“Ground Zero” Culinary Experiences Woo MGM Incentive Attendees

Michael Mina at Silver OaksMGM decided to take its top sales performers on an incentive trip to get to the heart of what the entertainment company is all about: culinary experiences.

“We tell our customers that there’s no greater form of entertainment then a good culinary experience with a story and a thought process behind it, so we wanted to showcase and live and breathe what we show them,” says Michael Dominguez, chief sales officer for MGM.

Dominguez decided there was no place better to “live and breathe” that F&B experience than Napa, Calif. “When you talk about food and beverage, Napa is ground zero,” he says. “There’s something very spiritual about Napa. The ability to not only have great food and wine, but for it to be educational and memorable made it the perfect combination.”

The group of about 70 (including employees and their guests) stayed three nights at the 141-room Andaz Napa in downtown this past March—a purposeful move so attendees could experience Napa’s blossoming urban scene. After a welcome reception at the hotel, the event team sent attendees an amenity of two wine bottles and a box large enough to ship 12 bottles of wine home.

There’s something very spiritual about Napa. The ability to not only have great food and wine, but for it to be educational and memorable made it the perfect combination.

The next day, half the group visited Merryvale Vineyards and the other half went to ZD Wines for educational tours and tastings. They reconnected for a lunch at Merryvale on the porch of an old Victorian house located next to the winery. Then, the group swapped spots before dinner at Celadon restaurant in downtown Napa. The restaurant’s tented patio overlooks the Napa River, creating a rustic ambiance with exposed brick and a wood-burning fireplace in the middle of the room.

A similar program ensued the next day at larger wineries—Peju Province Winery and Cakebread Cellars—for wine tastings. Lunch in the middle of Peju’s HB Vineyard consisted of salads and pizzas created in pizza ovens before the group again swapped to opposite venues.

Dominguez booked MGM chef Michael Mina for the final award’s dinner in the private outdoor dining area overlooking the vineyards at Silver Oak Cellars. Minna created a menu of dishes—octopus risotto, ragu di funghi and Yemenite-spiced American Wagyu beef—that are currently being tested in his San Francisco test kitchen. Instead of the typical sales trophy, attendees received Silver Oak bottles that included a logo with the year and the award winner’s name.

“[The entire event] was just an incredible experience all the way,” says Dominguez. “It kept building energy and momentum. The first day included smaller wineries at a slower pace, while that second day had more energy as wineries got bigger.”

Dominguez admits that Napa was a risk for a group that typically requests a beach destination, but he says he doesn’t think the F&B experience could have been replicated outside of Napa.

“When I look at Napa, I wanted to try to make a memorable experience that attendees will continue to talk about when they return back to their offices. That couldn’t have been accomplished without the destination, and it’s the destination as a whole that brought to life the F&B. The wine I had during those experiences just tastes a little different compared to when I open the same bottle at home. It just tastes better when you’re in that type of environment.”

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