Hotels often describe their food offerings with words such as decadent and rich, but adjectives like organic and local have started popping up more frequently in marketing and advertising material. Gone are the days of splurging on food while traveling, industry experts say. Instead, travelers are showing preference for places that cater to healthy lifestyles.
“More and more people are really paying attention and focused on healthier living,” said Elliott Ferguson, president and chief executive officer of Destination DC, which promotes travel to the nation’s capital. “You look at the international community, they have probably been a little bit further ahead of us in terms of wanting and desiring to be healthier. It’s one of those things where restaurants and hotels need to start paying attention to the needs of the people they serve.”
The growing focus on sustainability over splurging is apparent at many area hotels, including domestic boutiques such as Kimpton properties and global chains such as Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt and Hilton. This summer, for instance, Kimpton’s Hotel Madera began offering the “Farm to Table to Bed” package, which includes an overnight stay, brunch for two at Kimpton’s Firefly restaurant, handmade herbal soap from Bealeton, Va.-based Harmony Creek Farm and $10 to be used at FRESHFARM Markets. The package starts at $249 per night, and 10 percent of all proceeds benefit FRESHFARM Markets, Washington’s farmers’ market nonprofit.
“What we’re finding is there is actually less and less of those folks that are saying, ‘Yeah, the diet is off because I’m traveling,’” said Modi Ahmed, Madera’s general manager. “People still want to eat healthy on the road, so we’re trying to accommodate them as best we can.”
The brunch at Firefly, like its menu, changes seasonally and executive chef Todd Wiss draws on items from the year-round farmers’ market. Summertime brunch items included fried green tomatoes and house-made pimento cheese and cured rockfish carpaccio.
“Kimpton as a brand is always looking for ways to help travelers maintain their health and wellness while they’re on the road, and one of the great ways to do that obviously is eating well and eating healthy,” Ahmed said.
Although a farmers’ market might not jump to mind when someone thinks of D.C., he said it’s a popular stop for many guests at the Dupont Circle property.
“A lot of our guests are looking for that unique experience,” Ahmed said. “Yes, they’re going to go to the Smithsonian, yes, they’re going to go to the White House or the Washington Monument, but they really want to have a local experience as well.”
Madera has also started offering meeting attendees healthier snack options. In place of popcorn, chips and cookies, people can make their own smoothies or granola, which features house-made granola, sliced nuts and dried fruits.
“A lot of folks are looking more now for organic local fruits,” Ahmed said. “We set up blenders, and we set up fresh sliced fruit and fresh sliced herbs and vegetables so that they can make a smoothie.”
The Ritz-Carlton on 22nd Street recently launched a culinary program that offers low-calorie options. It started at the hotel’s Westend Bistro in January with a Bistro Lite menu section. Its success led the hotel to expand the offerings to its lounges, room service, mini bars and banquet menus.
“It seems the whole country — from the White House to your own kitchen — is worried by the increasing prevalence of diet-related disease among people of all ages,” said Elizabeth Mullins, vice president and area general manger at the hotel. “I’m excited because this program makes it easier for people to make healthy choices.”
Sample dishes from the Ritz-Carlton Lite menus include sweet potato chips in the mini bars; Greek yogurt and create-your-own salads in the Club Lounge; grilled portabella barbari with eggplant marmalade and ricotta cheesecake with vanilla quince marmalade in Westend Bistro; mango panna cotta with passion fruit jelly in the Lobby Lounge; egg white frittata and grilled salmon in the in-room dining; and grilled tuna with cucumber and wasabi pasta at banquets.
“It’s a simple idea: Add healthier options to the menu without sacrificing taste and then highlight those choices for customers,” Mullins said. “That’s why we like to use all-natural, fresh ingredients, prepared in healthy ways, to create lighter, nutritious offerings that don’t compromise on taste.”
Still, the Ritz hasn’t taken guilty pleasures off the table.
“We have a fabulous pastry team — and offer a decadent selection of desserts on all of our menus — but now you have options,” Mullins said. “You can choose to be healthy, and have a chocolate mousse made with fat-free yogurt, or you can indulge in a myriad of decadent options.”
