S1E1: Important Role of F&B for Hotels: Anthony Langan
March 18, 2020
Jeremy Wells: Hello and welcome to the very first episode of The Future Hospitality Podcast. I’m your host, Jeremy Wells, joined today by co-host, Dustin Myers. We are partners at Longitude Branding, a hospitality branding, and experience design agency. At Future Hospitality, our goal is to interview the brightest minds in the industry, gathering insights, ideas, and inspiration to share with you. Today, we’re joined by Anthony Langan. Anthony is Corporate Director of Food & Beverage for Charlestowne Hotels out of Charleston, South Carolina. Anthony will be sharing his experience and ideas around food and beverage for the hotel industry and the important role that it plays. He’ll also share a little bit about his background growing up in the industry and how that shaped his career. So let’s go ahead and jump in.
Jeremy Wells: First of all, Anthony, thank you for joining us and taking time out of your day to speak with us here.
Anthony Langan: Yeah.
Jeremy Wells: Dustin, do you want to describe what the podcast’s purpose is?
Dustin Myers: Yeah. So Future Hospitality is a lot of interviews, trying to stay on the cutting edge of the hospitality industry. Looking at future trends to watch for as well as timeless principles from the past that we can continue to build on and evolve. We’re interviewing some of the brightest minds in the hospitality industry and seeing how design, branding, architecture, food and beverage, all the different aspects of it can come together to create a really memorable experience.
Anthony Langan: Interviewing the brightest minds. So you’re stuck with me for the first one.
Dustin Myers: Haha.
Jeremy Wells: Haha. It’s an honor to have you as our first guest.
Anthony Langan: I love what you guys are doing too. I think it’s awesome. I think we needed more and I’m surprised that there’s not, but I think we need more outlets like this, more conversations like this going on. This big as our industry is, it’s surprising how little of this there is.
Jeremy Wells: Yeah. We saw a need for something like that, plus something like this, a format like this. Plus, it’s just exciting for us to get to talk to people like yourself that are doing really, really awesome stuff and learn from you and get some of your insights. For those of you watching, I met Anthony I think probably… I think we connected before the holidays last year. I saw some of the work that he was doing at the time. He was with Vision Hospitality, right?
Anthony Langan: Yeah.
Jeremy Wells: And over the time that I first met him, he’s been making a transition from Vision to Charlestowne Hotel Group. Is that the proper name of theirs?
Anthony Langan: Charlestowne Hotels.
Jeremy Wells: Yeah. So he’s in the middle of a transition right now, which I’m sure requires you moving and stuff.
Anthony Langan: Yeah. It’s all the life stuff, packing boxes and things like that.
Jeremy Wells: Yeah. Anthony and I briefly discussed for a little bit on the phone just a few weeks ago. And it was really neat to hear his story from where he came from growing up in the hospitality industry, and that was really cool hearing it from him. I thought it was personally really cool. And Anthony, if you could share your journey from childhood even, all the way up to where you’re at. You mentioned growing up in the hospitality industry.
Anthony Langan: Yeah.
Jeremy Wells: What was that like for you?
Anthony Langan: Yeah. Yeah. It really does start at the beginning kind of for me. So when I was born, my dad was a bellman and my mom was the bartender at the Marriott in St. Louis. And my mom would eventually become a teacher, but my dad has stayed in the hotel business throughout his life, you know, my entire life. So I kind of grew up in and around hotels. Some of my earliest memories in life are in hotels. I remember walking into my dad’s office when I was a kid and seeing like the big chair that he is sitting in at the time. I just thought it was the coolest thing. I’ve always loved hotels from the time I was a kid. So I always knew that I wanted to be in the hotel industry, be a part of the hotel industry.
I worked any job you can think of. I was a maintenance tech and a front desk agent and I drove a hotel shuttle for a while, which was actually one of the cooler jobs to and from Midway Airport in Chicago. but yeah. Then it sort of blossomed into an opportunity in hotel F&B more specifically and that’s something that I fell even further in love with.
Jeremy Wells: Did you go to college and get some sort of hospitality management degree also? Or, what transitioned you from your childhood experience to your professional experience?
