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Facility Focus: Ritz-Carlton Renovations: Soothing and Creative, Trendy and High-Tech: Amphitheater, meeting rooms, menus get makeovers

Article By Stacy Ross

The Ritz-Carlton unveiled its $8.8 million renovation project at an event in November. Sue Hites was there and she was impressed.

“The décor is beautiful,” said Hites, director of business development for accounting firm UHY. “It’s very modern. I love the blues and grays. It’s perfect for being up-to-date for 2018 and beyond.” The renovation of the Clayton hotel’s meeting rooms, amphitheater, and guest rooms completes the last of three phases of upgrades (the other two being the Grand Ballroom in 2014 and the fitness center and spa in 2015).

The 2017 changes include all-new banquet menus, sleek modern furniture, and technical upgrades. Boston designer Jinnie Kim created the soft, spa-like color scheme. “We get a lot of feedback that it’s very soothing,” said Ritz General Manager Amanda Joiner.

Other improvements range from new linens, buffet tables, and flex-back chairs with lumbar support to tabletop luxuries such as herbal-infused bottled water, individual ice sculptures of the Gateway Arch, and pastries shaped to look like company products and logos

Of all the renovations and upgrades, Joiner highlights the technical and functional improvements to the 140-seat amphitheater (the only hotel amphitheater in St. Louis, according to Joiner). In addition to audiovisual improvements, new desktop power outlets eliminate the typical tangle of power cords on the floor, seats are comfortable enough to sit in for several hours, and spacious rows mean conference attendees can get up from their seats without disturbing those around them.

Bourbon, Cotton Candy and…a Vodka Luge?
For the reveal event held in November, Marketing and Sales Director Christie Pink set up meeting and conference rooms to showcase the types of events that could be held in them. Hites, who organizes monthly dinner meetings for a professional organization, discovered a new option for her dinners when she visited a room that was set up as an executive boardroom with bourbon-tasting in an adjoining alcove.
“Because of that event, we added on a bourbon-tasting to this month’s meeting,” Hites said. “It was really cool. Our members really liked it. Now I don’t know if they’d like the cotton candy machine they had in one of the rooms, but I enjoyed it,” Hites said. “It would be good for a group that’s more whimsical than ours.”

Hites’s comment illustrates a point Pink makes. “We’re very good at making transitions from a corporate event to a social event.”
Indeed, in contrast to the boardroom, one of the themed rooms was a trendy social setting with funky leather seating, a sushi bar, and custom cocktails made from vodka poured through an ice sculpture known as a “vodka luge.”

“They can do way more than what I’m tapping into with my dinner events,” Hites said.

Focus on Food
One of Pink’s goals was to showcase the new and creative options available to event planners, including the new banquet menus, she said. Both Joiner and Pink point to the culinary service as one of the hotel’s biggest selling points.

Banquet guests seem to agree. In 2017, the St. Louis banquet food was ranked among the top five out of 100 Ritz properties in customer satisfaction, Joiner said.

Perhaps one reason is Executive Chef Melissa Lee’s creativity and ability to accommodate such a wide range of culinary requests,
including kosher meals. Vegetarian puff pastry purses, house-smoked salmon, and filet mignon served on a 500-degree salt block with truffle oil are just a few of the options.

“We had an event for 800 people with 70 unique allergies
– dairy, gluten, wheat, shellfish, nuts, and combinations of those,” Pink said. “That client says that’s specifically why they bring that program here.”

Some requests are easier to fulfill. “People will say, ‘what do you have that’s St. Louis?’” Joiner said. “We’ll do a buffet with
barbecue and gooey butter cake. We’ve even brought in Ted Drewes.”

Above and Beyond
Hites is in good company with organizations such as Enterprise Holdings, the St. Louis Symphony, and the Arthritis Foundation hosting events at the Ritz. In addition, the hotel has a strong out-of-town clientele, Pink said, including myriad national medical and business organizations. Clients host everything from large national conferences to regional events and small dinner meeting such as Sites.’

The hotel can accommodate groups as small as 10 up to 850, Pink said. More than a dozen room configurations range in size from a 425 square-foot meeting room to the 13,000 square-foot ballroom.

The price range is broad as well, from a $30 per person lunch to $300 per person for an exclusive, high-end event. Room
rentals range from $200 for a junior boardroom to $250,000 for a multi-day conference.

The Ritz is not inexpensive, but meeting planners say the cost is worth it. Delta Dental of Missouri will hold its third annual conference which typically draws 400-500 attendees at the Ritz again this year and is already planning to come back in 2019.

“The hotel offers a good value for the level of experience they provide,” said Stacy Harris, Delta Dental’s supervisor of community outreach. “The recent renovations and upgrades were important when considering a hotel for our event. We want our guests to have a top-notch experience.

“The hotel is beautiful and the staff goes above and beyond on event day,” Harris said. “I would recommend the Ritz to any planner who is looking to impress their attendees.”

MM&E

Stacy Ross is a freelance writer from St. Louis, MO

CONTACT INFORMATION:
Christie Pink, Marketing and Sales Director
100 Carondelet Plaza
St. Louis, MO 63105
314-863-6300
www.ritzcarlton.com

At a Glance Information
Type of Facility: Hotel/Resort
Range of group size: 10 to 850
Type of cuisine: Wide variety from salads and sandwiches
to filet mignon and house-smoked salmon
Number of Guest Rooms: 300
Special Features/Amenities: 140-seat, state-of-the-art
amphitheater $30 pp
Price Range: lunch to $300 pp dinner. Room rental
$200 to $250,000


Food waste doesn’t go to waste at Ritz-Carlton
Thanks to Ritz-Carlton’s composting program, one person’s leftovers are becoming a gardener’s gold. Ritz staff scrupulously scraped 415,000 pounds of room service and banquet food into compost containers last year, according to Ritz spokeswoman Bonnie Crail, and as a result, removed 291 tons of CO2 emissions or the equivalent to taking 62 cars off the road. Introduced in 2017, the hotel expects even bigger numbers this year.

“We anticipate that in 2018 we’ll increase our composting production equal to another 10 tons per month,” Crail said.

Four times a week trucks carry the waste to St. LouisComposting’s Belleville facility where it decomposes and is then sold to homeowners and landscapers. Compost improves soil structure and adds important nutrients, Crail explained. Keeping food scraps
out of landfills reduces methane gas production and the need for more landfill capacity. The St. Louis Ritz’s composting initiative is unusual among the Ritz properties, Joiner said. It complements the other company-wide environmental programs
including electric vehicle charging stations, a sustainable seafood initiative, recycling and renewable energy efforts.
“The next phase of this initiative will see composting rolled out in our Club Lounge and employee dining room,” said General Manager Amanda Joiner.
“We’re also hopeful that the practice may become a habit in our own homes as well.”

About the author

Joe Clote

Joseph W. Clote is owner of Publishing Concepts, LLC a communications and marketing firm based in Saint Louis, Missouri. Mr. Clote is Group Publisher of MeetMed™ and Missouri Meetings & Events™ (MM&E) magazine, a quarterly publication read by thousands of meeting and event professionals, and producer of the St. Louis and Kansas City trade shows under the MM&E name. Mr. Clote has extensive sales and marketing expertise in the travel, tourism, fine art, insurance, and software development industries.