The Definition of Catering: Millennials, Hotels and the War for the 21st Century

Note to Millennials, or anyone who looks like one – the old people are bluffing. They sound like they hate you. But they really just want you to love them first. And buy something, too.

by Kolby SolinskyWhite Cover Magazine

The New York Times, reliable in several ways.

Solid masthead and attractive font. They never fail to address people whose first names we know more formally, as ‘Mr. So-and-So’ and ‘Mrs. So-and-So.’ And the Lady’s reporters have a funny tactic of being both explanatory and slyly – maybe unintentionally – condescending to their subjects and subject matter.

The New York Times isn’t alone in this, when it comes to articles about ‘Millennials’ – that desired and somehow hated group of often unidentified young people. Their true ages or qualities are hardly ever defined or elaborated on. That would take actual work. And it would be hard, maybe even impossible. So, nobody actually tries to accomplish it.

Instead, we’re left with countless and awfully endless and traced copies of the same article – young people love themselves and all us suddenly old people are wiser and hate the youngins, as I’m sure everyone with a tucked-in shirt has been saying about their children and their children’s generation for decades and centuries now.

But I give the Times some credit. Because they frame stuff well.

That’s why they address Brad Pitt as Mr. Pitt and Selena Gomez as Ms. Gomez – they don’t want to give you any allusion there’s anything intimate or personal about their coverage, even when there clearly is. (When their own reporter, the famous David Carr, passed away in 2015, the Times referred to him as ‘Mr. Carr’ in their obituary-ish piece.)

Likewise, Wednesday’s story about millennials and the hotels that are now forced to cater to them wasn’t really written by the Times – it was just penned by the Times. Transcribed. Reporter on. Again, this is a formula that has worked forever and will work forever. Doesn’t matter if it’s on the web or on the printed page.

Read: ‘What Do Millennials Want? Hotels Have Some Ideas‘ (Dinah Eng, The New York Times)

But the piece is still hilarious in its quick-fire assessment of ‘millennials’ and the fact that, to companies wanting to sell something, they’re still such terrifyingly demanding and confusing – and loved – but also elusive customers. (Or rather, those working the hotels are hilarious in their assessment of young people.)

Really, when you hear all these suits talking about ‘What Millennials Want’, it just sounds like a focus group trying to explain why a joke is funny, or what they’d fix about something that’s not only not broken, but not even tried yet.

(In Canada, the Globe and Mail has become a punching bag for their endless onslaught of almost-fraudulent columns about ‘millennials’. They over-cover it like CNN over-covers disappeared planes and African-borne viruses.)

The article begins with quotes from spokespeople at companies like Starwood, Hilton, and Marriott, which have unveiled new, meant-for-the-young-and-stupid chains called Element, Call it Canopy, and Moxy. (I would tell you which new chain is owned by which of the three companies, but it doesn’t really matter, does it?)

Basically, these hotel conglomerates are starting to include company-specific WiFi and ‘hangover packages’ with Vitaminwater and Advil and probably a bunch of sponsored versions of real-life products and essentials you could find at any corner.

Why? Well, because millennials need WiFi and constant Internet and, basically, they’re cheap and want free stuff. (Even though anyone, no matter their age, knows that a hotel charging for WiFi is a dirty rotten scam. And that $5 water and $8 cans of nuts are rip-offs, too. As is almost everything in a hotel room. But sure, blame the university kids – and then create ‘budget’ hotel chains just for them and their kind, all so you can charge adults even more for what they’ve always had and now you’ll just call it ‘Premium’. Like an airline charging substantially more for a slightly better version of Economy.)

“Hotels are concluding that millennial travellers want three things: customized experiences, digital convenience and relevant information on social media.”

That’s how the Times sums up the feelings of those at Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, and other companies like them.

Yes, they know all about what millennials want. Even though they clearly don’t know the only things all their customers hate…

Brands. Buildings. And when something is obviously just business.

(The photo at the top is from Ace Hotel’s Facebook page, of their hotel in Palm Springs, California. Ace Hotel is not mentioned in this article, but their brand is thought of – or was once thought of – as the quintessential hipster hotel.)