According to the Pew Research Center, millennials are expected to overtake baby boomers in the U.S. population in 2019.[1] As a result, food and beverage trends will evolve at a pace that has not been seen in decades. Whereas baby boomers want traditional and recognizable food and venues, millennials are seeking the adventurous and experiential while demanding affordable, healthy, and local food choices.[2]

In response to this massive purchasing clout, the restaurant industry is innovating at a record pace in terms of menu choices and business models. This puts a strain on food safety management systems, as new risks must be assessed and interventions implemented in a large organization. Marriott International’s global food safety team is not immune to these growing pains. We realize that innovation must be done responsibly to protect public health. 

Our Legacy
Since its founding in 1927 and the first Hot Shoppes chain, Marriott International has aggressively pursued food safety methods, which established a strong food safety culture. These early restaurants pioneered daily employee “stand up meetings,” in which topics of safe food and personal hygiene were discussed. Food safety and taking care of the employee were early core values in the company. The founder, John Willard (JW) Marriott, understood that to achieve success, he would have to establish trust among his customers by establishing an inherent understanding that his food and beverages were safe and of the highest quality. The Hot Shoppes restaurant concept had to learn to manage the potential risks associated with made-from-scratch food production. The fledgling company experimented with food choices, with input from repeat diners, while maintaining a focus on food safety. Early recipe cards included safe food handling procedures.

Fast-forward to the 1990s when Marriott established its own food distribution system—Marriott Distribution Services (MDS). MDS had 13 facilities in the U.S., which performed broad-line distribution for all of Marriott’s foodservice operations, and in 2000, it was awarded the distribution contract for Darden Restaurants. In 2001, Marriott, together with Hyatt, ClubCorp, and Fairmont, launched a procurement company called Avendra to serve the U.S. hospitality market.[3] The result was improved operational performance for hotels by reducing the burden of vendor management, while bringing guests more innovative food choices.

Both MDS and Avendra had robust and comprehensive food safety management systems that included vendor vetting, supply chain management, and hotel-specific Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures. When MDS was sold in 2002, their food safety management system standards were required to be adopted in Marriott’s agreements with new broad-line distributors. Marriott’s share in Avendra was sold to Aramark in 2017.[4] Avendra’s highly skilled quality assurance team continues to evolve as a crucial part of Aramark’s food safety prowess. Aramark has dedicated food safety supervision on-site, serving nearly 2 billion meals every year globally.

Today, Marriott International has a mature food safety culture and is now the largest hotel company in the world.[5] Marriott delivers safe, high-quality food under its 30 brands in over 10,000 restaurants, 6,500 hotels, and countless meetings and events around the world. Marriott’s global food safety team continues the values of its founder by ensuring “best in class” food safety standards and prescriptive protocols. Our culinary team is diligent in seeking out our guests’ food and beverage preferences, evolving our understanding of behaviors and beliefs that influence food choices in today’s markets.

Today’s Customers
Our current focus is, of course, millennials, as they are now the spotlight generation. Demographers define millennials as those born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s to early 2000s. We know that millennials are today’s trendsetters, which means that whatever is trending in food and beverages, it cannot trend without them. Millennials see food as an adventure. They don’t observe traditional meal periods, so foods that were once exclusively for breakfast are now in demand late at night. And fresh foods must be available on demand, anytime. Millennials graze instead of eating large meals. More than any other generation, millennials are more savvy in understanding menu verbiage. French cooking technique terminology is one example. The same can be said for their recognition of nonmainstream fruits, herbs, and vegetables, as well as ethnic spice blends. They help us market and spread the word of a hotel restaurant’s innovative offerings through social media.

Plant-based diets are increasingly popular among this demographic, and Marriott expects this trend to gain greater traction in the future. For hamburgers, it’s not just ground chuck anymore. Beef primals like flank, brisket, and short loin are ground and combined to produce a more flavorful burger. These new cuts of meat and processing techniques raise the risk of contamination. Marriott’s brand standard mandates that all finished ground beef be tested for pathogens using a “test and hold” protocol. Our vendors are held to this standard, and quarterly laboratory analysis must be relayed to the global food safety team. This has proven to be a highly effective method of maintaining food safety standards.

The latest report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture surveyed millennials’ food-buying habits.[6] This younger generation is buying a lot more prepared food, and the wealthier a household becomes, the less food is eaten at home. According to this report, millennials eat in a restaurant or bar around 30 percent more than any of the older generations. This is good news for hotel restaurants.

