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Why is All-Inclusive Resort food so awful?

During a recent trip to the Dominican Republic in a beautiful all inclusive resort, I experienced 5 days of the worst food. Not only was the food flavorless but it was unidentifiable. I came across the weirdest combinations of foods. Strange cold salads, sushi (that looks liked it was flown in frozen), mystery meats, and very "cheezy" presentations. I eat everything and will try anything so I had to look at my week of meals like a series of science projects.
Where was the Dominican food that i had been craving. Platanos Maduros, Mangu, arroz con leche, guandules con coco?
It seems strange that resorts seem to serve cuisines and styles of food that they are unfamiliar with? Why couldn't the food be simple, healthy, and reflect the country that we were in? Was it their take on continental cuisine?

Please someone answer these questions for me.......

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  1. Trapped clientele looking for the easiest path to gullet fulfillment. Resorts that are part of international chains that have systematized and made more 'efficient' the process of food puryevance. Assumptions (perhaps based on truth) that clientele don't want to have their tastebuds challenged. The approach of these large resort chains that don't treat their settings as unique, but rather as a sort of generic tropical paradise that thru sun, sand and a sense of abundance amid poverty can convey a feeling of entitlement and luxury
    to their clientele who, let's face it, aren't going to these resorts to see the DR or Baja or Fiji but rather something simply 'exotic' and luxurious.

    All that being said, I had a great time with my family when we went to one.

    1. nyufood08 (btw, im nyulaw10, yay!):

      in their defense, they're trying to appeal to guests who may not have a palate as adventurous as yours. hence, the worst of "americanized" cuisine.

      however, all is not bleak. i've always enjoyed food at the iberostar hotels. they're a spanish chain, so i think they have a great appreciation for local variation and better food in general. last time, i was in the dominican, i stayed at the costa dorada location. there's also a hilton next door where ive also stayed. it's not as good as the iberostar, but also passable. (i love DR, if you can't tell)

      And it always pays to befriend the staff. I was there with my family, and my Dad is uber social. He was besties with all the servers and we got stuff brought out from the back that was not available in the buffet. (And no, he only tipped them upon departure, so this wasn't a bribe situation). we ate really excellent home made yogurt and many dominican meals you described (i assume prepared for the staff meal).

      5 Replies
      1. re: StrawbrryF

        I've stayed at the Iberostar in Punta Cana and we thought the food was quite good (in addition to the fact that the property is absolutely gorgeous). My husband and I also worried about the food ahead of time but we were pleasantly surprised. I think their European orientation definitely helps. In addition to having a nice offering of Dominican food, I thought they also did basics really well - we are haunted by the baked potatoes we ate there with what seemed to be some kind of mix between lime juice, sour cream and butter.

        1. re: pellegrino31

          I have been to several AI's and the only place where I DIDNT love the food was Iberostar PC! (I hated the property as well -way too big and slightly dirty)
          (sorry Pellegrino)
          We stayed at a small and gorgeous AI in Tulum last year and the food was stellar. I am usually v impressed

          1. re: NellyNel

            Oh really?! That's too bad - we really liked it. Were you at the Bavaro property or the other ones? I thought the other properties weren't as nice/food wasn't as good as the Bavaro side of things where we stayed.

            1. re: pellegrino31

              Yes we were at Bavaro...The only thing I did like there were the rooms...
              I just felt it was way too crowded for my tastes, and for such a large property there wasnt must variation on where you could hang out...lots of other small issues too, one of which was the food - it wasnt bad - and certainly LOADS to choose from - but it wasnt my fav

              And annoyingly IB was the most expensive of the AI's we have been too.

              If you liked it there - you should check out Catalonia Royal Tulum...wow what a stunning peaceful, yet fun place and really the food as well as the drinks (strong and tasty!!!!) were to die for...

              1. re: NellyNel

                Sorry to hear it...we went 2x both in early December and the crowds were pretty light, but I can see if was more crowded how it would be annoying. I too felt the hang out spots weren't great - that DC 9 or whatever nightclub had a funny vibe. We did appreciate the fried hot dogs and french fries at the bar right outside it though to soak up the booze (which was more of our complaint - wish they had better brands to offer).

