Service with Heart: Wintering on Riva Terrace
In the summertime, Riva Terrace whisks guests of Four Seasons Hotel Minneapolis to the Italian Riviera via Mediterranean cuisine and décor that belongs on the set of White Lotus. Then, just as the seasons and weather change, so does the Riva Terrace experience.
“Minnesotans embrace winter. They like being outside,” says Cindy Tlaiye, the Hotel’s Opening Director of Food and Beverage. “So, we worked to create a space where it feels like you’re in a cabin at a ski lodge.”
While the look and feel of Riva Terrace changes with the seasons, our commitment to hospitality – treating all guests with warmth and providing service with genuine heart – stays exactly the same.
Director of Guest Experience Naomi Thompson explains: “The goal is to provide authentic Minnesota experiences, while continuing to deliver what we do best: food, service and skyline views.”
Enter Nordic Village, a collection of cedar cabins situated on the fourth-floor pool deck. Outside, the structures are flanked by snow, cosy fires, strings of white lights and vintage skis. Inside, tables and chairs for two to six guests set the stage for a charming, al fresco dining experience that keeps diners safe from the cold.
The Hotel’s Opening Director of Marketing Chris White recalls how Riva Terrace was outfitted for winter dining from the start. “We had heating under the entire pool deck, so we knew we could use the space,” Chris says. “We already had a built-in kitchen, an existing bar, a team in place. We knew we could create an intimate experience that was executed with elevated service and great food.”
Director of Engineering Brady Knott and his team constructed the cabins in just one month. This included hand-lining them inside and out with knotty pine, insulating them, sealing the doors and windows, running power to each structure, and outfitting every space with heaters, speakers and personalized Spotify accounts so each party could customize their dinner playlist. They also fashioned panes of glass within each rooftop for stargazing purposes.
Next, Cindy and her team gave each space a wintery aesthetic with lush white blankets, winter-inspired serveware and décor to celebrate snow and cold. “Minimalist, but cosy,” Cindy says. “What a cabin in Brainerd [Minnesota] would feel like.”
We also considered how to protect servers from the cold while still ensuring they were comfortable and agile. Martin Patrick, a nearby clothing store, provided Mackage coats that not only did the job, but looked sharp.
To help guests settle into their snug surroundings, Executive Chef Martín Morelli blends après ski culture, Nordic fare and Midwestern cuisine, while also highlighting local purveyors throughout the four-course meal. This includes a bountiful cheese and charcuterie board and pull-apart bread skillet to start, followed by a first course of onion soup and smoked salmon with rösti potatoes, and a main course featuring cheese fondue with all the fixings. The grand finale – dessert – shines just as brightly as guests have the opportunity to toast house-made, Minnesota-shaped s’mores.
“It’s interactive, with a little flame at the table where you do your fondue and s’mores,” Cindy says. “It’s all the things you would want for a winter cabin meal.”
The first year of this seasonal dining experience was an instant hit with all public bookings sold out within the first two weeks of availability. Also, even though temperatures dipped below zero many nights, there were few cancellations, and Riva Terrace only closed twice due to excessive ice.
“People would call and say, ‘It’s supposed to be -10, are you still open?’” Cindy says. “We’re open if you want to come!”
Due to guest demand, instead of shutting down March 4 as originally planned, we extended the seasonal dining experience through April 1.
“It is so exciting to know the community is engaged with what we’re doing,” Cindy says. “It gives us the opportunity to think creatively about our offerings because people want to see what we’re doing; they want to come enjoy something they won’t find anywhere else.”
While the inaugural year was promising for sure, our team is already thinking about how we can grow and evolve this offering next winter.
“What will stay consistent is the quality and the level of service,” says Naomi. “But we want to serve more people, so expand, expand, expand.” The team envisions several more cabins — including one for larger groups — and a design that’s focused on more than the meal.
“We plan to have experiences before and after,” says Chris. “Things for people to do when they come out of the cabins. We’ll invite them to come earlier and stay later.” He also adds the theme will be tweaked, instead pulling inspiration from the Alps. “Riva Terrace is an Italian restaurant and going more Alpine allows us to explore the food and culture of the Northern Italian Alps.”
Regardless of any changes next year, this seasonal dining experience will stay true to our guest-centric standards while celebrating this unique location. “You’re in a rustic cabin, but you’re in a rustic cabin in the middle of a city,” says Naomi. “It connects us to the community and lets us embrace winter, too.”