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Hotels Getting Creative to Get People Through Their Doors

Many hotels are finally starting to figure out that competing on room rates will only get them so far at a time when fewer people are traveling. So more and more are turning to tweaking their food and beverage offerings, and not just in the obvious ways of complimentary breakfasts and cocktail hours.

To get more non-guests to patronize hotels, some have introduced happy hour specials to compete with neighboring restaurants, which are also in a tight spot when it comes to getting customers in the door. And with summer in full swing, many hotels have introduced special deals just for the season (most end the last week of September).

For example, in Los Angeles, not only are hotels adding new food and drink items to their menus, they're doing it in creative ways. They're holding "backyard" barbecues (outdoor grilling on weekends at W Hotel Westwood), early happy hours (Out of Office Fridays from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Mondrian hotel) and late happy hours (Le Merigot JW Marriott hotel, from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. weekdays).

Even the pricing for some of these deals is creative. The Mondrian's Out of Office Fridays at its restaurant, Asia de Cuba, features a 5-5-5 deal: $5 food, drinks and valet parking. In a city where parking is at a premium, offering discounted parking is a huge plus. And on Fridays at the Viceroy Santa Monica, wines by the glass, well drinks and beers are priced according to the hour they're ordered (for example, drinks ordered during the 2:00 p.m. hour cost $2 and increase by $1 every hour until the 5:00 p.m. hour).

These trends are happening in other parts of the country, too. At Mission Point Resort in Mackinac Island, Mich., there's a "reverse" happy hour that's even later than Le Merigot's, from 10:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., every night. (Seven-day drink specials are pretty rare.) And the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile hotel recently held a one-off barbecue event with a local brewery featuring different barbecue styles paired with different beers for $10.

Remember, these are high-end hotels, not your run-of-the-mill budget chain. While lowering room rates is a given in a tough economy, getting creative with dining deals that guests and non-guests can enjoy is just smart, especially for more expensive hotels, which have experienced a good deal of erosion in business.

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