Anthony Langan: Yeah. Yeah. It was a lot of things. I went for business administration at Illinois State University, you know, would work different jobs in different parts of the hotel industry. After college, the first opportunity that I got for a management role in the hotel industry is as an assistant outlets manager, so outlets, restaurant, bar and room service. And that was at the Chicago-Mart Plaza, which is connected to the Merchandise Mart in Downtown Chicago. I had had some food and beverage experience at the time. I had worked in restaurants, you know, busser or host. I think I had a lot of hospitality jobs over time, but I was struck by a lot of things about that job pretty much right away.
One of the interesting is the checking experience, right? Somebody walks up to the front desk and they’re checking into the hotel and they’re there for like three minutes in total, but then I had them in the restaurant for an hour and in the bar at night for an hour, and there’s so much focus on the hotel side that I thought, “Man, there’s this huge opportunity. We have so much more time with them in food and beverage. I mean, that’s a real chance to make an impact on someone’s day.” So that kind of got me hooked.
Jeremy Wells: Yeah. It seems like especially in more recent years, the focus for hotels on food and beverage has kind of come to the front light for a lot of people in their mind and it seems like you were noticing that years ago. What made that happen? Just noticing the time spent at the front desk or was there something else that made it click for you—like “we need to be focusing on food and beverage, there’s a lot of value to add here to hotels” Is that what led to that, I guess, change of thought for you or was it something you always just knew inherently?
Anthony Langan: Yeah. I kind of observe the fact that we had that time and then was also struck by the fact that I think for a long time, and it’s funny how, there are sort of cycles with everything. I think a long time ago, if you wanted to go out to the night’s dinner with your family, you went to the hotel. You would go to a hotel for a dinner if it’s a holiday. It was like a great place to go and get a meal. And then when I came into the industry, it was still at that point where it was firmly in amenity territory at most properties. You weren’t going out of your way to go to a hotel restaurant. You’re probably just having breakfast there before you went out for the day. Maybe you had one drink at the bar at night, but you certainly weren’t going out of your way. It was a matter of convenience and an amenity more than anything, which seemed like a missed opportunity. And I think that the industry started to realize that and you see kind of these ebbs and flows and different trends.
So when I was starting off in Chicago, we opened one of the first hotel sky bars or rooftop bars in Chicago, like that whole wave with rooftop bars, like every hotel got one and every hotel had a bar on top of it. Fast forward seven years later, and I’m in Nashville and opened the first hotel rooftop bar at Nashville and it was funny to see then every hotel kind of start doing the exact same thing. There’s this interesting phenomenon where if you look to the bigger cities, if you look to the New York, Chicago, LA and see the trends that are emerging there today, you can carry those forward to other markets and usually beat the competition to market. So that’s kind of one thing I saw over time. Yeah. It’s an ever evolving business and one that struck me as a big opportunity early on for sure.
Dustin Myers: Yeah. I find it interesting that I think a lot of hotels would view the food and beverage side as just additional revenue. But in your mind, it’s a huge opportunity to impact the guest. So in that line of thinking, what have you seen from successful hotels being able to integrate their hotel strategy with the food and beverage side and how have you seen that impact being made?
Food and beverage can be your best ally in the hotel business
Anthony Langan: Yeah. I mean you got that much time with somebody, you can go one of two ways for sure, but really food and beverage can be your best ally in the hotel business. If something goes wrong in a room, there is no better way to recover that guest than with food and beverage, whether it’s something small to the room, come have dinner with us, let me buy you a drink, and vice versa. You know, I think it works both ways and that rooms and F&B relationship is important if maybe things don’t go well in the bar and we have to go to the front desk and then say, “Hey guys, what do you think we can do for Mr. and Mrs. Johnson? They didn’t like the drinks.” Yeah. So I think it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. One great thing about hotel F&B I think is sometimes an independent restaurants and bars, their culture can be different, back of the house and the front of the house, and that’s good and bad in a lot of cases, but the bad is minimized in a hotel setting because you have this underlying hospitality culture of this larger business. So I’ve always loved that.
I think really to drive that home, the big focus, and it should always be on experience, and we talk about a lot of other things. We get sort of caught up a lot of times talking about the sexy stuff, like I love a good branded napkin as much as anybody else. That’s not a brand experience. That’s a napkin and nobody really cares. So pulling through pieces of your brand, your hotel identity, your F&B outlet identity, pulling that through into the guest’s experience in like a really genuine way, that’s where the impact is made.
