Unlike fad diets, the trans fat-cutting craze sweeping the country won’t go out of fashion.
Entire cities, restaurants and, now, hospitality companies are moving en masse to cut trans fat from their food and beverage menus in a move to promote healthier living. As a planner, this can mean good things for attendees at your next meeting, who may become more productive, alert, happier—and most certainly healthier—after consuming trans fat-free food and drink.
Acording to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), trans fat is made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, a process call hydrogenation that increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods. It can be found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods and other foods made with, or fried in, partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fat raises cholesterol levels, and high levels of consumption are directly linked to heart disease. The FDA estimates the average American eats 4.7 pounds of trans fats yearly.
To help battle this problem, companies such as Loews, Omni, Starwood, Carlson Hotels, Red Lion Hotels—even Carnival Cruises—have decided to make significant changes when it comes to trans fat in the food and drink they offer at their properties. Manhattan-based Loews was one of the first to make the move after New York City banned trans fat from all menus in December 2006. The ruling there barred restaurants from using most frying oils containing the artificial trans fats by July 2007 and trans fats from all foods by July 2008. Loews decided to adopt the policy as well. “We wanted to set the standard,” says Emily Goldfischer, vice president of public relations. “We are committed to giving our guests the best foods available.”
According to Dianne B. Devitt, CMP, of The DND Group in New York City, “Cutting trans fats and cooking purely, wholesomely and healthy is just good. What we eat, when we eat, and how we eat affects us physically, mentally and intellectually, impacting our ability to focus, our personalities and our moods.”
Among the hotel brands making the anti-trans fat move are:
Loews Hotels has outlawed the use of artificial trans fats from fare in its restaurants and shops, as well as in guest room mini-bars, which will now feature items like Sunchips, Baked Lay’s and Power Bars. All 18 Loews properties in North America began following the new restrictions in June.
Starting last March, all Omni Hotels transitioned to a cooking oil that contains zero grams of trans fat. The new oil, a combination of cottonseed and canola oil, replaced the partially hydrogenated oil formerly in use. “We sought a solution for our valued guests that balances their dietary considerations with the high culinary standards they expect from a luxury hotel,” says Fernando Salazar, vice president of food and beverage. “We have been testing alternative oils since fall 2006, and are confident we have found the right replacement to meet consumer health needs and taste demands.”
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide plans to eliminate all artificial trans fats from the food and beverage operations at its more than 400 hotels in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean by the end of this year. This includes food served at restaurants, banquets, catered events, room service, bars and lounges. Starwood’s efforts to eliminate artificial trans fats in its food service are a result of a two-year process at its hotels in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean, including Sheraton, Westin, Four Points by Sheraton, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, Le Meridien and W properties.
Carlson Hotels is planning to eliminate the use of shortening containing trans fats in food preparation at the majority of its hotels by the end of 2007, as well. This includes around 625 of the company’s Radisson Hotels & Resorts, Park Plaza Hotels & Resorts, Country Inns & Suites By Carlson and Park Inn.
Red Lion Hotels Corporation, a network comprised of 57 hotels located in eight states and one Canadian province, has converted all menu items at participating Red Lion restaurants, lounges and banquet facilities into zero trans fat selections. “This is in line with Red Lion’s philosophy of providing guests with high-quality service and creating a comfortable and healthy experience during their stay with us,” says Matt Engels, vice president of operations.
- Carnival Cruises plans to transition all of its pastries, buns, cheeses and dessert icings to trans fat-free this year. The cruise line already removed trans fats from its other menu items beginning in 2005.
According to officials at nearly all of the corporations, the health and well-being of guests was at the core of the changes. “We are committed to offering our guests healthier options when they travel,” says Paul Scott, vice president, food and beverage, North America for Starwood Hotels.
For meeting-goers, trans fat-free foods—as well as healthier dining options in general—lead to more productive meetings, which is why many planners are flocking to the properties making these healthy efforts. “The residual effects of planning meetings with ‘smart’ menus are self-evident,” says Devitt, of The DND Group. “A balanced breakfast will last until lunch. A balanced lunch will last until dinner, and so on.”
Plus, the take-home benefits of healthy eating during meetings could pay off back at home for both you and your clients. Says Caryn Kboudi, vice president of corporate communications for Omni Hotels, “Letting them know that trans fat-free doesn’t mean that the taste is impacted could change the way they cook at home.” Now that’s a parting gift your attendees won’t soon forget.
Julie Keller is editor-in-chief of American Spa, an award-winning magazine that reports on the national and international spa marketplace.