Trends: Injecting Creative F&B Into Outdoor Activities
Bocce, mixology, and more spread guest interest interest over Carneros Resort's pastoral spaces.
Though parents may have to lobby their kids to “go play outside,” group attendees in the Napa Valley need no such prodding. From plucking fresh produce for handcrafted tipples, to rolling the bocce ball while sipping varietals from nearby wineries, group guests find stimulation at Carneros Resort & Spa. The property recently added new breakout sessions and teambuilding activities in nontraditional spaces across the 28-acre property, situated in Napa, California.
Newer activities include unconventional farm-to-table break menus such as Cinematic Sensations, with freshly popped popcorns, red and black licorice, assorted candy bars, and specialty “old-time” sodas; Carnival Cravings, with flavored popcorn, Boon Fly Donuts, warm pretzels with specialty mustards, and root beer floats; and Healthier Habits, with hummus and pita wedges, vegetable crudités with blue cheese and green goddess dips, fruit skewers with yogurt dip, and strawberry lemonade. Pricing starts at $23 per person, with a minimum of 15 guests, for a maximum 30 minutes of service.
But where Carneros has really capitalized on its physical plant is in recent packages that fully utilize the property to offer group attendees outdoor experiences and activities incorporating F&B, creating a unique niche among the competition and potential repeat group business. The resort boasts 10,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space with panoramic views and lush courtyards. Outdoors, a couple longstanding traditions at Carneros have morphed into group offerings. Vino and Bocce is a two-hour experience, used as a group icebreaker or teambuilding activity. Then there’s the Gather and Garnish offering, part of the hotel’s day meeting package; it allows guests to forage ingredients from the resort’s one-acre culinary garden, with fruit trees to create customized cocktails.
Going Up the Country
San Clemente, California-based Evolution Hospitality took over management of the property in October 2016, at which time Ty Brassie was working as director of sales and marketing at Evolution-managed Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills, California. “I knew that if there were any opportunities in Napa, I was going to raise my hand,” he says. Sure enough, he soon took an opportunity to take the same position at Carneros in early 2017. His eagerness to relocate to the pastoral atmosphere of the Napa Valley is the same impulse that leads groups there.
Carneros averages 200 groups a year—a business that ebbs and flows seasonally. Of those, a third are engaged in some kind of creative F&B teambuilding activity, Brassie says. Group size is flexible, but 15 to 20 people is the “sweet spot,” he says, quickly pointing out that Carneros has only 100 rooms, so 15 to 20 people is a substantial group.
“Our repeat groups are a big part of our business mix,” says Brassie. The group demo is predominantly corporate; within that a “large chunk is boards of directors and/or incentive-related, based on our offerings and price point. Automotive and high-tech groups are prevalent.” Other industries represented include pharmaceuticals, medical devices, financial, and insurance.
The rub of steady repeat business, however, comes in the need to keep offering something fresh. “Often, the attendee was here the previous quarter, so obviously you don’t want to repeat the same thing,” Brassie says. “You want to build on and improve upon the previous package.”
The F&B component is essential, Brassie notes. “We spend a lot of time with our culinary team, brainstorming what we can do here on the property that is unique and authentic to the Carneros Resort,” he says. “Food and beverage is an expectation in Napa. Guests come here to be inspired by the F&B of the region. The menus are playful and elevated here. We focus on memorable dining experiences beyond the traditional restaurant setting. As a resort, we’ve made it comfortable for groups to get that taste of Napa without ever having to leave the property; they don’t have to incur the expense of shuttling to other locations.”
Vino and Bocce has been around for years at Carneros, without the title, as an activity for individual guests, explains Director of Catering and Conference Services Ted Stumpf. The offering can be as simple as wine and bocce, or a group may upgrade with cheese and other food pairings. “Wine and bocce are a natural pairing here,” Stumpf says. “To take it a step further, we can bring in representatives from local wineries to pour and talk about the wine. It just depends on how far they want to go. We can do beautiful cheese displays.” Vino and Bocce can even be rolled into a full luncheon, with, for instance, a barbecue menu crafted by Executive Chef Aaron Meneghelli.
The Gather and Garnish concept has been in play for individuals for a couple of years, but just recently also became a group offering. Groups are brought to a common space, whether it’s a function lawn or meeting hall. The staff explains the program to them, that they will be building custom cocktails. Attendees are given 30 minutes to go into the culinary garden and identify garnishes and fruits they would like included in the cocktail they want to build, with the help of the F&B team—typically a resort bartender, who talks about what kinds of cocktails work well with the ingredients they are gathering.
These F&B-themed packages do not require a lot of hands.
“We’ll invite our wine director and a couple of individuals from our beverage team to participate, and/or our banquet captains, to execute these programs,” Brassie explains. “It’s not labor-intensive, with the exception of the culinary gardens; we have a full-time staff that tends to those to make sure the produce is tended on a daily basis and is organic and restaurant-quality. That’s where the labor piece comes in, just keeping up the venue, not just so it’s appropriate for guest consumption but also so that it looks attractive.”
Brassie says Vino and Bocce is far and away the most popular, because it’s iconic of wine culture, but since Brassie has been there, Gather and Garnish has “created the most excitement, because it’s not something other venues offer,” he says. “And it allows for teambuilding but also allows each individual to do something very personal to themselves, based on what kind of cocktail they want to make.”