So one example that something Jeremy and I talked about is with Vision we opened a gin bar in Memphis called The Greyhound and it’s built on top of the site of what was an old Greyhound Bus Terminal, and greyhound’s classic gin cocktail. There was an opportunity in the market as well. So everything kind of worked out for that. So then how do you pull that brand to life? So we took an old like The Greyhound Bus schedule that you get and showed you, you know, let’s go and where and when, and turn that into like a little order ticket that you had at your table and you could fill out. It was essentially like a tableside gin and tonic program. So you could select your gin, select your tonic, select any like mixers and garnishes, and then we would bring this really nice West Elm cart tableside and make this gin and tonic for you right there and you can do that with every drink. You pick your spots, but that’s like maximizing the value proposition for a guest in a way that makes sense to your brand identity. I think that’s sort of how you do it more than just like our napkin as a greyhound.
Dustin Myers: Right. Yeah. That’s awesome.
Jeremy Wells: Yeah. I love that concept when we were talking about it. It does sound like a really cool place.
Jeremy Wells: Like you mentioned, you put in these two brand-new rooftop bars that were new for the area. Was there ever any time, whether it was those moments or other times where you experienced a little pushback as far as introducing food and beverage to a hotel or to an experience or had to do some convincing get people on board? Because it seems like there might be moments where like you said, some people might not realize the value of it. Have you ever run into that where you had to do a little extra work to get everyone on board?
Anthony Langan: Yeah. Yeah. You know what’s funny is that’s a great question, and like almost every time to some degree, there really is like… so one of the two rooftop bars was a rooftop bar in Nashville called UP, a rooftop lounge and it sits on top of a Fairfield Inn & Suites. That’s not exactly what you would think, like sexy rooftop bar in Nashville. You wouldn’t think, “Oh, of course, it’s on top of a Fairfield.” So there is this initial like, “Hmm, do these two things go together?” But what we found is that people, first of all, that’s a great Fairfield, that’s an incredible hotel and shout out to them, but they bought in faster than I thought they would. When we executed on what we were promising, we delivered the experience. We had the great views. People didn’t care as much anymore about the name on the hotel. If we could get them in the image of our drinks, the view, all of a sudden that conversation about the hotel brand didn’t matter as much. There was a separate elevator that just ran from the first floor directly to the rooftop. So you could bypass part of the experience. We even changed the lights and the music inside the elevator just to make it feel very different.
But yeah, there’s that one. There’s a really high-end rooftop bar that we did a couple of years ago in Chattanooga called Whiskey Thief and that was a very different kind of experience for the market. So people weren’t really used to it in Chattanooga, you know, going to a bar and not being able to get in. It was off-putting and kind of working through the messaging of that, like, “No, no, we want you in here. We really do, but we just don’t want to jam you in like it’s not a shot and a beer place.” We’re not selling Bud Lights and Jager. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m a Budweiser guy myself actually, but for the experience that we were delivering there to that customer, we had to cut off the number of people that can come in at a certain time and there’s pushback on that. So I think it’s all how you talk to the community about who you are, communicating on social media. If you’re running an F&B outlet and you’ve got a private event and you’re going to be closed, tell people for sure. Tell people. Tell them on social media that you’re closed that night. Get that word out to them. Talk to the hotel valets. As soon as somebody pulls up in their car, don’t let them get all the way out and get all the way up there and then find out you’re closed. Make it as easy as possible for people to know, “Hey, this is who we are and this is what’s going on.” And I think that’s how you work through a lot of those problems. But yeah, it’s funny. I think like every spot has a little bit of that.
Jeremy Wells: That’s awesome.
Dustin Myers: Yeah, just one follow-up question on that. So The Greyhound specifically, that sounds like a very well executed, all through on the brand concept and all of that. When you’re working with interior designers, architects, maybe a branding agency, the in-house team, when those projects will really just all come together, what works differently on those as opposed to one that might be more fragmented?
Anthony Langan: Yeah. I think it’s really important and something that I saw early on when I got in the development side was a lot of times there were these conversations where it was designers kind of designing in a bubble, the identities created in a bubble and all these people do kind of talk back and forth about it, but there can be this hard line between that and operations that I think is kind of missing a really big opportunity to engage folks in operations early on in the process. The location of that server station matters. What are the MEP, the data and the power for your POS terminals, like do we have the right things in the right spots. I think when it goes well, everyone is kind of open and having conversations and one of the hardest parts about it is setting ego aside and it’s super tough. I’m sure you guys could speak to this, especially earlier in your career, you create this thing, right? You have this idea and it’s great and then you send it out to the world. It’s a hard lesson to learn that everything you do that you just poured your heart and soul into is about to get judged and maybe not always as nicely as you would like.
