Ok, let's chat about that recent Wall Street Journal article entitled "The All-You-Can-Eat-Spa" with the subtitle, "Forget losing weight. Facing tougher times and changing diets, spas are dishing up burgers, brie—and a lot of fat." First, a few of my thoughts, then some comments from spas that shared with us their reaction to this article.
For those of you who didn't see the article, here is a quick summary. The writer, Pooja Bhatia, reported, "We went on an eating tour of some of the country's top spas—and tested the meals for fat and calorie counts at a lab." The Journal's goal was to see just how easy it would be to gain weight; to convince the staff to break the meal rules, and to find temptations nearby. The researchers visited: Guerney's Inn, The Spa at Norwich Inn, Doral Golf Resort and Spa, Spa Atlantis, Lake Austin Spa Resort, Miraval, Canyon Ranch, and Cal-a-Vie.
Their biggest discovery? "Just how fattening a lot of the stuff was—and how wrong the menu calorie counts were." Ms. Bhatia concluded that spas are serving more comfort food and that the key forces moving them in this direction are the industry's leaner revenues. They're responding to consumer demands. She acknowledged that in general, consumers' taste is trending toward less calorie-conscious cuisine.
On a positive note, it was good for consumers to become aware that there are a variety of spas to choose from nowadays and that their food and wine philosophies can differ. For those worried that they might starve at a spa—well, this article would dispel that concern.
On a more negative note, the implication that we are not accurately representing the caloric and fat content of the food we serve was unflattering. While the inaccuracies the Wall Street Journal discovered may not have been intentional, clearly we need to address them. The consumer has learned to look to us with trust for very important health and wellness guidance. We owe them accuracy, honesty and integrity in all aspects of our spa offerings, whether we're giving nutrition information about the foods we serve, explaining the benefits of our spa treatments, or recommending the ingredients in our skin care products.
Additionally I feel that the writer began her research with the preconceived idea that economic concerns are spurring spas to serve more indulgent food. However, as you will see below, none of the people from the spa industry with whom I spoke agreed with the author's premise, nor did Ms. Bhatia find anyone to interview who concurred with her conclusion.
When I contacted Daniel Chong-Jimenez, Executive Chef at The Spa at Norwich Inn, asking for his response, he sent me the following thoughts via email:
"I have noticed that there is a small, but vocal group of spa visitors who want to be constrained within specific food and exercise parameters; they are hoping to shed weight during their visit. I think that Ms. Bhatia (from the Wall Street Journal) belongs to this group...To me it seems that there is some confusion: spas are places for rest, healing and regeneration...As far as The Spa at Norwich Inn is concerned, we make no claim about lighter fare and weight loss, but rather stress the nourishing quality of our ingredients and the satisfying flavor of our food."
Malcolm Abrams, the editor in chief of SpaFinder Magazine, felt the Wall Street Journal article was important enough to address it in his upcoming August/September magazine directory issue. With his permission (thanks, Malcolm) I am going to share part of that interview with Chef Scott Uehlein from Canyon Ranch, Tucson.
Q. What do you think about the article?
Kathy Graham, the nutritionist at The Doral Golf Resort and Spa, recently issued a press release entitled, "Looking to Lose Ten Pounds in Ten Days? Then don't come to the Doral Golf Resort and Spa." She emphasized the Doral's focus on permanent lifestyle changes rather than a quick fix. Kathy went on to describe the resort's take home meal-planning program with email follow-ups designed to ensure weight loss success over time.
In conclusion, I think we should welcome the conversation that Pooja Bhatia began with her Wall Street Journal article. We need to reevaluate and examine our programs constantly as medical research and findings bring new light to the issues of disease and the ever-expanding epidemic of obesity. It may be time for us to do a better job of communicating the value of all aspects of the spa experience—not just weight loss. It may even be time for some of us to make some changes in our programs.
And finally, as an industry that is growing and touching more people all the time, we need to be prepared for an increase in scrutiny from reporters as well as consumers...something that can, in the long run, be a very good thing.
Till the next Insider...