                Nice to know about the Tulum property.

      2. It could also be a cost issue... likely they are serving inexpensive options to keep up the bottom line.

        1. Most resorts are owned by American Companies, What resort did you vacation at and which hotel operator was it?

          3 Replies
          1. re: fourunder

            I went to IFA - Villas Brava in Punta Cana. The DR and the hotel itself met my expectations of a beach resort but the food just needed a revision. The Japanese, Mexican, and "Fine Dining" restaurant's menus were outdated and all food presentation needed some help. Why can't we have the beautiful beach and some great food to go along with it?

            1. re: fourunder

              Most all inclusives are NOT owned by American companies........most are Spanish.

              1. re: wineman3

                I think Club Med is a French-owned company. I'm not sure. We love them- not the tacky-alcohol-drenched-pool-partying-fiestas of the 70's Club Meds (although I do miss those (money) necklaces). The food is OK, especially for families. The rooms usually suck, though. But who cares? You're too busy to ever be in your room!

              1. re: grampart

                yeah! let's all go chill with richard branson.

              2. We go to the Club Med in Punta Cana every year, and LOVE the food. Even the kids go crazy. Granted, we gravitate to broiled fish and seafood most of the time- and the kids love the "European" style breakfast choices best. However, we love just about everything they serve, including local favorites. Not gourmet, but really good. (And you can't beat the view from the restaurant by the beach-OMG I need to be there now!)

                1. So should we consider this food Continental Cuisine? Who really knows how to define this cuisine?

                  1. I did an All-Inclusive in Sharm el Sheikh... it was torture because the only food that actually ever looked good (to me) was the huge, expansive salad bar. Unfortunately, more than a nibble of the salad bar was almost guaranteed to have you running for the toilet for the rest of your trip. Sometimes they had a table set up far from the main food areas with unlabelled Egyptian stuff- it was actually pretty decent as well (though I rarely knew what it was). To be honest, I thought the crappy food was a by-product of trying to appeal to a crowd that was about 40% Italian, 40% Russian, 10% English and 10% from other countries (like me!).

                    I also think there's something to be said for the fact that people are drawn to "adventure" and therefore, often, "adventurous eating" are not likely to primarily stay in all-inclusive resorts.

                    1. I stayed at a all inclusive in Cancun a few years ago..the food was great. Breakfast had omlette stations, local fruit; everything was hot & delicious..And I'm not a breakfast eater but I was there every morning for the fresh juices & fruit. The dinner buffet included regional dishes and a grill for steaks & seafood. They had a really good lunches and snack options at the bar near the pool and GREAT drinks. I tried to eat everything and must have gained at least 5 lbs in a week :) There were other restaurants in the hotel but we liked the buffet...so, I guess it just depends on the hotel....

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Cherylptw

                        Cherylptw, where did you say? I've never been to Cancun and I'd love to stay in a nice place.

                        1. re: StrawbrryF

                          It was called the Sierra Cancun Hotel; it has since been renovated and renamed Le Blanc Spa Resort...service is still wonderful...

                      2. We have actually had fairly good experiences in all inclusives in Antigua, especially at the Blue Waters Hotel. They had two dining venues (I think now they have three), and it seemd to us that all meals were cooked to order. Breakfast of course had many buffet items with eggs/pancakes/waffles cooked to order.

                        We do always augment our stay with meals of property which works very nicely. Most of all we don't pig out.

                        Very, very nice. Would do it again in a heartbeat.

                        1. We had a workshop in an all-included resort (Barcelo) on the coast of Nicaragua. The food was good. All of us were from Latina America, so the food not being the common stuff from Nicaragua was no problem. The trick was not eating everything from the buffet every time. Rather, carefully plate a few appropriate selections at each meal. And eat at the pool (bugers and dogs) a few times. Very good.

