Think Fresh: Harvest the Benefits of Healthy F&B

The guests who meet Alan Muskat in their Asheville, North Carolina, hotel lobby at 10 a.m. are in for a different experience than most travelers wandering downstairs for breakfast. There’s no ordering coffee or lining up for a buffet; instead, Muskat hands everyone a “brife”—a little gadget that’s a mix between a brush and a knife—and leads them into the local woods to forage for the food they’ll eat for dinner.

“There’s so much research about the health benefits of wild foods, and a lot of new interest in learning about how to harvest your own,” says Muskat, who partners with area hotels to create wild food tours, enabling guests to forage for edible wild mushrooms, herbs, and other plants. “It’s clear that people are increasingly looking for über-healthy food options, and the beauty of this kind of experience is that guests actually leave with information they can use when they get home.”

Of course, the majority of hotel guests aren’t looking to go so far as to harvest the ingredients that’ll go into making their meals, but the growing interest in Muskat’s tours is proof that now, more than ever before, people are looking for healthy, organic, and hyper-local food options when they travel. To wit: A recent survey by food industry research firm Techonomic found that most consumers want restaurants to be more transparent about menu ingredients, and two in five cite a rising concern over food additives. For proof of consumers’ changing ideas regarding what’s healthy, just look at sales of orange juice. Though it was once considered a healthy breakfast choice, Nielson data published by the Florida Department of Citrus indicates that sales of orange juice hit a 16-year low in 2014.

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Hotels are taking note and providing options that satisfy guests’ appetites for healthier grub, with 74 percent of respondents of AH&LA’s 2014 Lodging Survey stating that they provide healthy menu choices—
an all-time high. For hoteliers looking to take advantage of this healthy food trend, but who fear the resources it takes to do even a minor overhaul, there’s good news: It’s easier, and likely even more profitable, than one might think to provide healthier options, says David Morris, executive chef at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Hotel.

“If you do a nutrition analysis of your existing menu, there’s a good chance you’ll find you’re already offering some super-healthy dishes but not marketing them as such,” says Morris. “What’s more, sourcing and preparing more nutritious fare doesn’t necessarily increase your costs, and considering people will pay a premium for higher-quality foods, your return on investment will more than likely be great.” Another upside: Revamping menus so they’re healthier will automatically help cater to the growing number of guests who have food sensitivities and allergies, enabling restaurants and hotel kitchens to scale back on time-consuming special orders.

Not sure where to start? We asked some F&B leaders who are successfully executing healthy fare for their best tips. Here’s their insider advice.

Partner with Experts
When the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Hotel opened its new spa in 2013, the general manager, spa director, director of F&B, and executive chef realized they had a unique opportunity to introduce a menu that felt totally separate from those of the other five restaurants on the property. As such, they teamed up with doctors and dietitians at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine to create a unique, health-centric, and delicious menu (think quinoa crab cakes and wild salmon over rice noodles). The result? “Our healthy dishes quickly became 30 percent of in-room dining orders, which prompted us to offer items from our spa menu at all of the property’s restaurants,” Morris says.

Brian Povinelli, global brand leader at Westin Hotels, says that partnering with wellness experts helped ensure that the launch of the brand’s Well-Being Movement—a campaign designed to inspire health and wellness in six key areas: move, eat, sleep, feel, work, and play—was a success. Ashley Koff, RD, a dietitian in Washington, D.C., and Westin’s Eat Well Ambassador, explains that one of Westin’s stand-out menu moves was to improve the quliaty of its ingredients. That’s the most important thing any hotel can do to improve their food choices. “This means offering more natural foods and less processed ones and using spices versus ingredients with ‘flavors’ added,” Koff says. “Doing this can actually be less expensive, because if you use good-quality ingredients as your starting point, you won’t have to do as much with them to create a great dish.”

While Westin has its Eat Well Ambassadors, other hotels are getting SPE (Sourcing, Preparing, and Enhancing) Certified. The SPE program brings culinary expertise to the hotel industry with a certification and consulting curriculum conducted by chefs and nutrition experts. At The Wit in Chicago, general manager Ryan Kingston chose to get SPE Certified because he knew it would provide a competitive advantage. “By having healthier offerings, you open your doors to a broader client base,” Kingston says. “While I knew what we were doing was already local and relatively nutritious, having [the approval of] an independent group like SPE means it’s not just us saying our food is good for you, and that really means something to consumers these days.”

Create a Separate “Healthy” Menu
Rather than adding an asterisk to the healthier dishes on restaurant menus, Morris recommends creating a separate menu altogether, or at least grouping healthy items together in their own section. What’s more, creating that separate menu may help hotels get away with charging a bit more for the healthy items than they would be able to if these items were next to a restaurant’s regular fare. For example, at the Fairmont Scottsdale, the same Cobb salad is on both the spa menu and the regular menu. Even though the salad costs $2 more on the spa menu, it far outsells the one on the regular menu. “I think the spa menu Cobb is so popular because of the way it’s presented,” Morris says. “And when guests want healthy food, they are willing to pay more for it.”

Analyze Current Menu Options
While some hoteliers might want to go through the time and expense of partnering with experts or getting menu offerings certified, it might not actually be necessary, Morris says. “Revamping your menu can be as easy or complicated as you want to make it,” he says. “And there’s a lot you can do on your own if you don’t have the resources or time to wait for a dietitian to analyze 25 recipes.” Morris recommends using Axxya System’s Nutritionist Pro software to assess the nutritional content of an existing menu. Using this information, chefs can make small changes that reduce calories or saturated fat count and make a significant difference in the overall healthfulness of the dish. Many menu planners may even find that tweaks aren’t necessary; all they need is a menu redesign and some repositioning of some of the more nutritious options. “Taking a detailed look at your menu could help you see that all you really need to do is make marketing tweaks, highlighting which dishes are local, organic, or gluten free,” Morris says.

Offer Healthy Banquet Fare
If a hotel hosts a high number of business meetings, overhauling the banquet offerings can be especially important, Morris notes. Many groups are already moving away from caffeine and sugar-rich snacks for breaks and looking to offer more plant-based pick-me-ups instead. “The old trend was lots of sugar and caffeine to wake everyone up before coming back into the room,” he says. “Now, we’re seeing a lot more requests for natural beverages and healthy snacks, such as iced tea instead of soda and plain nuts and dried fruits instead of pastries.” Kingston adds that offering healthy options for groups and banquets can also help solidify a hotel as one that caters to guests’ well-being. “The goal is to be consistent across your property as a brand that’s focused on health and nutrition,” he says.

Prepare for the Future
The customer demand for healthier restaurant fare has been growing for years, and, according to Food+Tech Connect, one of the biggest predicted trends for 2015 is that consumers will want more information about their foods’ ingredients and nutritional value, ostensibly so they can make healthier decisions. To drive guest satisfaction, and increase hotel profitability, hotels must respond to these trends by offering their customers the balanced and nutritious meals they crave.