Allure Of Private Dining Will Remain After the Pandemic
The 5-star soiree is here to stay.
The 5-star soiree is here to stay.
During the height of Covid-19, private dining was an alternative to sharing a restaurant meal with loved ones. But even as the pandemic dwindles and eateries welcome guests again, intimate, five-star hospitality remains in high demand.
“People are eager to reconnect with family and friends, and there’s no better way to do that around the table than with great food and wine,” says James Henderson, CEO of Exclusive Resorts, an elite vacation club based in Denver, Colo., with locations across the globe.
While private dining has long been associated with celebrations such as birthdays and anniversaries, guests are gravitating toward intimate environments for everyday occasions as well. “Casual private dining experiences are starting to play a larger role in the hospitality industry, and I think these experiences will only continue to grow in popularity moving forward,” Henderson adds.
No matter the circumstances, the allure of private dining lies in the intimacy, exclusivity, and extraordinary experience that accompanies it, according to Brian Mommsen, founder and CEO of Resident, a New York-based company hosting bespoke dinners in unique venues. Launched in 2018, Resident collaborates with Michelin-trained chefs from Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Per Se, and other top-tier New York restaurants to curate upscale events for small groups.
Since March, the startup has collaborated with Exclusive Resorts to offer its members multi-course food and beverage tastings in the vacation club’s Residences at Park Avenue Place in Midtown Manhattan. A member can host a table for up to eight guests for US$2,000. Resident’s chef-driven menus include dishes such as roasted corn, prosciutto, miso, and grits; carrot mousse tartlet; and Long Island crescent duck with lentils and cabbage.
While the chef presents and tells in-depth stories about each dish tableside, an expert sommelier describes the wine and dining guests participate in the conversation.
“We have found that guests thrive on the opportunity to personally interact with our talent, learning about their inspiration for each course firsthand, and getting to know the face behind the food, which is an impossibility at most restaurants,” Mommsen says.
David Pan and his wife, Tillie, of Orange Beach Concierge, based on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, have hosted intimate dinners for years. But due to the pandemic, the duo has restructured their well-received Chef’s Table to bring the concept to their guests, rather than have their guests coming to them.
Pan believes the attention put into each menu, the locally sourced ingredients and thoughtfully paired wines, along with dining in the comfort of one’s own home, all contribute to the appeal.
With an uptick in business over the past year, his team hosted more than 100 private dinners in 2020 and they’re on track to triple that number this year.
“We predict a heavy increase in 2021 and beyond, and from what our booking calendar looks like today, we are posed to beat 2019 bookings which was our most successful year in the history of our business,” Pan says. His menus include jumbo lump crab cake, goat fromage salad, and sous vide filet mignon with sable rice. Experiences range from US$175 to US$250 per person.
Lawrence Fairchild, proprietor of Stones Wine, Perrarus, and Fairchild Napa Valley, is set to debut House of Perrarus: A Stones Wine and Michelin three-star experience at his picturesque California estate. Deemed the “Hermés of wine” due to the exclusivity of his bottles, Fairchild offers his 95 to 100 point wines to members only, but will make them available to the public at his afternoon soirées, beginning in June.
The winemaker and the acclaimed Single Thread Farm—a farm, inn, and three Michelin-starred restaurant in Sonoma County—will curate five seasonal small plates paired with his wine collection: one Chardonnay, three Cabernet Sauvignons, and a Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc blend.
“This idea stemmed from our clients’ desires for a more private and tasting dining experience,” Fairchild says. During the mid-day fête, guests can sit indoors or outdoors, depending on their preference. Cost is US$500 per person with capacity up to 10 guests.
In October, Chef de Cuisine Michael Vitangeli premiered The Chef’s Table at Scarpetta in The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Rooted in Italian tradition, the six-course interactive dinner is personal for Vitangeli. “My grandmother Emelia Vitangeli played the largest role in shaping my culinary career, so it only made sense that she influence the Chef’s Table experience itself,” he says.
Vitangeli’s menu features homemade burrata, hand-pulled pasta, porchetta (pork belly), among other classics, plated alongside wine pairings presented by sommelier Kyle Asato. Staged in a dedicated dining room, the six-seat table overlooks the famous fountain show and Scarpetta’s kitchen, providing guests “a show from kitchen to table.” Vintangeli shares details and history on the dishes and wine to create a familial atmosphere. The cost is US$200 per guest.
The private fine dining trend has become more of a moveable feast, too. Last summer, Chef Yann Nury outfitted a 1971 Airstream Safari and hit the road, cooking up warm weather-inspired fare for small groups. His customized dinner parties start at US$15,000 for 12 people.
Although he and his team had always catered on the road, both domestically and abroad, they had never prepared gourmet dishes in a food truck. However, the chef considers the mobile kitchen to be a condensed version of what he had done before: focus on local delicacies and ingredients.
“It is in our DNA to bring our food and culinary experiences all around the world, but when Covid came, all this stopped suddenly,” Nury says. “I had to find a solution to stay afloat, but also to stay relevant.”