                          1. I had the pleasure of staying a very high-end all-inclusive in Jamaica, The Caves. It had the best food I've ever had at a resort or anywhere else on the island. Breakfast was anything you want, including local specialities. Lunch was a salad and pasta and dinner had choice of entrees (or both), an app and desert. This was not a buffet, but table service. The food was amazing!
                            I also stayed at Hotel Hana Maui on my honeymoon (21 yrs ago) and the food was also stellar and local. It really depends on where you are.
                            I typically don't go to all-inclusives because I want to sample local food, not generic "continental" cuisine.

                            1. I can speak for 2 resorts i've been to (Panama) Decameron and Playa Blanca... Decameron is a little cheaper than the other one..

                              I think in Panama's case is the same thing with Resorts just like with main restaurants close to the Coast, you would think that the majority of Yacht owners would love to try the local food (and we do have some local restaurants) but these tourists would rather have pizza (which is not a local), or Bennigans, or Fridays etc...

                              My point is that when it comes to Buffets in All-Inclusive Resorts is the same thing so for example for breakfast I just stay close to the fruits and ask for eggs... some bread perhaps... because all the Resorts in Panama offer pretty much the classic mediocre Pancakes, waffles, muffins, donuts.... (i haven\t been to one for the last 3 years, so i hope that has changed).

                              Another important thing to mention is that (i don't know about the other countries) but Panama has a few resorts and during most of the year locals are actually the ones who stay so they are bored of national food so they go to these Resorts to have all these burgers etc etc... it may not be the case in Dominican Republic but it is in Panama sometimes.


                              3 Replies
                              1. re: helenahimm

                                That's right. The todo incluido we stayed at in Nicaragua had all guests from the region - no gringos. So no one wanted local food.

                                1. re: helenahimm

                                  I'm Canadian, and I was super-excited when I went to Honduras because there was an Applebees in La Ceiba! There were never any in my hometown or where I went to college, and certainly none in Italy where I'd lived after college... it was the commercial come true!

                                  That being said, I didn't actually eat there. I'm still an Applebees Virgin!

                                  1. re: Jetgirly

                                    You should have gone to San Pedro Sula. All the American chains are there. Although I too am an Applebee's (and pretty much all other chains) virgin.

                                2. First of all that is one of the ways they make money...........They allow only 10 to 15 dollars a day per person in their budget for food!!!! 4 to seven for beverage ........ so those rum and cokes you are drinking is pretty bottom of the barrel hence the hang over. Maybe the resort is beautiful and the food is in front of you all the time but as you have found out the quality of food and beverage is not so hot. My suggestion is to go to a regular hotel and eat out when you want and what you want. All inclusives you do not save money on.........EVER.

                                  9 Replies
                                  1. re: wineman3

                                    Sorry but as a frequent traveler - I STRONGLY disagree.

                                    I travel both independantly and to AI's - I love both and they are two completely different experiences
                                    I usually go toan AI when I cant afford to go independantly!

                                    The value simply cannot be beat!

                                    1. re: NellyNel

                                      I disagree also..I think it depends on the hotel..I had excellent food & top shelf liquor when I was in Mexico...Now, I know pesos and dollars are two different currencies but I know for a fact that I ate up more than $10-$15 in meals daily including the porterhouses and other seafood. It was definately cost effective...

                                      1. re: Cherylptw

                                        The booze alone!
                                        I drank Mohitos (REAL mohitos folks) all day long and Mimosas for breakfast and had cold botttled beer whenever we wanted and shots of top shelf Tequlia...I could go on!
                                        Normally at AI's I could drink all day long and never get a buzz, but at Catalonia Royal Tulum I was constantly buzzed and if fact got pie-eyed more than once!
                                        Darn good stuff!

                                        1. re: NellyNel

                                          Margarita & a shot of Jose...together...

                                          1. re: Cherylptw

                                            LOL -
                                            All this talk has me checking prices!!
                                            I'd LOVE to be on a beach right now with a drink in my hand!!

