words mary von aue | images mary von aue & @ClocktowerNYC
“The Baby Boomer’s trademark was wanting familiarity, safety, and comfort in their hotel. But I think it’s becoming obvious at this point that Millennials want the exact opposite of that," non-Millennial Wolfgang Lindlbauer tells me. Boutique hotels and AirBnB are leading the charge, redirecting the young traveler’s attention towards more 'local' experiences that contain an element of surprise. And, in comparison, hotels like the Marriott other big franchises are left looking bashful about their size while trying to recreate the boutique experience.
It’s no small feat to introduce change to a hotel franchise that has been comfortably set in its ways for so long, but fortunately, at least for the Marriott, Wolfgang has been hired to fix that problem and he’s only begun to scratch the surface. Among his many responsibilities as the Global Discipline Leader at Marriott International Inc., Wolfgang oversees all food and beverage initiatives, including the design and development of menus for all of Marriott’s nineteen brands in eighty countries.
Wolfgang first got his start as a bellboy in his native Munich, opening doors for an elite guest list. “There’s a hierarchy in the bellhop business,” he says, laughing. “They wouldn’t let me carry the luggage right away. I wasn’t good enough. I only got to hold the door open.” Loyal to the industry, Wolfgang has been with Marriott for thirty-one years, and his career path has allowed him to travel all of Europe, North America, and the Middle East.
Wolfgang insists that we meet for lunch at the new Clocktower Lounge inside the New York EDITION, which is part of the Marriott’s lifestyle brands—a small collection that engages with the luxury traveler who’d normally seek a boutique hotel over a franchise. The New York location has only been open for two months, and it seems like a good time to check in on its progress.
In contrast to the sleek, minimalist design of the spaces inside the EDITION Hotel, the Clocktower Lounge is a bright and gaudy restoration: Portraits of film stars and social activists line the vaulted ceilings; small treats are served in rustic antique tins; and the decor reminds me of my one stylish grandma, the one who always seems to have a brooch for every occasion. Using antique imagery and Jason Atherton’s menu, the room is a playful homage to the luxury of yesteryear.
Initially, I feel nervous for our server, wondering if Wolfgang is going to be hypercritical of the new satellite location. I’m a veteran of the restaurant industry, and nothing makes you more anxious for your job than serving your boss, even if indirectly. But, the waiter never catches on that Wolfgang is a Marriott executive, and Wolfgang plays the role of a low-maintenance patron very well.
During lunch, Wolfgang’s demeanor is reserved and understated. When I ask him about his favorite places and gadgets, his answers all convey a sense of pragmatism and a need for quiet efficiency. “That comes from some good advice I once received,” Wolfgang explains. “I was told I would meet people smarter than me, and people that were better than me at what I do. If you want to be successful, you don’t compete with them, you give them what you have.”
Before returning to Marriott’s corporate headquarters in 2008, Wolfgang spent seven years as the Regional Vice President of Operations for Continental Europe, and was responsible for food and beverage, rooms operations, brand standards, and new hotel programming for Marriott International for the region. He knows Marriott like the back of his hand; and yet, he’s tasked with trying to change everything that we once knew about the hotel chain.
Recently, Wolfgang invited chefs and entrepreneurs from fourteen international cities to submit their ideas for a restaurant or bar. Now known as project CANVAS, the winning concepts were awarded $50,000 and six months to turn their idea into a reality for Marriott. Many of the initial ideas have already launched to significant success—London’s Roofnic boasts lines around the block; Tofu Boutique rocks Shanghai; and Dubai’s Nawwara has an overflowing guest list—and Wolfgang continues to award new submissions.
You’d never know that they were Marriott’s though. “There isn’t a single Marriott logo at Roofnic,” Wolfgang tells me. “It’s not about us, it’s about the local artisans.” Still, he makes no pretense about Marriott’s clout. “Ready to run your own bar or kitchen?” the opening page of CANVAS asks. “We have the money, space, and no-how to get you started.”
where do you live — Washington, DC, in the Palisades.
favorite neighborhood dinner — Et Voila! It’s a tiny Belgian Bistro, probably about fourteen feet wide. Everyone there speaks French, and they have a simple, delicious menu.
luggage — I have been using the same Rimowa for ten years, and it still holds up! It keeps me organized. But for New York, I like to bring this canvas bag here. It just feels like a New York bag.
gadgets — My iPhone
accessory — I tend to lose things so it’s hard to say. Believe it or not, I think it’s this key ring. My wife bought it for me fifteen years ago. It is very easy to take keys on and off, so it keeps me organized, too. Because it was a gift from my wife and it is so efficient in helping me organize my keys, I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
favorite charity — Save the Children. My wife and I have donated to them for twenty years.
favorite hotel — Not an easy question, because it depends on the occasion. I love the Renaissance Hotel in Phuket. They have suites with private swimming pools. It’s pretty amazing. In Paris, there is a Renaissance 88 which is just a hidden gem.
favorite airport — Munich
favorite airline — In Europe, Lufthansa. But globally, Singapore.
favorite app — The weather channel, or the camera! I’m taking pictures all the time. Uber has become so convenient as well.
home is...where I live.
where would you like to live — On a sailboat.
where were u when were you happiest — I’m happy when I have a job I enjoy. I learned many years ago that you need have interests outside of work to appreciate a new place. If you make an effort to go out and learn about the local place, you will be much happier, wherever it is.
what do you consider your greatest achievement — I worked with someone who once told me, “Wolfgang, you will meet people who are smarter than you and far better than you will be. Give those people everything you have to give and it will come back to you someday.” I’ve been able to do that for a lot of people over the years.
what is your current state of mind — Well, I’m about to enjoy a lovely lunch! So I’m not thinking about a thing.
how many trips to you take a year — Probably thirty to forty.
how many of those are vacations — Three to four, if you include weekends.
without traveling, you relax by — I love driving or sailing.
won't board the plane before/without — I try to get there early if I have a carry on, but otherwise, I wait until the very last minute to board the plane. I’ll usually be the last person to board.
take off routine — I used to travel five days a week for nearly eight years; yet, I don’t think I have a routine. The only consistent thing I can do is fall asleep wherever I need to fall asleep. Often, that is on the plane.
first thing you do after landing — Make my arrangements for transportation.
travel is...fun. Well, not always, but the intention is always there.