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10 Innovative Ways to Allow Health-Conscious Guests Enjoy a Guilt-free Stay (Southern Hospitality, Nov 2006)

If you travel frequently for any reason, you'll be pleased to know that you can enlist the help of hotel staff to keep extra pounds at bay. Read my piece in Southern Hospitality and take it on your next trip. The tips are for hotel owners, chefs and staff, but the list gives travelers a guide to healthful living away from home.

Here's the full article, for those who don't want to skip to the SH site:

10 Innovative Ways to Allow Health Conscious Guests Enjoy a Guilt-free Stay

As obesity rates rise in the United States (nearly 65% of the adult American population is now considered overweight), concern is growing over how to combat weight gain while away from home. Business travelers are often at the mercy of a lifestyle that reduces free time for exercise. Vacationers of any size worry about going away to rejuvenate, only to arrive home pounds heavier. The hospitality industry is taking notice, with exercise options and healthful menus that allow dieting visitors to feel pampered and non-dieting guests to feast guilt free. Luxury hotels often have more resources to spend on the thoughtful touches that can keep health conscious guests coming back, but smaller hotel chains and independent hoteliers can modify the following suggestions to suit their clientele and their budgets.

1. Stock the in-room honor bar with healthful snacks and water.
The Four Seasons Hotel in Atlanta removes typical snack foods and replaces them with Power Bars and water upon request. The Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation changes out the bar according to guest preferences or dietary needs, often for parents, children in tow, who ask that candy be removed and replaced with healthful, kid-friendly snacks.

2. Provide workout equipment for in-room use.
Many hotels provide exercise bands and DVDs for in-room workouts, but some hotels really go the extra mile (so to speak). The Westin Resort at Hilton Head Island, S.C., is one of several Westin properties that provide guests with the ability to choose a special WestinWORKOUT™ room, complete with an indoor cycle or treadmill. The rooms also come with Reebok Pilates and cycling DVDs, dumbbells, bottled water and even a small fitness library, including Bicycling and Runner’s World magazines and Runner’s World maps.

3. Provide personalized fitness training and information on local running routes.
According to Marsha Middleton, public relations director of the Four Seasons Atlanta, many business travelers take advantage of the hotel’s cadre of personal trainers. With an hour’s notice, a trainer can be available to assist a guest, either in the guest’s room or in the hotel’s health club. The Four Seasons also provides personal trainers to run with clients, helping guests maintain pace while discovering the city safely. At some Westin Hotels locations, a “Running Concierge” leads runs (or walks) that include a warm-up stretching session, complimentary bottled water and towel service. At the Westin Resort Hilton Head Island, guests can run or walk on a three- or five-mile scenic path around the resort, using maps provided by the hotel.

4. Offer alternative exercise or spa options tailored to your location.
The Four Seasons Palm Beach offers yoga on the beach and Pilates classes as well as other personalized fitness services year-round. At the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, guests can add yoga, stretching and relaxation classes to a more traditional workout, following up a personal training session or spa package with complimentary herbal tonics served every afternoon.

5. Accommodate allergy requests where possible.
Guests with special dietary restrictions are finding they no longer have to bring an entire pantry with them to prevent starvation on a trip away from home. According to Executive Chef Robert Gerstenecker of the Four Seasons Atlanta, “Allergy requests, such as peanut-free and gluten-free food, have blossomed in the last few years. As time goes on, people are figuring out what these allergies are and asking for help in dealing with them.” In response, he has created a gluten-free version of the Four Season’s celebrated afternoon tea at its Park 75 restaurant, offering gluten-free scones and pastries in addition to the traditional spread. Some of these are made from scratch, but Chef Gerstenecker also keeps gluten-free breads, including those made from rice flour, in his freezer.

6. Make lower-fat dining luxurious.
Executive Chef Scott Haegele of the Ritz-Carlton Lodge notes that lighter fare is becoming more popular than ever: “We don’t have an asterisk that identifies health food or spa cuisine per se. What we do have are healthful options. For example, in summer, we have more fish, lighter entrees, salads, coulis and lighter sauces overall.” In Atlanta, Chef Gerstenecker has followed the trend of using less butter and margarine than he used to. “I use more olive oil and canola oil in my cooking rather than butter, margarine or lard. The oil provides a cleaner flavor, and you can add a little butter at the end to finish the flavoring.” He also incorporates more vinaigrette into his salad dressings, creating emulsifications that “keep the creamy taste, but not the fat associated with it.”

7. Juice up the menu.
Chef Gerstenecker relies on subtle touches that work for dieters and non-dieters alike, and uses juices in his sauces and dressings to lighten up a plate without sacrificing flavor. “I sauce an ahi tuna dish with carrot juice, reduced, with olive oil and a little lime juice and ginger to bring out the flavor. I’d rather put a lot of flavor in the dish than just the fat component.” His oft-requested tomato vinaigrette is made from reduced tomato juice, with a little olive oil added to boost the flavor. “You’d be surprised at how creamy it can be without all the fat in there.” But he adds that the emphasis should be on achieving balance in the diet. “People are fat obsessed sometimes. We need fat in our diet—it’s important not to be extreme.”

8. Offer innovative beverages tailored to the menu.
In years past, guests who wanted “light” drinks were limited to garden-variety iced tea or diet soda. But many hotels and restaurants have begun offering a variety of drinks tailored to the setting or to the nightly menu itself. Vernona, the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota’s signature restaurant, offers a variety of specialty iced tea drinks, including the “Metabolic Frolic,” a Ceylon black tea with mango. The aptly named “Moment in the Sun” mixes green tea with passion fruit and other flavors to combat the Florida heat. And at the Ritz-Carlton Lodge, “peach-ade,” a blend of soda water, ginger ale and peach extract, is the perfect foil for Chef Haegele’s traditional Southern cuisine.

9. Use local ingredients in season.
Hotel restaurants often can find better produce by looking to nearby farms and suppliers, who can offer fruits and vegetables that have been naturally ripened in the field or orchard. Reduced travel times can also result in cheaper produce that arrives in better condition than produce grown and shipped across the country. In Sarasota, the Ritz-Carlton’s menu at Vernona changes often, in part because its commitment to all-organic ingredients means that Executive Chef Frederic Morineau buys produce from local and regional growers, according to what’s in season. At the Four Seasons Palm Beach, Executive Chef Hubert Des Marais serves Floribbean cuisine, a blend of local Floridian and Caribbean cultures, using native ingredients to create a menu that relies on regional fruits and vegetables in their prime. At the Ritz-Carlton Lodge’s Gaby’s by the Lake restaurant, Chef Haegele has a nightly change-up of suppliers, at least of fish, citing the restaurant’s slogan of “You catch it, we cook it. People fish in Lake Oconee and want to enjoy what they’ve caught that day or evening.”

10. Encourage guests to ask questions about special accommodations.
Chef Haegele encourages guests to let the hotel know if they have specific dining restrictions or desires. If given notice, he says, “I can sometimes buy special products, such as gluten-free bread. I’m here to take care of the guests.” At Park 75, Chef Gerstenecker does what he can to help guests follow diets or incorporate more of certain ingredients into a meal. “We get guests who are doing specific food diets: eight ounces of protein, four ounces of vegetables. We’ll weigh that out for them and help them in that respect. Often people feel uncomfortable that they’ll inconvenience the kitchen, but we try to help them out.”



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