Hotel food is getting healthier — even the hamburgers

ByABC News
May 9, 2012, 9:27 PM

— -- It's becoming almost impossible to get a junk-food fix at many major hotels, as they steadily give their restaurant menus Whole Foods-style makeovers.

Thursday, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts will unveil possibly the broadest healthy food policy yet among major chains, saying customers want it.

Once rolled out, customers at full-service Hyatt hotels will see more upscale-looking menus that describe organic vegetables, seafood, meat and dairy produced without chemicals. Portions will be smaller, trimming calorie counts, says Susan Santiago, Hyatt's vice president of food and beverage.

Favorite dishes, such as a hamburger, will still be on the menu but will look different.

The "Meyer Natural Angus Burger" will replace the existing, unbranded burger. It will be made with 7 ounces of beef instead of 8, and have 817 calories vs. 1,176, before condiments.

"We're not putting our customers on a diet," says Susan Terry, Hyatt's culinary vice president. "We're not saying that every single item on the menu is going to be focused on health and wellness. They are still eating hamburgers, so what we're focused on is how we can make that hamburger the best it could be."

Later this year, producers will begin supplying Hyatt hotels with shrimp free of tripolyphosphates, an additive used to artificially plump up shrimp, she says.

Hyatt's announcement comes amid growing concerns about obesity. A study out this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts U.S. obesity will soar up to 42% of the population by 2030, if unchecked.

Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University's hospitality school, says Hyatt can also cut costs by bringing down portion sizes. But the biggest benefit is that Hyatt could lure more customers by building its identity around this issue.

"When business travelers are asked about things they dislike most, 'not enough sleep' and 'eating more unhealthy' ranks right up there after the awful experience of travel itself," he says. "This a way to try to respond to that shift market share."

Frequent traveler Hickson Chen looks for healthy food when on the road.

"I ate breakfast at the Westin Casaurina (in Las Vegas) today and I avoided many things at the buffet," he said Wednesday.

Until now, global hotel brands have taken small steps to revamp their menus, partly because it's hard to run a global purchasing program with suppliers that may be too small to meet their needs, says Brad Nelson, Marriott's corporate chef who led the charge to eliminate trans-fats from the menu in 2006.

Marriott's 56-location JW Marriott brand has moved in this direction. But putting the Marriott chain, with more than 500 locations around the world, on a healthier course is more difficult because of its size and remote locations, says Brad Nelson, Marriott's corporate chef. Between Marriott's programs and, now, Hyatt's, they'll be better able to pressure food suppliers to change objectionable practices, he says.

"From a scale perspective, we're really exerting influence and pressure on our (large) suppliers," Nelson says. "For example, we've been working with one of the major pork producers to supply natural and pure bacon."

Moving towards a food program that focuses on nutrition and sustainability is the future, Nelson says.

Among actions by other chains:

•Starwood. Westin hotels recently expanded its "Superfoods" menu to offer such items as green-tea-infused salmon. Sheraton hotels recently rolled out a new approach to nutrition that focuses on key nutrients from colorful fruit and vegetables.

•Hilton. Hilton last year launched breakfast menus at Hilton and Doubletree hotels that provide healthy options. The company is working on several new restaurant concepts that focus on healthy, local and fresh, says Beth Scott, Hilton food and beverage vice president for full-service hotels.

•Fairmont. The 63-location luxury chain rolled out its Lifestyle Cuisine program in 2008 that called for hotels to use sustainable, locally sourced and organically grown products whenever possible for all food service operations. Earlier this year, Fairmont expanded the program to its kids' menus.