                                            1. re: NellyNel

                                              ME TOO!! Hopefully, in the coming year! Jetgirly, I'd love to see those photos..sounds like you had a great time!

                                            2. re: Cherylptw

                                              Last year I rode the All-You-Can-Drink Tequila Express train from Guadalajara to Tequila. I have soooo many embarassing photos of me on the train double-fisting "New Mix" (a pre-packaged tequila-based drink that comes in cans), with a can in one hand and then in the other hand, plastic cups full of New Mix where I've also added extra tequila. There are virtually no shots of me with a free hand!

                                              1. re: Cherylptw

                                                Did you know Jose Cuervo is not 100% agave

                                                1. re: wineman3

                                                  Cuervo does make some lines of 100% agave tequilas.

                                      2. We stayed at the Excellence in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic almost two years ago. Beautiful beach and lovely resort, but the food was subpar. The only place we enjoyed was the Asian restaurant and the pizzas delivered to the pool and beach most days, There were many different options for food, including a huge full breakfast buffet, but the quality of everything was really poor. I agree with the OP and wold have preferred simple local cuisine.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: JennS

                                          Interesting! We were at the Excellence in Playa Morujes 2 months ago and the food was okay. In fact breakfast and lunch were excellent. Dinner was okay, not memorable or the best, but it was okay. Hubby raved about their lamb chops, and I had a fantastic sea bass. Italian and french theme restos not as good but still I would not say subpar.

                                          1. re: JennS

                                            I have been there as well, and found the food about average - a few real low points, but it was mostly pretty good. That's about how much I can recommend it - pretty good. I enjoyed the breakfast buffet (unlimited bacon!) but the resaurants were hit or miss. One truly disgusting meal that made me vomit, but fairly average-to-okay otherwise.

                                          2. I'm planning a honeymoon and great food is a must. We are considering Mexico (Rivereria Maya or somewhere nearby) and St. Lucia. But other islands will be considered. Any suggestions for all inclusive with great food?

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: ElanaSLP

                                              Mostly Jamaica. Very high end.
                                              Beautiful homes on the beach, AI option gives you a cook with anything you want.

                                              1. re: ElanaSLP

                                                The food at El Dorado Royale near Playa Del Carmen was absolutely fantastic when I was there in 2006. They have seven restaurants, some of which I preferred to the others. They're sort of unique in actually having top notch regional Mexican cuisine at one of the restaurants. Another is Carribean, which has some Yucatecan food, and was good. I remember being really surprised at how good the Italian restaurant was, as it was the one I was least looking forward to. The restaurant in the main building (I think this one is listed as Continental on the cuisine page) ranks among the top ten fine dining establishments I've been to, which would make it about three stars in Manhattan by the NY Times four star system. The Asian restaurant was good, but, like any pan-Asian place I've been to, a little bit of a let down. The one the cuisine page calls International, which I think is also where lunch is served, was great for lunch, but not really the highlight for dinner. The only meal that I wasn't terribly happy with was at the fondue restaurant, but my wife loved that one, so I guess it's great if you dig fondue. Breakfast was also great, and mostly traditional Mexican and Carribean items.
                                                All around, this resort is absolutely top notch. The site, facilities, service, grounds, rooms, liquor selection, access to activities, pool area, et cetera. It's all spread out and not at all crowded. The only minor flaw is that they use giant sandbags as an economical, environmentally friendly way to keep the sand from washing away. They're a distance out in the water, just beyond where it gets head deep, so they're not in the way of anything. The serene view is just slightly broken up by big black humps rising out of the water.

                                              2. I found the food at the Allegro Playacar (Mexico) to be quite good. Of course, I confess the high point was the absolutely fresh tortilla chips and guacamole they made every afternoon! But the buffet food was always good and varied, and certainly appeared fresh. And the liquor was premium.

                                                1. I stayed at one many years ago in DR and I agree, not thrilled with the food. IT was okay, but very Americanized. I am part Dominican, I grew up on the food. Imagine my shock when I didn't get one plantain in 3 days??!! And mangu? Forget it! The resort was lovely, but I happily went back to my cousin's house for real DR food.

