Culinary Imagination: The Essential Ingredient in Food and Beverage Management

Article excerpt

Despite major changes in consumption habits, particularly in relation to meal eating patterns, (Mikela, 2000) 'remarkably little has been written on consumer choice in a hospitality industry context' (Clark & Wood 1999, p. 317). Indeed a decade has now passed since Meiselman (1996) expressed concern that the entire commercial catering sector was under-researched, a situation that was recently confirmed by O'Mahony and Hall (2007) who note that little research has been conducted into the factors that influence food choice or related food- consumption behaviour.

In the meantime, restaurateurs continue to invest with little understanding of the factors that can assist in extending the life cycle of their businesses, chain hotels suffer from product malaise and the commercial catering sector relies heavily on captive markets to extract maximum profit, rather than engaging in price sensitivity research that can optimise product pricing, increase demand and develop customer loyalty.

These are but a few of the issues confronting today's food and beverage manager. In this special issue of the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management many more are evident in the contributions received from a plethora of distinguished scholars whose perspectives embrace a variety of academic disciplines. Their articles highlight the current state of play in food and beverage research, reporting on the symbolism and 'meaning' of wine; the added value provided by increasing employee/customer interactions; legal issues, including duty of care in hospitality provision; the benefits of mass customisation to flight catering; the influence of vanity and values in women's food preferences; and a comprehensive insight into the history and progress of food and beverage research.

The need for empirical research to support food and beverage management has been reinforced by Riley (2000) and by Wood (2000) who expose a number of challenges faced by international chain hotels in the United Kingdom (UK). Riley (2000), for example, posed the question 'can hotel restaurants ever be profitable?' Both Riley and Dr Roy Wood, who has published extensively in food and beverage management, lament the decline of hotel dining in this context. As Wood advises in this publication, apart from a few hotels that are food led, the majority make their money from room sales.

While perhaps reducing some of the complexity of managing perishable ingredients, dealing with increasing food regulations and the prickly demeanours of some food preparation staff, this minimalist approach to food and beverage provision is unsustainable. Fyall and Spyriadis (2003) advise, for example, that as a result of increasing competition in the global environment, '... international hotel chains need to adopt a more sophisticated approach to strategic marketing and planning' (2003, p. 108). With this in mind Riley notes that while international hotel chains have many advantages in terms of marketing economies of scale, '... hotel restaurants need to capture their local market as well as their guest market to achieve and sustain profitability' (Riley 2000, p. 113).

International chain hotels in Australia struggle with the same issues. The majority, for example, have abandoned fine dining altogether and reduced their food and beverage outlets to casual dining with the main emphasis on providing breakfast and 24-hour room service. A lack of research into customer needs, coupled with an unyielding commitment to a product focus, have contributed to their current difficulties.

Lack of local level research by international chain hotels is neither a new nor an unfounded notion. Indeed, some years ago Renaghan (1993) asserted that research is not and has never been part of the corporate culture. He went on to note that although hotel corporations have marketing departments their concentration is on sales and that '... many international hospitality companies do not really "do" any marketing at all' (p. …