Ritz-Carlton to offer kosher catering at U.S., Caribbean hotels

By Danny King

The BeachHouse at the Ritz-Carlton Naples in FloridaRitz-Carlton will start offering authentic kosher catering at nine of its U.S. properties and at two Caribbean hotels, marking what may be the broadest-scale expansion yet of that service among a single domestic hotel brand.

Marriott International's luxury brand is offering kosher catering at a half-dozen Florida properties as well as two in Atlanta, hotels in the Cayman Islands and Puerto Rico and at New York's Ritz-Carlton Battery Park. Ritz-Carlton has brought on Brooklyn-based consultant MD Destinations to oversee the effort, which includes ensuring that catering menus, food sourcing and kitchen preparation meet kosher standards.

"We did see an increasing demand in requests for this type of service," said Patricia Murphy, director of catering at Florida's Ritz-Carlton Naples. "We're always looking to be on the cutting edge, and we really think this is something we can offer uniquely."

The hotelier is responding to steadily growing demand from clients looking to eat exclusively kosher. Brandeis University's Steinhardt Social Research Institute last year estimated the U.S. Jewish population at about 6.8 million people. While the number of American Jews who keep kosher isn't widely tracked, a Pew Research study from last year indicated that about 28% of American Jews pegged themselves as either conservative or orthodox, implying that about 2 million American Jews are of the more devout variety and are most likely to keep kosher.

Panzanella saladAnd according to Lubicom Marketing Consulting, as many as an additional 5 million Americans eat kosher either to adhere to other religions such as Islam or for health reasons. That company pegged total annual kosher food sales at about $12.5 billion, while other analysts estimate that kosher food sales are growing at about 15% a year.

The offering of authentic kosher catering at hotels is nothing new, especially through luxury or upper-upscale hotels. Fairmont Hotels has been at the forefront, with Boston's Fairmont Copley Plaza having offered the service since its 1912 opening and Fairmont Dallas having done the same for more than two decades. The Fairmont Dallas hosts about one kosher event per month, while the Fairmont Copley Plaza handles three to five events a year.

Hilton Worldwide's Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix has offered kosher catering, complete with on-site rabbinical supervision, for more than 15 years and serves about a half-dozen kosher events a year. And Luxe Hotels' three Los Angeles-area properties collectively host about 60 kosher events annually, while the Grand Hyatt Denver also offers the service.

Still, the Ritz-Carlton initiative is notable since the nine U.S. hotels involved account for almost a quarter of its 39 U.S. properties.

Either way, the process of "kosherizing" a catering facility is fairly extensive. In addition to the better-known kosher dietary laws such as no pork products or the separation of meat and dairy, all food must be sourced from vendors who abide by kosher practices.

Additionally, there's the on-site preparation. This means keeping separate plate ware that can only be used for kosher events. It also involves cleansing of both kitchen appliances such as ovens, surfaces, dishwashers and silverware at the highest possible temperatures in order to "purge" all nonkosher flavors, according to MD Destinations Managing Director Moshe David.

Still, both David and Murphy stress that the service is more about providing the standards Ritz-Carlton guests are accustomed to and less about how that's done.

"The kosherization process is nothing other than physics," David said. "The whole model's premise is serving a Ritz-Carlton guest looking for a Ritz-Carlton experience that just so happens to be held to the highest standards of kosher certification."

Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly.  

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