Marriott Hotel Chain

Dishes Up a New Look

Marriott International Inc. is hardly known as a paragon of chic, but it wants to change all that.

The Bethesda-based hotel company hosted a group of journalists last week, most from the travel-industry press, to show off the hotshot chefs being hired at its hotels and the more stylish interior design of its rooms. The idea is to combat a reputation, as one company official put it, for being to interior design "what McDonald's is to fine cuisine."

The event came as Marriott passed the milestone of managing 500,000 rooms, under 18 hotel brands in 69 countries, which, it might be noted, is 500,000 more than when J. Willard Marriott launched the company in 1927 with a nine-stool root-beer stand that eventually started selling burgers and other casual food to keep busy through the winter months.

At the events last week, Robin J. Uler, the company's senior vice president in charge of food, beverage and retail services, said the company now expects hotel bars to have 20 different kinds of vodka, not the single brand that was once de rigueur at a typical Marriott. She said the company aims to expand the presence of spas in higher-end hotels in order to become well known for its massages and facials and such.

Fabio Trabocchi, chef at the uber-fancy restaurant Maestro in the Tyson's Corner Ritz-Carlton, dished up, as the menu described it, "Roasted Lamb Chop Filled with Goat Cheese Mousse and Ragout of English Peas and Fava Beans with Homemade Guanciale in Summer Black Truffle Sauce." (Marriott owns Ritz-Carlton.)

It's a different style for Marriott Chairman J.W. "Bill" Marriott Jr., who attended the events and whose style veers more toward a navy-blue suit, white shirt and red tie than the latest Armani fashion. Asked whether he frequents the spas popping up in his hotels or eats the output of his big-name chefs, he said: "I prefer hamburgers."

Vincent Feraud, sommelier at the Maestro restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, Tyson's Corner, symbolizes an upscale tilt in Marriott's style.