This article appears in the current issue of Hotel F & B Magazine, a publication for which I serve as breakfast editor.
In keeping up with and getting ahead of the competition, hotel brands simply can’t waffle. That’s why Holiday Inn Express is mixing a compact automatic pancake-making machine into its breakfast bar.“We did follow-up research that said guests wanted something more than scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast,” says Sue Morgan, former VP of franchise F&B, InterContinental Hotels Group. “Our average stay is about 2.2 days, so guests would probably experience two different occasions to eat breakfast with us. They were very clear in what they wanted, and we needed to be just as clear in delivering for them.”During the past three years, the mid-priced, limited-service Holiday Inn Express brand has undergone an extensive re-launch, adding hallmarks such as new signage and contemporary artwork. But the change that seems to provide the biggest bang for the buck is the Popcake™ machine, which can produce several flapjacks every minute.The machine, which has been exclusive in North America to Holiday Inn Express until this fall, has been in use in various hotels in the Asia-Pacific region for the past several years. The technology crossed the ocean last year, with Holiday Inn Express testing the machine at 60 properties. It was rolled out at all 1,800 North American hotels during the first quarter of 2011.Al Reingold, director of brand management for the Holiday Inn family of brands, explains, “We are always looking for innovative ways to enhance our offerings and increase the value proposition to franchisees and our guests. The pancake machine was a timely addition to our breakfast bar, which had remained fairly consistent since the introduction of hot items five years ago. After the testing, we found it to be operationally sound. Plus, the cost structure was in line with the franchisee bottom line.”Properties don’t pay for the machine, which is on loan. Instead, they buy batter from a corporate-approved vendor. It comes in bags of pre-made mix, which, with added water, can make 35 pancakes per bag. Dollops of batter drop onto a Teflon-coated cooking belt, producing one pancake every 18 seconds. After 60 bags (enough for 2,100 pancakes) have been emptied, it’s time to change the cooking belt. Hotels receive a new easy-to-install belt free with every 60 bags of batter ordered.“Our guests love it, especially the kids. The aroma of fresh pancakes is stunning, and it’s easy to execute—similar to a tortilla machine,” says Morgan.The pancake maker allows guests to control the quantity, size, and degree of “doneness” or browning, and is in line with the overall Holiday Inn Express brand image, says Paul Snyder, VP of operations for parent company InterContinental Hotels Group, the Americas. “It is a great fit for our guest and the perfect choice for a ‘griddle’ entry versus the ubiquitous and messy waffle machine.”Kathy Tabora, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express Albany Western Avenue University in Albany, New York, is a fan and says guests have raved about the device. “It is very efficient, easy to use, and not messy,” she says. “It’s small, self-contained, and doesn’t require more staffing.”Reingold says the pancake machine has created only one hitch for Holiday Inn Express. “Lines have been the only problem with the machine, and we figure that’s a good problem to have.”