The ongoing mainstreaming of ‘accommodation cuisine’

My wife is gluten intolerant. Because of unpleasant gastrointestinal experiences, she also avoids dairy and chicken eggs, and we strive to eat only organic and GMO-free products. Instead of the grocery produce aisle and the meat and fish counters, we rely on our local farmers market. When people say know where your food comes from, we pretty much also know by name the farmers, ranchers and fishmongers who feed us. Often, we know their children, too.

As much as we love trying new restaurants and learning about new food cultures when we travel, this has often been difficult in the past. If you’ve never tried, you would probably be surprised to see how challenging it can be to dine out without wheat, cheese, cream and eggs.

Oh, it’s possible. If all you have is a salad with maybe some chicken on top—and probably industrial chicken, at that. Asian is generally easier. Rice, which has no gluten, predominates. But watch out: Soy sauce is made with wheat, too.

The meetings world has certainly made strides to model what might be called “accommodation cuisine”: dining that accommodates dietary preferences and restrictions like gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, kosher and more. I will never forget being excited a few years ago while attending the annual gathering of a major meetings group when one lunch was proudly touted as being totally vegetarian. Oops. It could only be described as boring. Catering failed the test.

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We’ve Come a Long Way

All this is preamble to an observation: We’ve come a long, long way, baby. Perhaps you don’t realize how far—and what you can ask for, and expect, in menu planning for your events. In many ways and in many places, it’s easier than ever before to find accommodation cuisine.

Take Italy, for example. Who would have thought the land of pasta and pizza is even more attuned to “senza glutine” than we are in North America? Celiac disease, the truly serious condition where your immune system attacks your own tissues when you eat gluten, has been on the Italian radar since the 1970s, at least.

As a result, high-quality gluten-free versions of the Italian staples are easy to find in that nation’s restaurants and food stores. Diagnosed celiacs even get a monthly stipend from the national health system to cover the incremental added expense of gluten-free food.

In Spain, Senator Hotels & Resorts, with properties with plenty of meeting space in Madrid, Barcelona and nine other cities, serves only gluten-free food from its kitchens.

“The land of pasta and pizza is even more attuned to ‘senza glutine’ than we are in North America.”

In 15 cities across India, Marriott International this year introduced a specially curated organic vegan menu chosen by its chefs via a crowdsourcing contest. The menu can be ordered on Marriott Bonvoy on Wheels, the Marriott home delivery service.

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A Chef Challenge

Closer to home, several Hyatt properties including Grand Hyatt Kauai, Omni Hotels & Resorts and Canyon Ranch Spa (with locations in Tucson, Arizona; Lenox, Massachusetts; in The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas; and with “spa clubs” aboard several cruise ships) are among those to have made serious efforts to satisfy gluten-free guests. Interstate Hotels and Resorts (now part of Aimbridge Hospitality), which operates hundreds of hotels, introduced 27 vegetarian or vegan menu items for its properties a few years ago, citing demand from Millennials.

And all the restaurants at Wynn hotels in Las Vegas have long been known for their creative vegetarian options.

Anyone who has stopped by a renowned Erin McKenna’s Bakery in New York City, in the Los Angeles area, or in Orlando at Disney Springs knows that being strictly vegan and gluten-free in no way means sacrificing scrumptiousness.

Catering chefs love a challenge. So, the next time you are planning, give ‘em one: Make an entire menu of accommodation cuisine. And make it so good that no one notices.

This article appears in the May 2022 issue.