, the hotel bar sold 18,000 glasses of wine. That’s 24 percent more than the same period last year. At $14 a glass, that adds up to $50,000 more in revenue.
Nearby, the Hyatt Regency Chicago spent $168 million to spruce up its lobby, adding clusters of chairs and couches, a grab-and-go marketplace, and a restaurant that flows into the rest of the lobby. Similar renovations have taken place at Hyatts in New York, Atlanta, and San Francisco.
Robert Mandelbaum, director of research information services at consulting firm PKF Hospitality Research, says the changes are “very much guest-driven.”
“It isn’t fun being one of 20 business people sitting by yourself in a hotel restaurant reading a magazine, eating the $19.95 steak special,” Mandelbaum says.
While overall hotel food and beverage revenue has fallen 27 percent in the last five years, sales in hotel bars have grown 5 percent, according to Mandelbaum.
Grand old luxury hotels, like New York’s Plaza and Chicago’s Drake, have long relied on their public spaces to help distinguish themselves. But as national hotel chains developed in the 1960s, designs became standardized and bland. Guests no longer selected hotels by the looks of the lobby but on the brand’s reputation.
Increased use of wheeled suitcases reduced the need for bellmen and the space they occupied. The lobby became a place to swipe a credit card, get a room key and leave. By the 1980s, they resembled bunkers, with low ceilings and few windows.
“The industry really failed by letting the lobbies get hollow,” says Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson.
Then in 1984, Ian Schrager and business partner Steve Rubell — the men behind the famed 1970s nightclub Studio 54 — opened the Morgans Hotel in New York. The rooms were tiny. But its stylized lobby redefined the industry.
Pushing through costly renovations isn’t easy. For proof that the investment works, look no further than Destination Hotels and the $26 million renovation of its seaside L’Auberge Del Mar resort in Southern California. Its new living room-style lobby features large doors that open out to the ocean, allowing the breeze to flow through. A fireplace warms guests on cold days as they enjoy $25 charcuterie plates and $12 hibiscus margaritas.
Prior to the renovation, the hotel sold $450,000 worth of food and drinks in its lobby each year. Today, it sells more than double that.
“If they are comfortable in the space and surrounded by others, they will stay and spend more money,” says Destination’s Slosser. “They become not concerned about the price. They’re much more interested in staying there and enjoying their life.”
Miami Herald staff writer Hannah Sampson contributed to this report.