Are There Effects on Food Safety?
The very popular restaurant Courtyard Bistro is an example of a restaurant concept that is hyperfocused on the modern customer’s tastes. There is an ongoing cadence of menu updates to this brand’s food and beverage offerings. This concept provides fresh and healthy choices for travelers and locals alike. Marriott International’s 29 other brands are also keenly aware that millennials will make up over half of their in-house guest population by 2020. New brands like AC Hotels by Marriott and Moxy are designed to cater to this demographic. Both food and beverage concepts are designed to be bespoke and customizable, while telling a story with the menu.

The reinvented Aloft brand features an innovative “Breakfast Pots” concept as part of the food and beverage strategy called Re F–uel, which allows guests to easily order their meals from a kiosk.[7] Millennials are looking for a frictionless experience, one that enables them to quickly get on with their day. Re F–uel’s Breakfast Pots are customized creations that are both trendy and portable, with unique flavor profiles. This is a welcome change from the traditional breakfast buffet-style outlets of many competitors.

From a food safety perspective, the concept features items that are made quickly in fast-cooking, state-of-the-art ovens. No hot food is held, and cold food components are used in multiple recipes, which reduces inventory. This concept not only exceeds guests’ expectations but also allows operators to focus on a limited number of Critical Control Points (CCPs) that can easily be monitored and documented.

The business model for select service hotels features generalists who multi-task, performing both front- and back-of-the-house functions. It is therefore crucial that this type of employee be food safety trained and able to operate in an efficient and unencumbered manner which maximizes their time, while ensuring comprehension. Food safety training for associates in these brands is typically via online classes. Distance learning is becoming much more widely used, and certifications and on-property food safety tools are increasingly automated. The Marriott culinary team develops these fresh choices but also collaborates with specialized vendors who provide innovative food choices.

The global food safety team has input into issues such as shelf life, critical limits for cooking and reheating, food allergens, nutrient content, and other intrinsic risk factors. These new concepts create new issues in the areas of product packaging and meeting U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeling requirements. The team also provides guidelines and resources to hotels that do things such as package their own food or press fresh juices. Additionally, ingredients must comply with the company’s stated animal welfare and “clean label” commitment goals. Providing cage-free eggs, meeting trans fat prohibition regulations, and identifying genetically modified ingredients in jurisdictions that have these laws are some of the many efforts that occur behind the scenes when developing new food and beverage offerings.

We must first be satisfied that products are safe as presented, stored, and prepared. Operators are then trained to ensure a sound food safety management system that covers:

•    Retail items

•    Fresh packaged food and drinks

•    Fresh-made items

•    Prepared, cooled, and reheated sandwiches

Marriott believes that its model of food and beverage offerings that are nutritious, trendy, and always accessible is not a fad.

The millennial demographic is also driving trends in experiential dining. Brands like Residence Inn offer an evening social program called The Residence Inn Mix. Designed to appeal to millennial travelers, part of this engaging experience is food trucks. Guests can get a sense of exciting local food choices in a casual atmosphere.

Residence Inn has also been identified by the food allergen community as a destination for families with food-allergic travelers, including children with life-threatening issues.[8] Marriott’s cleaning and sanitizing standards ensure that in-room hotel kitchens have safe utensils and cooking equipment. We audit extended-stay hotels for standards as well.

A Closer Look at Full-Service Hotels
A food trends survey conducted in 2018 by the National Restaurant Association identified the “hyperlocal” concept as the number one trend that chefs nationwide will be exploring.[9] Hyperlocal is a concept that includes growing produce on the premises in rooftop gardens or indoor vertical farming, or producing foods that are traditionally manufactured in a commercial facility. Marriott’s food and beverage operators are also focusing on this trend, driven by millennials’ demand for variety and their distrust of factory farms. Chef’s gardens allow hotels to bring novel produce and vegetables into the restaurant that would not normally be served by their competitors and are not available through normal produce distibutors.

All these innovative practices must have prescriptive guidelines developed and communicated to hotel operators to ensure brand protection by mitigating unsafe practices that can lead to foodborne illness. Some of these practices that particularly appeal to millenials include the following:

•    Growing vegetables

•    Raising food animals

•    Brewing beer

•    Fermenting meat (charcuterie)

•    Producing probiotic-type beverages

•    Beekeeping (for honey)

•    Generating water

•    Aging meat

•    Distilling beverages

•    Producing cold-pressed juices

Resources including Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan templates and other best practices are made available to hotels via Marriott’s intranet. Many times, these innovative chefs employ food safety methodologies that far exceed local jurisdictional requirements.