                                                  1. We stayed at the Windjammer Landing resort in St. Lucia last winter http://www.windjammer-landing.com/ . We purchased an all-inclusive vacation through Westjet vacations.

                                                    The resort is not a full AI as they have some guests who are on the AI option and some who are not. As such, the restaurants and bars charge your room as if you were a paying customer, but then they forgive it, other than the tip, at the end of the trip. It is great because you can write your tip onto the cheque without having to carry around cash and you can run a tab for the day for your drinks (if you are on the beach for the day) without having to tip each time.

                                                    The food was fantastic. With the exception of one dinner everything was great. It was all a-la-carte, with the exception of breakfast. They had a buffet and an a-la-carte menu and you could choose what you wanted to eat. Even on the buffet the eggs etc were still made to order.

                                                    They have five restaurants and many people who are not staying at the hotel come to eat at the restaurants as they are well known on the island.

                                                    The drinks were also very good, especially their rum punch (be careful!).

                                                    If you are specifically looking for food, I would very much recommend this resort.

                                                    1. This goes back some years, but in a meal-inclusive plan at the Hotel King David in Israel, the food was pretty much subpar unless we went out ourselves and got some fresh local food. One morning, I thought it would be safe to have a fried egg sandwich - cooked to order, no big deal, right?
                                                      They cooked the fried eggs ahead of time and stacked them between waxed paper. It was a truly horrifying moment.

                                                      1. I've only stayed at 2 AI places. One was a smaller and unfortunately now defunct place in Aruba where the food was simple, but well prepared and absolutely delicious. And another in Cancun (after being evacuated from a sister resort further down the coast because of a hurricane), and the food was pretty subpar. We ate most meals away from the hotel, but found the AI price worth is because of the alcohol. That place was a Melia.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: alliegator

                                                          Regarding the OP and Punta Cana (I know ~ 4 years ago). I've been to PC many times and would agree. The food is 'eh ~ nothing special. They have the presentation down beautifully, even at the buffets, but the flavor lacks. HOWEVER, I will say over the past 10 or so years they have improved tremendously. I gotta give them credit ~ they try. They do need to learn how to cut up a chicken and carve meat though. PC is a popular destination for Europeans (I've often been a minority as an English speaking guest), so they are trying to cater to everyone. Their ice cream is wonderful.

                                                          Any foodies looking for an AI within the budget of what has been discussed in this thread should check out the Eldorado resorts in Mx (there are several). They grow a lot of their own produce on site (I think at the Royale and distributed to others). They try to be green in a lot of areas too.

                                                        2. We only go to All Inclusive places when we don't have a choice (Business Related).
                                                          The K.I.S.S. rule applies at these places.
                                                          I think it's funny that they always pressure you to make a reservation at the "fancy" French, Italian etc.. venue for dinner when the food is all the same with different names and maybe sauce.
                                                          The best meals I've had at these places is breakfast at the non buffet restaurant. Most American clients seem to love the "all you can eat" breakfast buffet. UGH!!
                                                          At a Paradisus resort in PR we made a "hard to get" res at the French restaurant. The place was half empty at 8:30!! I was in the mood for French onion soup and a salad before my entrée. When I asked for both the waiter started sweating and said I could only have one or the other. I asked him what "All inclusive" meant and he started fidgeting. I didn't push it but it was funny. No tipping at this place.
                                                          The 24/7 ever present chips and guacamole were excellent.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Motosport

                                                            Re: breakfast, again check out the El Dorado resorts. They have ala-carte. Gotta admit, I love the breakfast buffets 'cause you can get EXACTLY what you want - made to order omelets or eggs however you want them, smoothies made to order, and anything else you can imagine. No need to eat the pre-made food if you don't want. You just have to serve yourself.

                                                            I ALWAYS tip at an AI ~ the guy who makes my quatro huevos blanco uno yema, perfectly, the waitstaff, drink staff, housekeeping, etc. if the service is worthy.