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Hotel Bed Wars Giving Way to the Breakfast War;
Doughnuts, Coffee a Thing of the Past
By Glenn Jeffers, Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 8, 2007 --Perhaps you noticed a change in how you slept during your last hotel stay. Maybe the mattress was bigger or the sheets softer and smoother.

If you did, then you became an unsuspecting participant in the "Bed Wars," a years-long, multimillion-dollar race to upgrade bedding in the hotel industry that, at the very least, provided guests with a better night's sleep.

Now Chicago-area hotels are trying to lure guests to a revamped service: They're adding organic ingredients to menus and swapping out in-room coffee makers for espresso machines.

They're building a better breakfast.

"This is the next step to the 'Bed Wars,' promoting breakfast as an amenity," says Joe McInerney, president of the Washington-based American Hotel & Lodging Association. "It gives them something to promote. We gave you a good bed, now we're going to give you a wholesome breakfast. The customer wins."

Indeed, many big-name hotel chains in Chicago have upgraded their breakfast options in their restaurants and room service in the last year. The Hyatt Regency Chicago's "Signature Breakfast" offers French press coffee, a flight of smoothies served in a 2-ounce shot glass and dishes such as poached egg casseroles and chipotle-infused corned beef hash.

In April, the Omni Chicago launched "The Art of Breakfast, swapping out its usual ingredients for cage-free eggs, organic shade-grown Starbucks coffee and all-natural pork that's free of antibiotics and nitrates.

And around the same time, the Hilton Chicago unveiled the chain's new "Hilton Breakfast," a color-coded buffet and menu that labels more than 80 items according to five different categories: "low cholesterol," "low fat," "high fiber," "low calorie" and (for the not-so-health conscious) "indulgence."

"You can see it in the supermarket. People are starting to read [nutrition] labels, so they really want to know what they're eating, even from a hotel restaurant," says Darren McArdle, director of food and beverage at the Chicago Hilton Towers. "I think we have a unique way of getting that message across, in a format that most people can understand."

A little competition among the chains is good for the industry, says McInerney, giving hotels another aspect to market other than location. And more promotion means more reservations.

Starwood Hotels and its Westin chain fired the first salvo in the Bed Wars in 1999, with its new standard bed, called the "Heavenly Bed." Several hotels also began developing their own beds and bedding lines, and last year Marriott and Hilton added their names to the list of hotels upgrading their bedding.

"This is an interesting industry," McInerney says. "There are no trade secrets. You have a competitive edge for about two days before your competitor puts a different name on it and promotes it."

But why has the competition spilled onto the breakfast plate? McInerney says that of the three meals one typically eats, guests are more likely to eat breakfast at the hotel.

"Breakfast is 90 percent of what guests eat," he says. "On a three-day trip, we get them two or three days for breakfast, and then one out of three for dinner. They're just too many other places to go. So breakfast is important."

That's why one local hotel, the Fairmont Chicago, has spent $200,000 to refit all 687 guest rooms with Nespresso Essenza C100 espresso/coffee machines. The machine, which also retails at the hotel for $229, is meant to give guests a memorable experience as they wake up. The Essenza'a sleek, wedge-like shape, mixed with the ease of making an espresso or brewing coffee with a button push, provides a heightened convenience the hotel hopes will be noticed.

"It's a point of difference," says Andre Zoloff, the hotel's general manager. "They'll remember, 'When I stayed at the Fairmont Chicago, I had a great cup of coffee.' And the next time they come to Chicago, maybe they'll stay at the Fairmont."

So far, it seems to be working. The hotel has sold about a half-dozen Essenzas in its gift shop since unveiling the program in August.

Another gauntlet thrown. Another war under way.

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They have the technology ...

Hotels have rebuilt breakfast. They've made it better. Faster. Stronger. OK, it's not really bionic, but it is more nutritious, elaborate and upscale. Here are a few Chicago hotels that have upgraded their breakfast menus:

--Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 E. Wacker Drive; 312-565-1234

--Omni Chicago, 676 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-944-6664

--Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-922-4400

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Copyright (c) 2007, Chicago Tribune

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