Gone are the days of whole-heartedly indulging in decadent cuisine while travelling. These days, a growing demographic of busy, health-conscious millennials is leading the charge for revitalized menu options across the Canadian hospitality industry.

“These new guests want service [that’s] customizable and fast. They’re not going to have any qualms about saying ‘I want the salad but take out this ingredient and then substitute this with that,” says Jean-Luc Barone, executive director of Food and Beverage at Toronto-based Delta Hotels & Resorts, speaking to the growing millennial demographic.

That’s all taken into consideration at the Stamford, Conn.-based Aloft Hotels. It boasts more than 60 locations internationally with an emphasis on key phrases such as choice and customization — terms most appreciated by the up-and-coming millennial workers.

The hotel concept offers various “food zones,” but a popular stop is Re:Fuel by Aloft, a grab-and-go food-and-beverage shop open 24-7. It’s a gourmet eatery combined with the ultimate in convenience — zero wait times. Guests can grab a healthy sandwich and run to a meeting or customize their own creation. For breakfast, yogurt, fresh fruit and smoothies are offered alongside classic mainstays such as eggs and bacon.

According to Jeremy Cooper, director of Global Guest Initiatives for Stamford, Conn.-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ Specialty Select Brands, including Aloft, Element and Four Points by Sheraton, the strategy behind Re:Fuel is to enhance the dining experience of discerning guests by making food and beverage a quick and convenient exchange without the traditional restaurant experience. “We created a healthy food zone within the Re:Fuel pantry to fit into the guest’s lifestyle of being on the go,” explains Cooper. “We wanted to articulate where guests can easily find healthy food selections assembled together for their convenience. On the other hand, just because we offer healthy choices doesn’t mean we do away with ‘snack attack’ favourites, as there are times when guests still desire the comfort of a sweet or salty treat.”

At Vancouver-based SilverBirch Hotels & Resorts, locally grown ingredients are used whenever possible. Vivek Sharma, corporate director of Operations, says that a mandate for local fruits and vegetables ensures the menu remains fresh and tasty. “We have two Hilton DoubleTree properties, which are now focusing on using and promoting local ingredients,” Sharma says. “Since they’re fairly new hotels, it was easy to build these menus from the ground up with this brand-wide culinary philosophy of sourcing local produce, meat and fish.”
For breakfast, smoothies are a customer favourite, particularly on the buffets where local produce can be used in the summer. “Smoothies have been part of the healthy breakfast package for a while now,” explains Sharma. “They’re very popular at corporate meeting venues,” he adds, noting that carb-based breakfasts tend to make people sleepier during a day
of meetings. “To keep up with trends we now also offer a variety of fortified smoothies.” Guests can choose to add hemp seeds, organic honey or protein powder.

In the afternoon and evening, local beef is enjoyed. And, although steak is a favourite, it can also be tailored to fit many diets. SilverBirch offers healthier options by using oil-free marinades, which cut calories while still boosting flavour. “There’s a lot you can do with basic balsamic vinaigrette,” Sharma says. “You can create a similar taste with simple spices, vinegars and even fruit juices.” Braising rather than frying has also become a new trend in reducing calories.
However, many guests still want the option to treat themselves, so SilverBirch properties offer bite-sized portions. “We now offer sliders or mini burgers on our menus, so people can indulge without suffering the guilt of having consumed an entire plate of unhealthy food,” says Sharma. Mini desserts are also available — think tart-sized crème brûlée or cheesecake.

Delta’s Barone notes ongoing consumer trends towards health and wellness. In the past, gluten-free dietary options were an essential part of every menu. “But now, the mineral-water category is skyrocketing,” he explains. “At Delta we offer filtered still and sparkling water to all clients. But many people appreciate various mineral waters on the menu. Vitamin water is also quite popular.”

SilverBirch properties offer complimentary still or sparkling water, plus flavoured water at breakfast. Favourites include cucumber-, strawberry- or lemon-infused water (also available in the lobbies during the summer). While Sharma notes that soft-drink sales have not fizzled, they have levelled off. The same is said to be true of “comfort foods” such as fries or pasta. “These options will never be eliminated from the restaurant menu,” he says. “But it is our responsibility to at least offer healthy alternatives.” For example, fewer guests may order pasta entrées these days, but whole-grain pastas are still readily available as an alternative to traditional noodles.

While comfort foods may have fallen out of favour, Delta’s Barone has noticed customers are making a connection between fermented foods, good digestion and optimal health. The hotel’s breakfast buffets feature kimchi, the popular Korean dish of fermented, spicy cabbage and Yakult, a probiotic dairy product from Japan made with skim milk and a special digestive bacteria. “You wouldn’t believe how popular [it is],” he adds. Fermented foods and probiotics both contain the immune-boosting bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus. “Korean and Japanese cultures have been consuming fermented foods for centuries,” notes Barone. “Our culinary habits have become more international in this global age where guests are more open to trying foods from other cultures.”

Ultimately, although today’s discerning young business traveller may often expect customizable, smart diet options, a hotel menu should embody a combination of healthy and indulgent food to appeal to all tastes. “You have to be prepared for any type of guest in any type of mood,” laughs Barone. “If you have a regular business traveller, chances are he or she will try to maintain their healthy diet when dining at a hotel. However, if a guest is on a vacation, chances are they will want to indulge in something special. They won’t necessarily be counting calories in that case.”

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