by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | May 23, 2017

While other hotel companies are busy strategizing their next acquisition or expansion route, hospitality company Benchmark is laser-focused on overhauling its food-and-beverage operations. Earlier this year, it brought on hospitality and restaurant executive Todd Parmelee to become vice president of food and beverage, and then followed that plum pick by signing chef Stephan Pyles, considered by many in the culinary world to be one of the founding fathers of modern Southwestern cuisine, to form a partnership overseeing all things F&B-related, from restaurant design and menu development to staff training. 

Following its September 2016 merger with Gemstone Hotels & Resorts, Benchmark (formerly known as Benchmark Hospitality International) now encompasses a portfolio of over 70 properties worldwide, representing over 8,000 guest rooms. In other words, that's a whole lot of hotel restaurants, group F&B, event catering and room-service outlets that are going to be put under the microscope in the coming months as Parmelee and Pyles look to harness the creative prowess of dozens of Benchmark executive chefs, their staff and hotel management to up Benchmark's game in the F&B group arena. 

todd"Right now, I am fact-finding and trying to understand each property's target market," Parmelee told The Hotel Insider. "I was in Las Vegas for 20 years. It's a market where restaurants are the destination. That said, we are not trying to be Las Vegas, but in a nutshell, we want our F&B to turn heads — to make memories. I am really going for the wow factor."

Parmelee, who will be based out of Benchmark's headquarter office in The Woodlands, Texas, near Houston, comes from a strong executive culinary background that includes stints such as opening and managing chef Todd English's Olives restaurant in Las Vegas at the 3,000-room Bellagio. Most recently he was with Baltimore-based Entertainment Consultants International.

The most important criteria for setting up change for success, Parmalee says, is buy-in from all stakeholders. And in Benchmark's multiple kitchens, he believes he already has that in place. "I have talked to some of our chefs, who are outstanding talents in their individual fields. A lot of them are raising their hands with ideas, because they are eager to enhance their F&B and banquet-catering offerings. We already are working on some very exciting projects."

According to an October 2016 report by CBRE Hotels, properties are looking to make up lost ground in F&B-generated revenue, which decreased overall from 39.5 percent in 1999 to 25.7 percent in 2015. "A greater emphasis has been placed on food-and-beverage revenue related to meetings and banquets,” noted Robert Mandelbaum, director of research information services at Atlanta-based CBRE, in his report. “In 2015, revenue from banquets was greater than it was in 2007. The rise can be attributed to the increased solicitation of local events, as well as the return of group demand."

Parmelee says that two areas he will focus on in rolling out new developments is a commitment to local farm-to-table offerings, which will allow each property to tell the story of their destination through their food, along with wellness-centered food. "We have to be able to ask the right questions when we are selling to our guests, and that includes topics like wellness and nutrition. They aren't side topics anymore."