So I think having a spirit of openness and knowing that, “Hey, you can throw out 100 ideas, 99 of them might be no,” but that hundredth one maybe the one that makes a difference and just being resilient enough to not stop and working with a team that is willing to listen.
You can throw out 100 ideas, 99 of them might be “no” but that hundredth one maybe the one that makes a difference.
Dustin Myers: It’s really good.
Jeremy Wells: The theme of the podcast is the “Future of Hospitality” and what that looks like and everyone’s kind of take on that. As it relates even to what you do specifically and then maybe even outside of that a little bit whether it’s some trends or just the way that the market’s moving, how do you see the future of hospitality in the next five, ten plus years? What significant things are going to be changing? More recently it’s been things like the idea of creating an experience and really focusing on that. Not just amenities alone, but actually creating an experience for a traveler. There’s been focuses on the food and beverage aspects. There have been other focuses on different things. Do you have any idea where the hospitality industry is going? What’s your best guess about where it’s going to go into the future?
Anthony Langan: So one thing I always think is you hear this type of question asked like on panels and I kind of laugh inside because like when I see all the executives lined up on stage and they’re getting interviewed and they’re like, “What technology and what’s the Future Hospitality looked like?” Down the line it’s like, “Well, with Airbnb, Airbnb, like it gets the same kind of answer,” which I think speaks to a broader problem with the industry because if you’re talking about that as a future, like that future is already here. So we’re way past that being a future and that future will continue to evolve, but I just always think it’s funny because you can queue up the Airbnb answer with most people. But I do think to that I think we’ll continue to see lodging, especially in brands. I think hotels have become increasingly decentralized. So there will be less of an emphasis needed I think on traditional brands and in some markets in particular, larger markets certainly, you already see that, but smaller markets as well.
I mean, you used to be driving down the road and you would see Holiday Inn and you knew that there was a clean bed and friendly staff and standards there and maybe the Johnson Inn or the Langan Inn. Maybe you didn’t know what to expect, from that place, but now, I mean, with the internet, the world will tell you exactly what that place is. So there’s less of that need to rely on brands and I think hotel owners and management companies are becoming increasingly comfortable with taking the chance to go out on their own and create something, a brand and experience themselves.
So when you think of a Disney Resort, you go to Disney World with your family. The minute you hit the resort, it doesn’t matter if you’re in your room, in the lobby, in the park. You never leave that experience. You’re in that experience in your hotel room. You’re in that experience the entire time. If it’s a traditional chain hotel, I think that experience at some point stops and you could be in the lobby of any hotel in any city in the country. But I think you’ll see more and more that experience kind of pull through. So the city, like in more meaningful and genuine ways will come into the hotel more and more often and into restaurants and bars more often.
I think in terms of technology and trends and things, one that I find interesting is like digital education. So we were joking earlier, but like the amount you learn from YouTube nowadays is it can be incredible, you know, what you can learn there. And I’m actually doing a thing now. Have you guys heard of a website called edX?
Jeremy Wells: Yeah.
Anthony Langan: Yeah. So like I’m taking an edX class on connected strategy, it’s two professors from the Wharton School of Business. So the ability to have access to like that type of education and that type of growth is only growing and I think there’s a big opportunity in us as management companies, as owners to how do we continue to teach and educate the people that work with us and ourselves. And I think deploying digital platforms, whether it’s short learnings, long coursework, I think there’s a big opportunity there to continue to elevate our whole workforce with us. It’s not enough for me to just learn something like I need to bring people with me, because I have yet to ever do anything by myself in this business and I doubt I ever will.
I think focusing on educating other people and bringing them up with you is super important.
Sort of a weird one I think about that could become a big factor in the businesses, so autonomous driving and this is sort of an odd one. So I’m in Chattanooga, Tennessee right now and I grew up in Chicago. Chattanooga sits basically halfway between Chicago, Wisconsin, Northwest Indiana, Michigan, and Florida. So what you have seen in Chattanooga for decades is family or people who are traveling from the North to Florida will stay over in Chattanooga. It’s becoming more of a destination on its own, but like significant force in the lodging nights in the city were dependent on that travel.
