A Break for the Better

The Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach’s healthy bent looks past the planner to the attendee.

Executive Chef Manfred Lassahn is adept at anticipating guests’ needs, substituting good fats for bad. For example, he replaced his signature banana-walnut bread and chocolate chip cookies with “avocana bread,” a shortbread made with avocado pulp.

Some of Executive Chef Manfred Lassahn’s inspiration for healthier breakfast options at the Watertable restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa in Huntington Beach, California [see our feature on his innovative breakfast concepts] originated in the banquet arena as the team fielded requests from sports and swim apparel groups for morning-break healthy options such as açaí and make-your-own quinoa bowls. Lassahn also learned about vegan needs while hosting a 1,500-strong group from the Humane Society in Los Angeles, spurring his research for a tasteful, great-tasting menu. He even sources gluten-free baked items to prevent cross-contamination.

“Groups can’t believe that our banquet menu has so many healthy and special-request options, which has evolved over a long period of time,” Lassahn notes. “We make our own vegan cheeses inhouse out of cashew and macadamia nuts, and we have a lot of gluten-free breakfast options as well, from orange polenta as a warm breakfast cereal to dried fruit poached in green tea.”

“We’ve found there are so many dietary needs,” says Senior Director of Events Nancy Monte-Frye, “so having these available makes it so much easier for the planner as well.”
“We’ve found there are so many dietary needs,” says Senior Director of Events Nancy Monte-Frye, “so having these available makes it so much easier for the planner as well.”

Meanwhile, Nancy Monte-Frye, senior director of events, has noted an uptick in special requests for groups—10% to 15% of attendees for gluten-free alone. She estimates planners have special requests for 50 to 75 people of 500. “For years, we’ve concentrated on pleasing the meeting planner, but now we’re trying to find out what the attendees want,” Monte-Frye says.

Everything is labeled to remove guest guesswork, and having event sales staff on board and ready to accommodate special requests is another key element.

“We do so much customizing here; the chef is very involved, but once the planner meets him and he can talk through the menu, it changes everything,” Monte-Frye says. “He works with managers on menus for those special needs, and having him there makes a difference.”

Scores from attendees are excellent; skyrocketing group satisfaction ranks in the top three among Hyatt Regency properties. But meeting healthy demands doesn’t stop at breakfast or lunch. The resort recently launched an afternoon break with savory yogurt items, while a “not-so-ancient grain dessert” break features carrot-quinoa cupcakes, chia seed parfaits, chocolate quinoa cookies, and amaranth smoothies.

“It’s not just for meal periods; we incorporate everything into breaks,” Lassahn notes. “We’re also very thoughtful about where we put what, morning or afternoon—whether groups are gearing up or winding down their day.”

Tracy Morin, based in Oxford, Mississippi, is a veteran writer in the foodservice industry.

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