Urban hotels that use rooftop gardens for fresh herbs and greens are dependent on the weather, just as on-site produce production at hotels in more pastoral settings may live or die based on rain or drought, and can also be a heady responsibility for an extremely busy food and beverage staff to manage.
But the technology of hydroponics has provided the hotel industry with. an indoor homegrown alternative to traditional gardening, usable in any climate in any part of the world. the Ritz-Carlton Jumeirah Beach Residence in Dubai and Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, for instance, uses hydroponics to grow in-house crops of kale, basil, lettuce, thyme, and rosemary. Hydroponic “vertical farming” is easier to control, adds an aesthetic touch to a hotel’s public space, and complements the food and beverage of hotels of any service level.
Here are four considerations when contemplating whether to incorporate a hydroponic garden at a hotel property.
Hydroponic growing is sustainable—with positive vibes
With a negligible carbon footprint, hydroponic hotels make sense for green-friendly hotels. The greens and produce they supply add fresh flavor to food and beverage and can add a feeling of personalization to the guest experience.
JW Marriott hotels around the world each have their own JW Garden, inspired by the brand
founder J.Willard Marriott’s wife, Alice Marriott, and her love of gardening. Bruce Rohr, vice president and global brand leader with JW Marriott, said that the brand’s full-service properties benefit from the gardens in a couple of ways. Firstly, the gardens are “serene sanctuaries” that align with the brand’s state commitment to wellbeing and mindfulness, but many are functional gardens that grow fresh herbs and produce.
“The newly opened JW Marriott Dallas Arts District is home to a hydroponic garden in their full-service restaurant, Margaret’s,” Rohr said. “The team uses the garden to garnish many of their dishes and cocktails.”
Element Hotels has placed focus on eco-friendly sustainability since its launch in 2008, claiming to be the first hotel brand to require properties to have LEED certification. They also implement bulk amenities to reduce waste, use filtered water to cut down on bottles in landfills, require low-flow water features to reduce potable water usage, require EV charging stations as a brand standard, and integrate eco-friendly materials and practices into hotel design in a variety of ways, such as using recycled materials in furnishings, decor, paints, lighting, and fixtures.
In line with those efforts, Element introduced its Lettuce Grow Farmstand concept, which yields the same amount of produce as a 40-square-foot farm, eliminates waste and reduces CO2 emissions and water use by more than 98 percent, according to Element’s announcement when the program launched in late 2022.
“Incorporating the Lettuce Grow Farmstand into our public spaces is a great sustainable initiative that has become a focal point in each hotel,” Marlon A. White, global brand leader with Element Hotels said.
Hydroponic gardens aren’t just for luxury hotels
Element Hotels do not have full-service restaurants; instead, they feature a kitchen in each room for extended-stay guests. Rather than just feature a lobby pantry of packaged retail foods, Element has implemented the Farmstands—from which guests can harvest six to eight varieties of leafy greens and herbs—at select properties. The size of each garden ranges, but most have a diminutive footprint of approximately four feet, which is a plus for limited-service concepts.
“These hydroponic gardens are strategically positioned in public spaces throughout the hotel, such as the lobbies, to be accessible to everyone,” Whyte said. “We want all our guests to have access to fresh herbs, lettuces, and other produce. It is a great way for guests to keep up with their healthy habits on the road.”
Element collaborated with Chef Sammy Monsour, who crafted several healthy recipes for guests to cook that incorporate some of the ingredients from the Farmstands, such as chimichurri featuring blue kale and coconut-ginger-braised greens featuring Swiss chard, bok choy and other produce.
The food and beverage team at each hotel also uses items grown in the garden for in Element’s complementary Rise breakfast, as well as in cocktails for the Relax evening receptions at select hotels, which Whyte said has resonated with guests.
The gardens are healthy eye candy
When guests can see hydroponic gardens, their curiosity is heightened. The gardens are a living, breathing marketing tool for the hotel’s food and beverage services, as well as its commitment to sustainability.
“The Lettuce Grow Farmstands serve as a great reminder of the flexibility of cooking or hosting in our Studio Commons offering—a new room concept that adds residential shared space including a kitchen, dining area, and living room surrounded by adjoining, private guest rooms,” Whyte said.
Staff commitment is critical
In deciding whether to utilize a hydroponic garden, a key factor for success is the enthusiasm and passion of the hotel’s staff. Vertical farms have fewer challenges than outdoor gardens, but they still require careful attention.
“Maintenance is important, so it’s vital that the hydroponic gardens receive the same care and attention that one would give to a personal home garden,” Whyte said. “The associates at Element take pride in caring for these gardens.”