Relais & Chateaux, the hotel consortium, is to shed its perceived traditional French image as it focuses on the diversity of its 530 members worldwide and aims to operate a more sustainable and inclusive organisation.
Philippe Gombert, chairman of Relais & Chateaux, told a news conference at the organisation's annual congress, held at UNESCO in Paris, that cuisine and hospitality had become threatened by global uniformity and standardisation over the past 20 years.
In the year that the organisation celebrates its 60th birthday, he said: "The future is no longer just about French gastronomy; it is important that all (cuisines and cultures) are celebrated around the world."
In a bid to combat a "profoundly negative impact on the health of both our planet and our consumers", from "the actions of many large-scale food producers and dining establishments", Relais & Chateaux has published 20 commitments, which all members will be expected to sign up to.
They include the necessity for members to offer food that respects local traditions and environments; to work closely with local farmers and fisherman; and ensure they operate sustainably with regards to food waste and energy and water consumption.
It is also expected that members will "welcome guests as friends"; train young people in the art of good taste, food preparation and service; and provide good working conditions and salaries, which will encourage employees to become ambassadors for Relais & Chateaux.
In recognition of becoming a more inclusive organisation, Relais & Chateaux confirmed that it will now drop its Grand Chef category, which in the past has been bestowed on some member restaurants which hold at least two Michelin stars. There are eight Grand Chefs in the UK: Alain Roux, Andrew Fairlie, Claude Bosi, Martin Burge, Michael Caines, Michel Roux Jr, Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones.
Ten hotels, including two in the UK (yet to be named), are to act as pilot properties for the new vision. The 12 Relais & Chateaux inspectors who work anonymously worldwide will ensure the new standards are met once they are officially introduced. All the sustainable initiatives will follow the guidelines laid down by the UK-based Sustainable Restaurant Association.
Many of the UK members attending the congress said they believed their hotels already adhered to the commitments, while recognising that the new vision was an opportunity for Relais & Chateaux to refocus for the future and differentiate itself from other hotel consortia.
Harry Murray, chairman of Lucknam Park, said: "On Relais & Chateaux' 60th birthday there is a need to take advantage of the strength of the brand and make it clear what it is the brand stands for.
"It is important for the strength of the brand that the chief executive with the executive committee should now be allowed to get on with the day-to-day operation of the organisation."
For Andrew Stembridge, managing director of Chewton Glen, the announcement puts food at "the heart" of all the properties. "It highlights that all the hotels are privately owned, individual and have a heart and soul that is lacking in so many establishments these days."
Meanwhile, Andrew Mckenzie, managing director of the Vineyard Group, said: "This initiative cements Relais & Chateaux's commitment to a truly international appeal for guests, but a very local approach to sourcing and menu planning. Whilst its roots are firmly in France, chefs around the world, including Britain, are putting their mark on a new definition of luxury borne out of quality rather than indulgence."
There are 31 Relais & Chateaux hotels in the UK, including two new members: Hartwell House in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, and Northcote, Blackburn, Lancashire.