The French chef outfitted the Airstream with 19th-century oak floors, Charlotte Perriand lighting, Gaggenau appliances, a wine cellar, French copper pots, vintage Michelin guides, and fancy tableware before heading up and down the East Coast. In 2021 and beyond, Nury plans to spend summer in the East, fall out West, and winter in Florida, but he remains open to any destination.
“I believe it is the future of fine dining, a world that no one has paid enough attention to,” he says about the private dining trend. “It is, in reality, the ultimate luxury of culinary experiences.”
Reprinted by permission of Penta. Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: June 5, 2021
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Vacationers scratching their travel itch this season are sending prices through the roof. Here’s how some are making trade-offs.
Capri Coffer socks away $600 a month to help fund her travels. The Atlanta health-insurance account executive and her husband couldn’t justify a family vacation to the Dominican Republic this summer, though, given what she calls “astronomical” plane ticket prices of $800 each.
The price was too high for younger family members, even with Coffer defraying some of the costs.
Instead, the family of six will pile into a rented minivan come August and drive to Hilton Head Island, S.C., where Coffer booked a beach house for $650 a night. Her budget excluding food for the two-night trip is about $1,600, compared with the $6,000 price she was quoted for a three-night trip to Punta Cana.
“That way, everyone can still be together and we can still have that family time,” she says.
With hotel prices and airfares stubbornly high as the 2023 travel rush continues—and overall inflation squeezing household budgets—this summer is shaping up as the season of travel trade-offs for many of us.
Average daily hotel rates in the top 25 U.S. markets topped $180 year-to-date through April, increasing 9.9% from a year ago and 15.6% from 2019, according to hospitality-data firm STR.
Online travel sites report more steep increases for summer ticket prices, with Kayak pegging the increase at 35% based on traveler searches. (Perhaps there is no more solid evidence of higher ticket prices than airline executives’ repeated gushing about strong demand, which gives them pricing power.)
The high prices and economic concerns don’t mean we’ll all be bunking in hostels and flying Spirit Airlines with no luggage. Travellers who aren’t going all-out are compromising in a variety of ways to keep the summer vacation tradition alive, travel agents and analysts say.
“They’re still out there and traveling despite some pretty real economic headwinds,” says Mike Daher, Deloitte’s U.S. transportation, hospitality and services leader. “They’re just being more creative in how they spend their limited dollars.”
For some, that means a cheaper hotel. Hotels.com says global search interest in three-star hotels is up more than 20% globally. Booking app HotelTonight says nearly one in three bookings in the first quarter were for “basic” hotels, compared with 27% in the same period in 2019.
For other travellers, the trade-offs include a shorter trip, a different destination, passing on premium seat upgrades on full-service airlines or switching to no-frills airlines. Budget-airline executives have said on earnings calls that they see evidence of travellers trading down.
Deloitte’s 2023 summer travel survey, released Tuesday, found that average spending on “marquee” trips this year is expected to decline to $2,930 from $3,320 a year ago. Tighter budgets are a factor, he says.
Wendy Marley is no economics teacher, but says she’s spent a lot of time this year refreshing clients on the basics of supply and demand.
The AAA travel adviser, who works in the Boston area, says the lesson comes up every time a traveler with a set budget requests help planning a dreamy summer vacation in Europe.
“They’re just having complete sticker shock,” she says.
Marley has become a pro at Plan B destinations for this summer.
For one client celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary with a budget of $10,000 to $12,000 for a five-star June trip, she switched their attention from the pricey French Riviera or Amalfi Coast to a luxury resort on the Caribbean island of St. Barts.
To Yellowstone fans dismayed at ticket prices into Jackson, Wyo., and three-star lodges going for six-star prices, she recommends other national parks within driving distance of Massachusetts, including Acadia National Park in Maine.
For clients who love the all-inclusive nature of cruising but don’t want to shell out for plane tickets to Florida, she’s been booking cruises out of New York and New Jersey.
Not all of Marley’s clients are tweaking their plans this summer.
Michael McParland, a 78-year-old consultant in Needham, Mass., and his wife are treating their family to a luxury three-week Ireland getaway. They are flying business class on Aer Lingus and touring with Adventures by Disney. They initially booked the trip for 2020, so nothing was going to stand in the way this year.
McParland is most excited to take his teen grandsons up the mountain in Northern Ireland where his father tended sheep.
“We decided a number of years ago to give our grandsons memories,” he says. “Money is money. They don’t remember you for that.”
Chima Enwere, a 28-year old piano teacher in Fayetteville, N.C., is also headed to the U.K., but not by design.
Enwere, who fell in love with Europe on trips the past few years, let airline ticket prices dictate his destination this summer to save money.
He was having a hard time finding reasonable flights out of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., so he asked for ideas in a Facebook travel group. One traveler found a round-trip flight on Delta to Scotland for $900 in late July with reasonable connections.
He was budgeting $1,500 for the entire trip—he stays in hostels to save money—but says he will have to spend more given the pricier-than-expected plane ticket.
“I saw that it was less than four digits and I just immediately booked it without even asking questions,” he says.
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