It's no longer enough for hotels to offer vegetarian food options. Now their menus are going gluten-free, dairy-free and macrobiotic to cater to Americans' diets.
•Kimpton's Hotel Palomar San Francisco this month began offering gluten-free items, such as Glutino pretzel twists, in its minibars. Kimpton's Hotel Monaco in Portland, Ore., also has gluten-free items in its minibar.
•Fairmont Hotels & Resorts last year created a Lifestyle Cuisine Plus Menu for guests with diabetes, heart disease, gluten allergies and unique dietary preferences such as macrobiotic diets. This month, the company introduced a new children's menu with lower-calorie versions of favorites such as chicken fingers and kid-size portions of the Lifestyle menu.
•In September, Omni Hotels & Resorts introduced a gluten-free breakfast buffet section at all its properties after a survey of more than 200 business travelers found that 10% wanted dairy-free or gluten-free choices.
"Those special diets and their tastes have evolved," says Stephen Rosenstock, senior vice president of food and beverage for Omni. "It continues to be more prevalent today."
Food allergies affect about 5% of children and 4% of adults in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
"This is a subtle message that we are attentive to health issues," says Bjorn Hanson, dean of NYU's Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. "It brings with it an image that is very positive to the traveler, especially older travelers like Baby Boomers who are increasingly focused on health issues."
Hotels are paying special attention to the gluten-averse customer. About 3 million Americans have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that interferes with the digestion of gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. Experts say many more don't have the disease but still can't tolerate gluten.
There were $8.4 million in sales of gluten-free products last year among retailers that tracking firm Nielsen monitors nationwide.
"There is a much stronger effort and focus to call items out that are gluten-free," says Brad Nelson, corporate chef of Marriott International. Washington's Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, owned by Marriott, has a gluten-free tea catering menu.
For years, even when Ethan Keogh, an actor in Santa Monica, Calif., told chefs he had celiac disease, his food would appear with bread or some other gluten-rich item. "I was afraid to go out," he says.
He resorted to ordering steamed meat with a baked potato. Then last year, Catch, the restaurant at Casa del Mar, a Santa Monica hotel, introduced a gluten-free cocktail and food menu. Keogh has become a regular. Now he can order the striped bass and chorizo without fear.
By Nancy Trejos, USA TODAY
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