By Marcus Marshall, HVMG Vice President, Restaurants & Bars

Like many restaurateurs, the last year has given HVMG the opportunity to evaluate our offerings and innovate quickly in order to keep creating experiences that guests love while also delivering owner returns. Some changes -- like removing half of the furniture in the dining room or selling inventory grocery-style -- may fade away, but there are "temporary" transformations that we know will stick around long after our disposable face masks do.

HVMG's recipe for innovation includes one part technology, one part local marketing, and one part creative concepting.

High-Touch to High-Tech

Restaurants are by their very nature high-touch businesses, so the need to create a frictionless dining experience felt at odds with the hospitality our teams are used to serving up. In our effort to place health and safety at the center of our operations, we experimented with a variety of high-tech solutions that helped supplement HVMG's high-touch hospitality.

  • Frequent updates to websites, social profiles, and internal communications to keep guests and associates informed of operational changes

  • Online menus to allow guests to make selections without touching or sharing physical menus

  • Local delivery enabled by mobile apps

  • Integrated order and payment systems that allow for improved speed of service and more efficient staff scheduling

We have no intention of tossing the baby out with the bathwater and disagree with pundits who project that post-pandemic automation will replace traditional service. However, we do plan to continue to evaluate and use supplemental technology when it can help us achieve results that strike the balance between happy guests and happy owners.

A Lot More Local

The pandemic magnified our immediate communities as we spent more time than ever at home and were confined to neighborhood strolls for entertainment. Many diners heeded the call to support their local eateries, often repeating "We want them to be open when this is all over, so we better get some takeout now." This focus on the hyper-local economy was underscored as we experimented with virtual kitchens in some of our locations.

For example, our Marin Comfort Kitchen sourced artisan breads and farmstead cheeses from the surrounding area, put them together into comforting grilled cheese sandwiches and healthy salads. They spread the word by investing in local marketing that supplemented the marketing offered by delivery services. The combination of local ingredients, local delivery, and local marketing allowed us to create a successful, profitable concept with minimal investment in overheads.

Place-Driven Plates

Our creative restaurant and bar concepts have always favored filling culinary gaps in the local market's dining scene. As we move forward, we are doubling down on creating a sense of place. Our newest creations are painstakingly designed to foster a sense of community and authentic human connection. We are making restaurants that guests are excited to return to.

For example, at our soon-to-open boutique hotel -- The Curator in burgeoning Old Fourth Ward Atlanta -- we are curating chef-driven dining experiences with a calendar of pop-up events that will feature the rich diversity of Atlanta's culinary scene. At Fiddletree, the three-meal restaurant at the forthcoming Elwood Hotel in Lexington, Kentucky, we are designing the menu to acknowledge the surrounding medical community by preparing healthy food with mindful awareness, conscious cuisine that tastes as good as it makes you feel. The menu will highlight farms, breweries, and distilleries in high-quality, casual preparations suited to our approachable atmosphere.

Our Next Normal

We believe that the industry's "next normal" will combine the best elements of our past successes with the innovations we've devised and tested over the last year. Thoughtfully deployed technology, true engagement with the local communities, and novel concepts that guests and locals are excited to return to are HVMG's secret ingredients for Excellent guest experiences and owner returns.

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