Designing Menus That Balance Traditional Fare with Modern Dietary Needs
By Eli Fortney Executive Chef, Topnotch Resort | July 30, 2017
The dining experience in the hotel and resort environment has been changing for decades. Gone are the days when most Americans eat meat and potatoes, and the occasional salad, for dinner. Immigrants from all over the world who settled into the urban areas of our country brought culturally significant dishes that opened up a whole new supply chain of ingredients, and introduced flavor profiles unfamiliar to the food scene. Before this cultural transformation, American families eating out seemed to be more interested in socializing outside of the home than in having a culinary experience. As new foods appeared on the scene, dining out became more focused on exploring new fads and flavors.
At the same time, an interest in holistic health sent people looking for alternative ways to stay healthy. Many went macrobiotic, vegan, gluten free, and paleo. Others explored the South Beach Diet. While these ways of eating are health issues for many, they also represent a lifestyle.
Today, when people arrive at a resort or hotel, they want to be met with their lifestyle choices. The restaurant experience is not just about getting fed. It's about exploring taste, as well as maintaining health and wellness lifestyles. People in this diverse society have come to expect to be catered to in their personal choices, and one of the most personal of choices is food. Those who are paying top dollar for room nights want a variety of menu options.
Menu writing in a hotel or resort setting must focus on meeting the needs of an eclectic clientele with a wide variety of expectations. Larger properties can spread the spectrum of offerings among multiple outlets. Large Las Vegas casinos with upwards of twenty outlets can offer entire restaurants designed around specific concepts; an on-site steakhouse, Chinese restaurant, buffet, and oyster bar provide many options to choose from. In smaller boutique properties with fewer outlets (or only one), menu writing may require more creativity to meet the expectations of a variety of guests, offering as much value as possible in a limited space. Having an Asian-inspired entree, a steak option, a vegetarian dish, and a gluten-free choice can maximize choice on one small menu.
Hotels and resorts welcome guests of all ages and from all areas of the world. Those in the millennial generation have much different dining expectations than baby boomers. And to add to the variety, guests include people with food allergies and intolerances, and those on niche diets. Catering to guests with such wide-ranging dining expectation is challenging. Thankfully, globalization has provided many new products to unlock some creative solutions.
Chefs would do well to keep an eye on new fads in the food and beverage world and consider using lesser-known ingredients to pique the interest of guests. Ancient grains such as farro, freekeh, and quinoa can be fun substitutes for rice and other starches, and they go a long way with health-conscious guests. Chili pastes, curries, and other spices with a kick contribute to a flavorful and exciting dining experience, and they are culturally significant to many diners. Vegetarian and vegan diners are more and more looking for entrees that cater to their needs. However, new and exciting items that are popular with younger diners can be confusing or overwhelming to the older generation. Thus, traditional meat and potato dishes should also be offered. Finding a balance between the modern and the traditional is not an easy task, but it is important for the success of a food and beverage program. To be successful, a hotel or resort has to offer a great experience on the room's side, but equally as important are the dining options available.
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