MARRIOTT HOTELS has overhauled its menus in a bid to source sustainable, local food. Footprint finds out how the new scheme came about and what menu challenges lie ahead.
Sourcing local produce is a fine idea, but it’s not always easy. Many hospitality businesses are put off by the thought of dealing with numerous suppliers. They fear menus will be beholden to erratic supplies. And there’s the chance that supplies will run out and customers will go away disappointed.
But none of this has stopped Marriott Hotels. The group, which runs 50 hotels in the UK, has teamed up with River Cottage to overhaul its food sourcing policies and introduce a strict manifesto for procurement.
No longer will there be morning calls to centralised suppliers or quarterly menu changes. Instead, chefs will be donning their wellingtons and working principally with suppliers in a 60-mile radius. They’ll also have to change their menus daily.
“Procurement requires organisation, but this takes it to another level,” says Sean Kelly, the senior executive chef (Europe) for Marriott. “The new manifesto means that our suppliers have to be ready for us and we have to communicate with them.”
This idea has created “a buzz” rather than a headache, says Kelly, who has been overseeing pilots in Cardiff and West Yorkshire. Staff have been trained by local food experts at the River Cottage chefs’ school, gaining City & Guilds certificates in everythingfromprocurementtonutritionand even butchery. “They’ll need to know how to make the best use of everything they have,” explains Kelly.
Chefs will have to think a few weeks ahead when it comes to sourcing and be prepared to adapt quickly when certain supplies run out. This shouldn’t be an issue, says Kelly, with front-of-house staff also trained in the new philosophy. But could availability create a problem for customers?
“If I went into a restaurant and they’d run out of pork side because it was so popular, but was offered organic lamb instead, I would love it because I’d think these guys are ‘on it’,” Kelly says. “What we’re doing excites me as a chef and it would interest me as a customer.”
Transparency and provenance are hot topics – especially regarding meat, with a third of consumers buying less after the horse meat scandal (see page 6 November issue of Footprint). Marriott’s initiative is in response to this, and the manifesto also includes a commitment to ensure all meat in restaurants will be organic, while all chicken will be free range.
This is also a big move for River Cottage. “We get approached fairly frequently about brand partnerships,” explains Chris Griffin, the head of education, “but this is the first time we’ve got so heavily involved with a business.”
Success will depend on the relationships that Marriott’s chefs build with suppliers, he adds. “They’ll need to know their names, the feed the animals get, when they’re going to be slaughtered. This was very new to the chefs we worked with” during the trials. “The move from quarterly to daily menus is also a massive step.”
A bank of dishes has been built during the trials, with the menus and manifesto now in place at Hollins Hall in West Yorkshire and Cardiff Marriott. The plan is to roll it out further – but only if the manifesto can be satisfied. This will see chefs working with up to a dozen new local suppliers in each location. “The great thing is that these suppliers will want to come and talk to the chefs about their systems and their produce,” says Griffin.
Check out a video of the partnership on the Footprint website