As our full-service North American hotels continue to push the envelope on nontraditional food production and procurement, expanded preventive controls are being initiated in the U.S. as they are in other parts of the world. Our hotels overseas are seeing increased local jurisdictional requirements in food safety that go above and beyond FDA Food Code guidelines. In China, for instance, all our hotels must have a hygiene manager by law. Throughout Asia, the EU, and the Middle East, random food sample analysis and environmental sampling are routine. Food handler vaccinations and routine stool testing are common outside of the U.S. Some of these additional prerequisite programs are added to high-risk hotels’ HACCP plans in the U.S. as proactive interventions.

Executive chefs are increasingly becoming more educated and competent in developing Good Agricultural Practices plans on their own, taking responsibility for measures to address the risks of growing their own produce. The global food safety team continuously tries to identify risks associated with these emerging practices and provide solutions. There are many anecdotes in which local food safety regulations have evolved after learning of these specialized activities. Hotel HACCP plans are shared with and often adopted by city, county, and state environmental health specialists as best practices.

The global food safety team mandates that each food handler has food safety training and that each food manager obtains an American National Standards Institute-accredited food safety certification. In addition to food handlers and food managers, general managers and assistant general managers, as well as hotel engineers, are required to take food safety training. All those who prepare food, work on equipment, purchase food, or manage those who do these jobs must have a good understanding of the risks associated with foodservice. These stakeholders are trained to not only prevent foodborne illnesses but also how to identify guests who may bring in prolific infections like norovirus. As some of these pathogens can be transmitted from person to person, nonfoodborne prevention measures also must be followed.

In-house guests present a much more significant risk than transient customers in freestanding restaurants. This captured population utilizes in-room dining, transports food throughout the property, and stores leftovers in minibars. Contagious infections can be transmitted to other guests by way of casual common-room contact or in hotel events and meetings.

Through the protocols authored by the global food safety team, hotels are guided through the prevention, management, and remediation of gastrointestinal outbreaks among guests and associates. Comprehensive cleaning and sanitizing protocols must be developed and deployed that include mandated disinfection products along with strict restriction/exclusion guidelines for ill food handlers.

Food allergy/food intolerance training is also required for all food managers in response to our guests with special dietary needs. There must be an emphasis on knowing ingredients that go into menu selections and how to prevent cross-contact. Our third-party brand standards audit ensures that hotels are complying with these training requirements.

Through social media, guests can call out improper food handling or unsanitary conditions in restaurants, frequently in real time. Millennials account for most of these postings. It is important for our hotel teams not to become defensive toward or dismissive of these observations, regardless of their validity. By using social media comments as a vehicle to increase food safety awareness and identify additional training needs, our operations become safer.

As the hotel workforce continues to evolve, and newer branded hotels are staffed with younger people, antiquated CCPs and manual monitoring methods are increasingly questioned. Millennials have grown up with apps that assist in everyday life, and having to handwrite temperature logs is not intuitive for them. The goal of the global food safety team has been and will continue to be the automation of all monitoring and verification processes. We are converting many hotels to electronic monitoring with the help of younger associates. Seamless adoption of new technology must be the new norm in hotel environments, as we continue to leverage the Internet of Things, finding cloud-based solutions for training, supply chain intelligence, and HACCP monitoring. This ensures accuracy and continuity and demonstrates our due diligence in active managerial control. 

Public Trust
Group meeting planners, tour operators, and others who bring in blocs of constituents are increasingly asking what food safety controls are in place. Food waste protocols and food sustainability issues rank second and third. As more and more sensational headlines concerning foodborne outbreaks in popular restaurants occur, Marriott remains steadfastly determined to mitigate the risks associated with these new and innovative foods, procurement methods, and production techniques.

A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recently simulated a number of types of restaurant outbreaks, using common causes like norovirus, Escherichia coli, and Salmonella.[10] They sought to determine how each would financially impact various restaurant categories. Depending on factors like outbreak severity, fines, lawsuits, legal fees, and number of employees affected, full-table-service restaurants, like many hotels, would be financially devastated by a single outbreak. The cost of such an outbreak can range between $8,030 and $2.2 million. Upscale restaurants would see a cost between $8,273 and $2.6 million.

Many food and beverage operations have made the fatal mistake of putting profit above safety. By accepting complacency instead of striving for excellence, they fail to continuously evolve in addressing emerging risks. Marriott’s core values dictate that our hotels improve the communities that we do business in. There is research that shows millennials want to make the world a better place as well. We realize that this generation has actually helped us improve food safety and protect public health by challenging us to continuously improve our methods so they can be proud to work, eat, drink, and thrive in Marriott hotels. Together, we can uphold what our founder JW Marriott started, a vibrant culture of food safety wherein every associate is responsible for food protection and public safety.  

Douglas Davis, CP-FS, is the senior director, global food safety for Marriott International.