November 7, 2010— LINCOLNSHIRE, IL—In the world of sustainability, one trend lately has been for hotels to cultivate their own colony of bees. There are both environmental and obvious marketing benefits to this, as well as the added bonus of fresh honey available to the property and its guests. The Lincolnshire Marriott Resort here started small, and has big plans for its bees.
Chef Joe Plucinski was the driving force behind bringing the bees to the Marriott. He had spearheaded a similar, very successful, project at the Chicago Marriott. When he moved to the Lincolnshire property, and saw the acreage available, he knew this was a program that would work. "Coming over to this hotel with 160-plus acres of land, I knew we could do the bee program here," he said.
He admits he had to convince the owners and general management to let him give the program a try. They started small this year, with just two hives, a professional bee keeper, and 10,000 bees flown in from Hawaii. The particular breed is the Italian five-striped honey bee, chosen, Plucinski said, because while they might not produce as much honey as some other species, they are known to be very docile. The two hives grew to 75,000 bees by the end of the season, and the hotel now plans to expand to 10 hives next year, with a total goal of a million bees.
It's not enough to simply have the bees, or collect the honey, however. The hotel collected around 200 pounds of honey from its hives in two different collections, and it uses them in multiple ways, making sure guests know the story behind it.
Plucinski noted that they tell the "bee story" in all of the hotel venues, with a small paragraph on the menus to let guests know the honey is from locally-grown bees, as well as having servers point out dishes that feature the honey. The property created a signature honey-wheat beer with the harvest, and not only is it sold as a beverage, but it is used in a muscle dish to further show how the honey can be used. Plucinski also noted that the hotel has a digital picture frame in the gift shop along with bottles of the home-grown honey to educate guests on where it came from and what makes it different.
"Having [the bees] has allowed us to market the local dishes that we serve," said Plucinski. "Local food is a better value and perceived better, and customers willing to try things that are local versus standard mass produced items."
Getting the word out wasn't easy, he noted, as it was an uphill battle from the start. When the project first began, the kitchen associates themselves were skeptical. But as they tended the bees and it was a positive experience, Plucinski noted, that spread to other parts of the staff at the hotel. In fact, it has become a coveted mission, to go out and tend the bees, with sales staff bringing along clients, who in turn bring guests and their children, making it an experience the hotel can use to increase not only its profile in the area, but its sales revenues as well. "This is a great opportunity to expand the program beyond everyday cooking and everyday hotel business," said Plucinski.
The honey bees aren't the only project the kitchen is involved in, either. This year, they planted a small herb garden, and plan to expand that over the years on an acre of the property. In addition, Plucinski noted the hotel hosted a wine event at the end of October, where it flew in grapes from California. It partnered with a local vineyard to encourage guests to help with the pressing in the lobby area set aside for it, and in 18 months to two years, they plan to have wine they will market and sell from the pressing.
The hotel was also one of two, along with the Chicago Marriott, to meet with a professional cheese maker to create two signature cheeses that will only be available on their properties. The cheeses were made in Wisconsin, and there is 4,000 pounds to go around. The property rolled out the cheese as part of the wine pressing event.
Overall, the hotel prides itself on these "micro-events," according to marketing and e-commerce manager for the Marriott and Renaissance brands, central region, Vicki Poulos. She noted that the hotel has been around for 25 to 30 years, and the town has a great reputation for the theatre. So they try to keep those guests informed of what's going on in the local area in addition to catching their show.
One thing, she stressed, the hotel is focused on is serving the locals in the Lincolnshire area and surrounding suburbs. "We like to think of ourselves as a destination for locals," Poulos noted. To that end, social media has become a primary focus of many of their efforts. She said they list activities and updates on Facebook, upload pictures from events to various sites, and tweet about upcoming events to get the word out. The hotel also works with local newspapers and online news sites that cover the area to promote the events, and bring out reporters to cover the events.