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Serving Jingoism At An Omaha Hilton Restaurant

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, August 15, 2007

The Pundit family vacation ended with a few days in Omaha, where we attended a wedding. We stayed at the largest hotel in Nebraska, the Omaha Hilton, where the focus of its restaurant, the Liberty Tavern, was interesting, especially considering we just ran a piece entitled, The Problem With Food Miles. All over the hotel, there were signs explaining the philosophy of the restaurant:

At Liberty Tavern, it is our commitment to bring you the best and freshest artisan products from around the United States and only the United States.

We found that “and only the United States” a little disturbing. Now we bow to no one in the depth of our love of country, but this “and only the United States” concept strikes us as more than a little problematic:

  1. It is likely to mislead consumers. Although you could read it as saying that “artisan products” come only from the U.S. and other products can come from any old place, many consumers will read it as saying that everything served in the restaurant comes from the United States — which is not true.
  2. We are not sure what interest the restaurant is attempting to serve by this focus on “only the United States.” The menu clearly highlights the GRILLED HAWAIIAN FISH “OF THE MOMENT” and SEARED HAWAIIAN TUNA, so it is not a Food Miles or Carbon Footprint issue. The restaurant offers things like a NEW ENGLAND SEAFOOD POT PIE made with Maine Lobster, so it is not a local cuisine or locally grown initiative. There was no effort to systematically cover all the American regional cuisines, which would have been a theme. It just seems a form of jingoism.
  3. From a culinary education standpoint, the approach seems odd. Many of the artisan products have been produced in Europe for a lot longer than they have in the United States. One would think a chef would want to encourage an appreciation for fine food, whatever its source.
  4. From a business standpoint, this kind of focus seems likely to impoverish us all — don’t we want France to buy American grapefruit? Why should they if our attitude is going to be that U.S. provenance is required before food is celebrated?

We know this restaurant is at a mainland U.S. hotel — still the whole concept strikes us as odd for a Hilton, which represents itself this way:

Hilton Hotels Corporation (NYSE:HLT) is the leading global hospitality company, with more than 2,800 hotels and 490,000 rooms in more than 80 countries, including 150,000 team members worldwide.

In 2006 Hilton reacquired Hilton International, which had been spun off in 1964 — thus creating a truly global hospitality brand. With hotels in 80 countries, we might think the Hilton restaurant should celebrate the quality and diversity of foods from all over the world.

The truth is that the restaurant has food from all over the world, this “U.S. and only the U.S.” business is more marketing than substance.

Yet the fact that they think it is effective marketing indicates how consumers can be swayed by ideas such as Food Miles. The industry really should resist the temptation to grab a quick buck and stand for principles built on sterner stuff.

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