Benefits of a Downtown Chicago Marriott's Rooftop Garden and Beehives

By Frank Sanchez Executive Chef, Chicago Downtown Marriott | August 20, 2017

In late-March, we begin the seedling process of planting product that can be grown indoors, along with our rotating crop of micro-greens. Micro-greens have been an instrumental part of our operation because it gives us produce throughout the winter months. There’s always the option to buy from hot houses locally and throughout the country, but when we can grow product ourselves, reduce our carbon footprint and create an interesting narrative for our hotel and restaurants, we do it.

The thought of buying items from the place I just left to garnish a plate does not appeal to me as a chef or as a steward of the planet. I would rather educate the customer about our growing operation and see the surprise and curiosity arise on their faces. This is, in-fact, one of the reasons we spend time planting and growing on-site. The aesthetics are very important to us as the rooftop garden can be seen from 36 of the hotel’s 46 floors and from the fitness center, which is located on the same floor as the rooftop garden.

As we begin to plan for the seedlings, we keep the beauty of the garden a priority. That, along with the menu planning, is extremely important to us. Guests appreciate the visuals of the garden of course, but also like to know that there are crops growing in the facility. The neat rows and tight lines in the boxes represent that there is a plan in place and that our garden is an extension of our kitchen.

As for the break-down of our products, we grow about one-third of our own seedlings, one-third direct sow (planting in soil), and the rest are bought from organic nursery. This does a few things for us.

The seedlings we grow provide us with a great assortment of heirloom and unique seeds. These seeds give us an opportunity to experiment with growing product in Chicago’s climate as well as utilize various seed banks for “native” seeds. Growing items that are “native” gives us yet another story to tell, but also makes us feel like we are giving back to the very land we are not growing in, if that makes sense.

Using direct sow gives us an opportunity to grow different, seasonal items. We can rotate between carrots, radishes, beets and other various seasonal root vegetables. This part of the rooftop garden is always evolving and is more fluid when it comes to menu options. We can have pickled root vegetables one week and the next it may be coriander pickled carrots or horseradish pickled turnips.

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Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.