Now, what happens if five, ten years down the road if I don’t have to drive, whether it’s autonomous rideshare or if it’s my own autonomous vehicle and I don’t have to worry about like holding onto the steering wheel and being glued to it for 10 hours and that’s all I can do, I need a place to crash. I think that that’ll probably have a bigger impact than people realize currently. Yeah, it’s a weird one, but I’d also like to just put our food and drink in cars and just send it to him. Yeah.
Jeremy Wells: Yeah. That’s really cool. You brought up an interesting point. You joked about the Airbnb thing, but I’ve read a couple of articles I think recently, even though Airbnb has changed the landscape and everyone talks about the buzz word at this point. I think the one unique factor, especially on the food and beverage side when you’re talking about adding in that level of experience to a hotel. It’s really a unique selling point. It can be a unique selling point for a hotel.
Anthony Langan: A hundred percent.
Jeremy Wells: Just because Airbnb can’t really deliver, at least currently deliver an experience like that. One that’s so integrated. I just think that’s a really interesting point there.
Anthony Langan: Yeah. I totally agree with you. Yeah. That is a like a big differentiator for sure. That’s a huge one.
Jeremy Wells: I forgot to mention this earlier, but you had mentioned how at the hotels that you added a rooftop bar and the importance of putting a separate entrance, a separate elevator even for that experience. Segmenting out the travelers that are staying at the hotel versus like locals… What sort of emphasis there do you think is important to have between both groups?
Anthony Langan: Yeah. That’s a great question. I don’t even think about it anymore because it’s so automatic, but it’s almost like you’re not making any of it for the hotel guests in a lot of ways. You take that into consideration in a lot of things you do and making it easy for them to access it and maybe programs that are specific to them, benefits that travel into the room. But that restaurant, that bar winning in hotel F&B requires you to bring in guests from the outside to have a truly unique experience and really deliver something special. I think it’s hard to survive on just the hotel guests alone. But if you design with something that, “Hey, we want this to be the spot for the community,” because the question you always get from the hotel guests is, “Where do the locals go?” And if you can just say, “Oh, they go right here. They go to the bar at the place that you’re already at.” You’re going to get the hotel guests then at that point. Yeah. I really probably would disproportionately focus on the local community and something that is cool and a draw to them and a great experience for them and that will win you your hotel guests.
Dustin Myers: Yeah. That’s great.
Jeremy Wells: So I guess the last question here, circling back to just you and where you’re going personally and professionally. What would you say like your future in this industry, in the hospitality industry looks like and what plans do you have or any ambitions that you have moving forward?
Anthony Langan: I feel lucky to get to do what I do and this is the dream. In terms of hotel F&B jobs, like corporate director of food and beverage for Charlestowne Hotels, like it doesn’t get a whole lot better than that. That in itself is something I love and everyday love. So kind of working with a great team there and I think more than anything. Richard Branson is the guy I’m looking for. So Richard Branson has this great quote, “Above all, you want to create something you’re proud of,” and that really resonates with me. I want to do things that Charlestowne Hotels is proud of. I want to do things that I’m proud of, that my wife would be the kind of person and personally and professionally that my wife and kids are proud of. That’s really what matters I think more than anything is, yeah, I do like to think that someday in the future my kids, there’ll be, they’re six, four and two now, so they’re not going to be driving for a while. But I could picture them, you know, if someday in the future they drive by a hotel or they drive by a restaurant or a bar and they can say, “My dad helped create that,” and they’re proud of me and of the things I’ve done. I think that’s the goal for sure.
Jeremy Wells: It’s awesome. Good stuff. Anthony, I really appreciate you joining us today and taking the time out to do that.
Anthony Langan: Thank you guys. It’s awesome.
Jeremy Wells: We’re honored to speak with you and I know that the people listening will get a lot of value out of it. So Anthony, how can people learn more about you and Charlestowne and whatnot, if someone wanted to reach out or just learn more about what you’re doing?
Anthony Langan: Yeah. Yeah. You can find me on LinkedIn, search for Anthony Langan and look for this space and you’ll find me. I’ve got some examples of F&B on a website called ontheflyfb.com and Charlestowne Hotels and our incredible portfolio there. You can check out at charlestownehotels.com.
Jeremy Wells: It’s a great website, and the portfolio is really cool. So I’m excited for you.
Anthony Langan: Thanks man.
Jeremy Wells: Well, thanks for joining us. Until next time. Thank you everyone for watching and listening and we’ll see you next time. Thanks.
Anthony Langan: I appreciate it.