Let’s face it: Everyone is itching to get back to hospitality industry events, large or small, as the coronavirus pandemic lingers like a wet blanket.

Travel trade editors are certainly no exception, our calendars previously filled with all manner of hotel, destination bureau and somewhat random events showcasing this or that. Admit it—you meeting and event planners know what I’m talking about, as we’ve been elbow-to-elbow at these soirees over the years.

Well, hasn’t the pandemic put the ol’ kibosh on all that conviviality, eh?!

It was with that sentiment that I was all too eager to accept a media event invite—they haven’t exactly been rolling in the last few months—to enjoy a little industry hospitality at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, located a little less than an hour south of where I shelter in place in San Francisco.

The Ritz-Carlton
Photo: The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay is perched on a dramatic bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Central California Coast. Credit: The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay

The lure was the return of the local bagpiper who marks the setting of the sun over the Pacific five evenings a week at the Forbes Five-Diamond resort set atop craggy cliffs and the pounding surf of the moody ocean—the native habitat of a piper. The Central California Coast fog, which envelops Half Moon Bay like an Afghan that lets a little bit of chill in, completes the noirish tableau.

The Ocean Terrace at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay has been pressed into service even more as a restaurant since the pandemic hit.
Photo: The Ocean Terrace at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay has been pressed into service even more as a restaurant since the pandemic hit. Credit: Tyler Davidson

Putting on the Ritz

Another factor in my decision to attend, apart from a burning desire to get the hell out of my house and see—maybe even talk to!—actual other human beings, was that the invite was from local meetings and hospitality industry vet Joel Costa, a former MPI Northern California Chapter president and current director of sales and marketing at the Ritz.

A chance to commiserate my COVID blues with a hospitality industry colleague who would certainly understand!

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Like all of his hotel colleagues, Costa has had a challenging time of it since the pandemic hit, doing his best to navigate the myriad county and state regulations concerning gatherings, and also the challenges of trying to maintain staffing when the flow of revenue has been shut off like a proverbial faucet. As with any good hotelier, the wellbeing of his team—“Ladies and Gentlemen,” as any Ritz veteran refers to their coworkers—is of paramount concern, as they become like family.

Photo: The bagpiper warms up in the cool coastal California air before serenading guests at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay. Credit: Tyler Davidson

Pulling up to the porte cochere, my wife and I were greeted by a smiling valet. Well, I assumed he was smiling, as we were all wearing masks.

[Related: On the Scene: Half Moon Bay Gives Groups a Taste of the Good Life]

Wandering through the beautiful but largely empty lobby overlooking the ocean and verdant Half Moon Bay Golf Links, I was enthusiastically engaged by numerous mask-clad Ladies and Gentleman, all eager to point us in the right direction or otherwise assist with whatever else it was we were in need of at the moment.

A Warm (If Foggy) Reception

Sangria Foam Salmon Fois GrasThe reception took place on the Ocean Terrace, the resort’s casual restaurant and bar offering alfresco ocean-side seating. Always a popular post-golf gathering spot, or a relaxing respite for guests to enjoy a light bite and cocktail around its ample gas firepits—a cozy accompaniment to the coastal fog that lends some literal “atmosphere” to the setting—the Ocean Terrace has been pressed into duty as the resort’s primary restaurant due to the advantage of its outdoor seating and aptitude for social distancing.

(Photo: Hors d'oeuvres at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay celebrate local sourcing and innovative concepts, including sangria foam shooters, salmon and avocado spoons and an intriguing foie gras/white chocolate combo. Credit: Tyler Davidson)

Chefs Francisco Simon, the new chef de cuisine for Navio, and Executive Sous Chef Roberto Riveros Leyton—Ritz-Carlton culinary veterans whose journey has taken them to the brand’s properties throughout the world—engaged our party with the kind of hospitality industry shoptalk we were craving even more than their imagintively prepared hors d'oeuvres.

Although the ability to host meetings in its more than 35,000 square feet of space (including the largest ballroom on the Northern California coast) during the pandemic is still a moving target subject to county and state regulations, at publication time in early August the resort was operating at full capacity with the following modifications:

  • Dining: In-room dining is available from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.; the Ocean Terrace is open daily from 11 a.m. till sunset (weather permitting); The Conservatory is currently closed; Navio restaurant is currently closed (the resort is gearing up to offer pop-up brunch service on select days); and the Club Lounge is currently closed.
  • Spa: The spa is open, but reservations can only be made by phone.
  • Golf: Both golf courses are open.
  • Recreation: Tennis, the pool and bicycles are available with reservations. Other recreational options include walking or biking the 11.5-mile Coastal Trail; watching the waves crash on Pelican Point Beach; and enjoying the acclaimed wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains around the public or personal fire pits off of select rooms.

Of course, we were here for the bagpiper, thank you, and he delivered in a fittingly stoic style, warming up on a bluff overlooking the ocean before plodding down the footpath toward the Ocean Terrace as the sun set.

It was a fitting, if melancholy, ode to a seemingly distant time when we could all gather to share our stories in front of a fire with a glass in hand.

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