Hyatt is another worldwide hotel brand that started revamping its dining program in mid-2011. In May 2012, the Grand Hyatt Washington took on the “Food. Thoughtfully Sourced. Carefully Served.” philosophy. The idea is based on three pillars: healthy people, a healthy planet and healthy communities. The first involves providing portion-controlled, balanced dishes with natural ingredients through nutrient-preserving cooking techniques, such as reducing hamburger sizes from eight ounces to seven and providing hormone-free milk as menu options. Being eco-friendly entails sustainable purchasing, planting on-site chef’s gardens and using new to-go containers. The last pillar reaches out to the neighborhood by mandating that five local ingredients be used on the menu.
Grand Hyatt Washington also launched the “For Kids By Kids” menu in July 2012 to provide more nutritious kid-friendly foods. Items include vegetable and sesame rice noodles with marinated tofu and waffle dipping sticks with peanut butter, maple syrup and fruit sauces.
In addition, the hotel is reducing the use of ingredients with high amounts of sodium and additives and serving beverages with natural sweeteners such as agave nectar.
“Through surveys and customer feedback, guests informed us they wanted options to help them maintain their healthy lifestyle while away from home,” said Nisha Patel, marketing communications manager for Hyatt. “Hyatt is the first hospitality company to make a commitment to Partnership for a Healthier America, which will hold Hyatt accountable for continuously improving the nutritional profile of children’s food menus at full-service managed Hyatt properties across the U.S. over the next 10 years.”
Partnership for a Healthier America is chaired by first lady Michelle Obama and aims to reduce childhood obesity through private-sector initiatives.
“We want to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” Patel added. “We believe we have a responsibility to ensure that every one of our meals is thoughtfully sourced and carefully served.”
The health food kick has even influenced the physical space at some hotels. In April 2012, the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner began offering two specialty guest rooms, one focused on cardio and the other on yoga. Besides outfitting them with special equipment, the hotel also created in-room dining menus available only in those rooms. Items on the menu include strawberry and banana smoothies with Greek yogurt, toasted flax seeds, local Virginia honey and almond milk.
“We all know how challenging it can be traveling, first of all, but then maintaining that healthy lifestyle,” said Jodi Sullivan, senior director of global fitness at Hilton. “Working out and eating right can be challenging.”
Tom Elder, executive chef at the hotel’s Härth restaurant, said he’s expanded the room menu offerings to the restaurant, making a point to offer and label options as vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free.
“The idea is that it’s light, healthy and fresh-focused,” Elder said, adding that he tried to get most products from within a 150-mile radius. “We Americans tend to have protein in everything. We have other things around it. Here it’s vegetables with protein around it.”
Additionally, he began raising bees on the hotel’s rooftop three years ago. They produce 600 pounds of unfiltered, unpasteurized honey each year, which he uses as a natural sweetener in place of sugar in his cooking.
At the Arlington, Va., location of AKA, a luxury brand of serviced residences, residents can clip herbs from the property’s rooftop herb garden, which was planted in May, to create a healthy home-away-from-home experience.
AKA employees and a landscaper maintain the garden, which produces cilantro, basil, chocolate mint, mint, tarragon, oregano, chives, lemon balm, rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley and mountain mint. The most-often picked ones are mint, chocolate mint and rosemary, said Elana Friedman, AKA’s vice president of global marketing.
“The herb garden was born out of our constant pursuit to serve our residents, all of whom are here for a month or more, through new and innovative amenities,” Friedman said. “Our residents make use of the full kitchens available in our suites, and we also offer a grocery delivery service, so the herb garden is a fresh way to enhance this experience. It is designed to feel like a personal garden and residents can pick the fresh herbs at their leisure.”
AKA also uses the herbs to provide minted water in Club AKA during breakfast and in drinks and refreshments at resident receptions
“Our herbs are grown organically in the open air of our rooftop terrace, so they are susceptible to changes in weather,” Friedman said. “The plants will be maintained until the first frost and we will open it up again in the spring.”
D.C.’s status as the second-fittest city in the country, according to the 2013 American Fitness Index, and its growing reputation as a foodie destination have also contributed to the culinary changes happening not just at hotels but at many area restaurants, too, Destination DC’s Ferguson said.
“There’s this perception that eating healthy means dieting and it doesn’t necessarily mean that,” he said. “Eating healthy doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy your meal, and I think that’s the most important message.”
About the Author
Stephanie Kanowitz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.