When Wine Is Complimentary to Traveling

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By Robert P. Farmer

Those of you who have traveled enough, and even those of you whose adventures take them away from home only occasionally, can attest that the little things a hotel does for its guest can go a long, long way. In today's world of travel incentives--ranging from free night's stays to tickets to the hottest shows, few such lures have the cachet or the staying power as the Complimentary Wine Reception.

This trend--in which a hotel pours wine for its guests each evening in the lobby or other common space, along with, typically, some sort of light fare--is actually something that has been around much longer than most of today's market-responsive hotel incentives. In fact, long before the economic maelstrom prompted hotel GMs to start giving away everything but the bed sheets, the wine reception was a popular means for acknowledging guest loyalty and for helping to make a hotel stay memorable. Now, however, the phenomenon is truly taking off.
Wine Hours, or Manager's Receptions, or whatever they happen to be called by the individual hotels or hotel chains that are providing them, has proven to be one of the most successful ways to inspire guest satisfaction and repeat business. It's also proven to be a boost for wines produced in a particular area, because most hotels have taken to partnering with their neighboring wineries as a means for both offsetting their own costs and to help promote local business.

Meanwhile, wine appreciation and awareness continues its upward surge throughout the nation (indeed, globally) and hotel guests, whether traveling for business or pleasure are more apt to take advantage of the opportunity to try new wines while unwinding after a day's worth of whatever it was that had them going all day. During a trip to Chicago not long ago, I was surprised to find that the evening wine reception at the Hotel Burnham was simply packed--in the dead of winter when it about 3 degrees outside!

I spoke to the wine steward and asked if it was always so crowded or whether perhaps I had caught them on a particularly busy evening. No, I was assured, the Burnham's wine reception was apparently a hot ticket in the heart of the Windy City. And not only were guests lining up just to get free wine, they were curious and conversing about what they were drinking (in this case, a well-structured cabernet from Sonoma).

The Hotel Burnham, you may know, is an elegant little hotel from Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, the San Francisco-based boutique hotel operator which has perfected the art of the evening wine reception--if they didn't actually invent it. Each of Kimpton's hotels throughout the United States features a hosted evening wine reception, with wherever possible wines from vineyards in the hotel's immediate surroundings. It has been a hook for customer loyalty for years, and a benchmark for setting the chain apart from the pack.

However, Kimpton has certainly not cornered the market, as evidenced by the rather high-profile marketing push recently from Embassy Suites highlighting the complimentary Manager's Reception each evening in all of their nationwide hotels.

While these may not be as wine-focused as the receptions offered at Kimpton hotels and other one-off boutiques the world over, the Embassy Suites version is excellent support for my long-held theory that wine continues to be the best way to relax a weary traveler. 

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Wow! Hotels are starting to show the personal attention and amenities that we bed and breakfasts have always offered!

Arcady Vineyard B&B and Wine Tours
Charlottesville, Virginia

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