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
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’
Booming demand for wellness tourism shows no slowing, with travel related to health and well-being projected to have reached $1 trillion last year and to hit $1.3 trillion by 2025, according to the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit based in Miami.
Curated wellness travel programs are especially sought-after, specifically holistic treatments focused on longevity. Affluent travellers not only are making time to hit the gym while gallivanting across the globe, they’re also seeking destinations that specifically cater to their wellness goals, including treatments aimed at living longer.
“I believe Covid did put a spotlight on self-care and well-being,” says Penny Kriel, corporate director of spa and wellness at Salamander Collection, a group of luxury properties in places like Washington, D.C., and Charleston, South Carolina. But Kriel says today’s spas are more holistic, encouraging folks to understand the wellness concept and incorporate it into their lifestyle more frequently.
“With the evolution of treatment products and technology, spas have been able to enhance their offerings and appeal to more travellers,” Kriel says.
While some growth is connected to the variety of treatments available, results and the digital world are also contributing to the wellness boom.
“The efficacy and benefits of these treatments continue to drive bookings and interest, especially with the support of social media, influencers, and celebrity endorsements,” Kriel says.
While genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices such as regular exercise, a diet free of processed foods, sufficient sleep, and human connection play essential roles in living well and longer, experts believe in holistic therapies to help manage stress, boost immunity, and ultimately influence length and quality of life.
Anti Ageing and Beyond
“For years, people have been coming to spas, booking treatments, and gaining advice on how to turn the clock back with anti ageing and corrective skin treatments,” Kriel says. However, today’s treatments are far more innovative.
On Marinella Beach in Porto Rotondo, on the Italian island of Sardinia, guests at the five-star Abi d’Oru Hotel & Spa can experience the resort’s one-of-a-kind “longevity treatment,” a unique antiaging facial using one of the island’s native grapes: Cannonau. The world’s first declared “Blue Zone”—one of five designated areas where people live longer than average, some into their 100s—Sardinia produces this robust red wine varietal, the most widely planted on the island.
Known as Garnacha in Spain and Grenache in France, Cannonau supposedly contains two to three times more antioxidants than other red-wine grapes. By incorporating Cannonau, Abi Spa says its unique 50-minute longevity session increases collagen production for firmer, younger-looking skin.
Maintaining a youthful appearance is just one facet of longevity treatments, which range from stress-reduction sessions like massage to nutritional support and sleep programs, Kriel says. Some retreats also offer medical services such as IV infusions and joint injections.
Keeping with the trend, Kriel is expanding Salamander Collection’s existing spa services, such as detox wraps and lymphatic drainage, to include dedicated “Wellness Rooms,” new vegan and vegetarian menu items, and well-being workshops. “Sleep, nutrition, and mindfulness will be a big focus for integration in 2024,” she says.
Skyler Stillings, an exercise physiologist at Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort—an adults-only wellness centre in Lanai, Hawaii—says guests were drawn to the social aspect when the spa opened in November 2021.
“We saw a huge need for human connection,” she recalls. But over the past few years, what’s paramount has shifted. “Longevity is trending much more right now.”
Billionaire co-founder of tech company Oracle Larry Ellison and physician and scientist Dr. David Angus co-founded Sensei. After the death of a mutual close friend, the duo teamed up to create longevity-based wellness retreats to nurture preventative care and a healthy lifestyle. In addition to the Lanai location, the brand established Sensei Porcupine Creek in Greater Palm Springs, California, in November 2022.
Sensei has a data-driven approach. The team performs a series of assessments to obtain a clearer picture of a guest’s health, making wellness recommendations based on the findings. While Sensei analyses that data to curate a personalised plan, Stillings says it’s up to the guests which path they choose.
Sensei’s core three-day retreat is a “Guided Wellness Experience.” For spa treatments, each guest checks into their own “Spa Hale,” a private 1,000-square-foot bungalow furnished with an infrared sauna, a steam shower, a soaking tub, and plunge pools. The latest therapies include Sarga Bodywalking—a barefoot myofascial release massage, and “Four Hands in Harmony,” a massage with two therapists working in tandem. Sensei Guides provide take-home plans so guests can continue their wellness journeys after the spa.
Sanctuaries for Longevity
Headquartered in Switzerland with hotels and on-site spas across the globe, Aman Resorts features an integrative approach, combining traditional remedies with modern medicine’s advanced technologies. Tucked behind the doors of the storied Crown Building in Midtown Manhattan, Banya Spa House at Aman New York—the brand’s flagship spa in the Western Hemisphere—is a 25,000-square-foot, three-floor urban oasis.
Yuki Kiyono, global head of health and wellness development at Aman, says the centre provides access to holistic and cutting-edge treatments benefiting physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social well-being. Aman’s customisable “Immersion Programs” consist of a three- or five-day immersion. “The programs encompass treatments and experiences that touch every significant aspect to create a path for longevity, from meditation and mindfulness to nutrition and movement,” Kiyono explains.
The spa’s “Tei-An Wellness Solution” features 90- to 150-minute sessions using massage, cryotherapy, and Vitamin IV infusions. Acupuncture is also on offer.
“With its rich history of Chinese Medicine, modern research, and the introduction of sophisticated electro-acupuncture medicine, acupuncture has been proven to assist with problems and increase performance,” Kiyono says.
Resetting the Mind and Body
Beyond longevity, “healthspan”—the number of years a person can live in good health free of chronic disease—is the cornerstone of Mountain Trek Health Reset Retreat’s program in British Columbia, Canada.
Kirk Shave, president and program director, and his team employ a holistic approach, using lifestyles in long-living Blue Zones as a point of reference.
“We improve our daily lifestyle habits, so we live vitally as long as we’re meant to live,” Shave says of the retreat. He built the program from an anthropological stance, referencing humans as farmers, hunters, and gatherers based on their eating and sleeping patterns. Food includes vegetable-centric meals sans alcohol, sugar, bread, or dairy.
Guests wake at dawn each day and have access to sunrise yoga, several hours of “flow” or slow hiking, spa treatments, forest bathing, calming crystal singing-bowl and sound therapy sessions, and classes on stress reduction—one of Mountain Trek’s primary goals. The program motivates people to spend much of their time in nature because it’s been proven to reduce cortisol, the stress hormone that can lead to inflammation and disease when elevated for extended periods.
While most guests aren’t aware of how immersive Mountain Trek’s program is when they arrive, they leave the resort revitalized after the structured, one-week program. Set in the Kootenays overlooking its eponymous river, the resort and adventure promise what Shave calls a “visceral experience of transformation.”
“They’re interested in coming to be in nature,” Shave says of the guests. “They hit a wall in their life and slipped backwards, so they know they need a reset.”
This article first appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of Mansion Global Experience Luxury.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’