Room Service Makeover: The Healthy Hotel Revolution

These healthy options beat eating from the minibar in your hotel robe.
Oh, what to do when, at 11:30 p.m., in both a famished and weary state, you return to your hotel and discover that ordering a black bean burger via room service will take 45 minutes? One glance at the won't-save-you-either minibar reveals nothing more redeemable than a $10 container of Pringles. A vending machine, of course, would instantly sate those late-night cravings. But do you really want your impromptu dinner to be comprised of a decidedly bad-for-you bag of chocolate chip cookies?

Thanks to college student Anjana Kallarackal, nutritious (and delicious) grub is available 'round the clock at the Chicago Marriott O'Hare. The forward-thinking Georgia Tech grad dreamed up the hard-to-believe-it’s-not-yet-been-implemented idea of the Healthy Vending Machine, and it led her to win the grand prize in Marriott's Travel Brilliantly Co-Creation Program. Through the online platform TravelBrilliantly.com, Marriott entertained hundreds of submissions from entrepreneurial-minded travelers hoping to inspire innovations for the hotel brand.

That Kallarackal's proposal was deemed the winner is not surprising. Today's time-pressed travelers may not have an hour for a nourishing sit-down meal, but it's clear they neither want to shovel in unfulfilling fast food nor settle for a bowl of drab, underdressed lettuce. Hotel chains, in an effort to keep guests happy — and on the premises — are turning to more wholesome, energizing options.

Consider Herb N’ Kitchen, at the New York Hilton Midtown. From this lobby market, guests can savor multigrain porridge alongside their Americano from the Barista Zone, or they can order a Mediterranean chopped salad, strewn with feta and Kalamata olives, directly to their room. Likewise, Westin Hotels and Resorts' Well-Being Movement encompasses antioxidant-laden SuperFood Rx meals. The stress of eating poorly is eliminated through vibrant dishes like blueberry and orange granola pancakes and chipotle chicken tacos.

Marriott's inaugural, void-filling kiosk, then — in the midst of a five-month test run — is yet another way of targeting health-conscious guests. In partnership with Chicago-based startup Farmer's Fridge, the stylish, reclaimed wood-clad vending machine is stocked with salads and snacks made with local and organic produce. Far more alluring than any sugary candy bar is the cider vinegar- and lemon-dressed Detox Salad, with kale, quinoa, sprouts, fennel and white beans, which can be plumped up with chunks of antibiotic-free lemon pepper chicken. Or instead of grabbing a hefty on-the-go muffin, kick the day off with a low-fat Greek yogurt swirled with mixed berries and local honey.

While other kiosks have no shame dispensing sad, squished sandwiches, freshness is a priority of Farmer’s Fridge — everything is made from scratch in the morning, and anything unsold is donated to a food pantry that evening — which cleverly layers all ingredients in recyclable glass jars that simplify eating on the run.

Mindful dining is echoed at EVEN Hotels, the burgeoning wellness-inspired chain from InterContinental Hotels Group. The current locations, in Rockville, Md., and Norwalk, Conn., are home to the restaurant Cork & Kale. Here, smoothies (pictured above) incorporate the likes of almond milk, Greek yogurt and peanut butter, and dinner revolves around warm grilled chicken boards paired with yogurt-laced quinoa. Nutritious “Go” boxes can also be ordered in advance of, say, a long flight. Clearly, the days of insipid room-service omelets are numbered. (Insert cheers and applause here!)

Alia Akkam is a New York-based writer who covers the intersection of food, drink, travel and design. She launched her career by opening boxes of Jamie Oliver books as a Food Network intern.

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