Checking into your hotel late and tired sometimes means the depressing last, best option for food is the vending machine next to the ice machine.
Marriott is taking advice from its guests and experimenting with an unexpected twist in its lobby: a salad vending machine.
"Consumers are trained not to expect fresh food out of a vending machine," said Dave Henkes, vice president at the food industry research firm Technomic. "There's going to be a natural aversion."
But in Chicago, where a test has been underway for a week, guests are willing to give it a try, said Katie Krum, director of digital marketing at Marriott Hotels.
"The leap is difficult when you hear about it in concept," Krum acknowledged. "But once you see it, that leap really happens."
What guests see is not a regular vending machine, but a kiosk of colorfully layered salads, stocked fresh daily by Chicago start-up Farmer's Fridge. Offerings include a "Detox Salad" with organic kale, quinoa, fennel, fruits and beans served in white balsamic vinaigrette. The company already operates 11 other kiosks in the Chicago area, focusing on local and organic ingredients with the relatively new SPE Certification for nutritional quality.
The offerings are made fresh each morning and the machines are cleared out and stocked with new items at 10 a.m. Unsold items go to a local food pantry, according to the Farmer's Fridge website.
Salads, breakfast items and snacks are priced from $3 to $12. Protein add-ons for the salads, such as lemon-pepper chicken, can be purchased separately from the kiosk. The salad vending machine will be in the Chicago Marriott O'Hare for the next five months for testing with guests.