At Auberge Resorts, a luxury hotel company that owns and operates nine boutique resorts located in the western United States and Mexico, the baby-boomer generation makes up the majority of the brand’s business. But according to John Washko, vice president of operations, millennials are slowly starting to account for a larger share.
“Although the baby-boomer generation still represents 60 percent of our clientele, the millennials are a fast growing demographic,” he says. “The millennials are getting a bit older, they’re becoming more financially sound, and they have money to spend. They travel differently and they have different expectations.”
To bridge the age gap, Auberge has put an emphasis on the one thing that transcends generation after generation—phenomenal food. Through its Food of Place programming, launched in 2013, the company focuses on local, experience-driven food and wine events to woo travelers both young and old.
Food of Place consists of yearlong, seasonal programming at each of Auberge’s hotels. Whether it’s foraging for mushrooms at the Auberge Residences at Pronghorn in Oregon or chilling at an ice bar at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colo., the focus of each culinary adventure is to go above and beyond what guests expect from hotel food and beverage offerings. “We place food and beverage at the forefront of the guest experience,” Washko says. “It goes beyond cooking classes, wine classes, or a wine dinner. We go to that next level.”
Every offering in the Food of Place series serves to highlight regional and local traditions, crops, recipes, and more. For instance, this summer, guests traveling to Esperanza in Los Cabos, Mexico, will be invited to learn how to make aguas frescas—healthful Mexican beverages prepared with indigenous fruits, vegetables, and desert plants; and visitors to Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley, Calif., will have the chance to shop at a farmer’s market with the resort’s executive chef Aaron Meneghelli prior to preparing a multicourse meal.
Coordinating evolving seasonal events at multiple properties can be a challenge, Washko says. Auberge’s corporate team relies on the chefs and food and beverage directors at each property to come up with and take ownership of on-property programming. Washko and other Auberge executives will look over and tweak yearly programming plans to make sure the brand is delivering the right experience to guests.
For Auberge, Food of Place is an opportunity to increase guest satisfaction and drive repeat business. The company doesn’t look at the experiential food programming as a big revenue generator. Instead, Washko says, the program is developed with the financial acumen to simply cover costs and deliver a big guest impact. “We are not a company that believes in marking something up that is a part of our philosophy and our culture,” he says. “We want a guest to not only try one experience, but to go to another property and experience Food of Place there as well.”
The 2014 Food of Place offerings are well underway at all nine Auberge properties, and Washko says he believes the program will continue to grow and evolve in the future to meet the ever-changing demands of travelers. “I feel like people are done with the traditional as it pertains to food and beverage, particularly in hotels,” he says. “Guests want and need and are excited to see something that is different.”