Interview with Laurent Gardinier

Laurent Gardinier: an entrepreneur who respects tradition

Sober and thoughtful, yet passionate and full of ambition, Laurent Gardinier believes in the power of hospitality and gastronomy to bring people together. He is committed to updating the Relais & Châteaux Manifesto to better reflect the challenges facing the world today and to further strengthen the solidarity of the association. He approaches his new role with deep energy and an unyielding mindset about how our independent properties will thrive in the age of sustainability.

A bit about your childhood and upbringing

I come from a family of entrepreneurs, after my father Xavier and my grandfather Lucien, who founded the family business Gardinier. I lived a happy Parisian childhood alongside my older brothers. I followed a fairly standard school curriculum before studying in Paris, at La Sorbonne and at Dauphine University, covering economics, finance, history, political history and political philosophy.

Did your studies suggest that you go into the business world?

After my studies, I started working with my brothers in the family business, precisely because it was the family business. If I hadn’t, I might never have entered the business of entrepreneurship. Taking over a family business, developing and perpetuating its values, is an honor. But perhaps what prepared me best for this world was my military service. Naval officer, aide-de-camp to the admiral of the Brest flotilla, I learned a lot about solidarity, hierarchy, fraternity. I understood the contribution of everyone’s role, in the right place.

Have you followed in the footsteps of your ancestors?

Not exactly. My brothers and I never considered ourselves heirs as such, because each generation of Gardiniers carried out different activities. Our generation is resolutely turned towards the hotel industry and high-end gastronomy, out of passion for these exceptional terroirs. Gardinier bought Relais & Châteaux Le Domaine Les Crayères in Champagne in 2000. Then, in 2014, he acquired Le Taillevent, a Relais & Châteaux restaurant with two Michelin stars. I feel enormous satisfaction working in the world of hospitality and wine, even though I am neither a practitioner, nor a hotel parent, nor a hotel school. Promote Art of living (the art of living) through our beautiful properties fills me with joy. Hospitality and gastronomy combine such rich worlds – architecture and aesthetics, culture and civilization, our sociability and humanity.

So an unexpected but satisfying career?

In a family business, the concept of career is more the expression of a vision, because an entrepreneurial approach can take it in new and unexpected directions. With my brothers, I am happy to have contributed to the evolution of our company.

Is assuming the presidency of Relais & Châteaux, in addition to your own activity, a courageous step?

I can embark on this life-changing adventure because my brothers take on some of my responsibility at Gardinier – and especially because Relais & Châteaux has an incredible management team.

Do you know how the association works?

I have been a member of the Board of Directors of Relais & Châteaux since 2005, as National Delegate for France representing 140 properties. I truly enjoy the responsibilities of elected office and how it translates into day-to-day reality for our member properties – it’s what has encouraged me to take on similar positions in my own community, as as municipal councilor for seven years, in the commune of Saint-Estèphe, and as deputy for the Fifth district of Bordeaux, for five years.

What differentiates Relais & Châteaux from other hotel brands?

Even if the notion of luxury is important, it does not distinguish us from our competitors. The differentiating factor is our commitment to UNESCO in 2014 to “make the world a better place through food and hospitality” and “elevate the art of living” which positions us unique through our values, essential for people and the planet. Relais & Châteaux does not content itself with being an efficient booking platform, but simply offers marketing and communication support to its members. Instead, we empower our properties to help build a better world. Philippe Gombert, our former president, and Olivier Roellinger, our vice-president, were true pioneers in this area. They have defined the art of hospitality with respect for the land and people, taking into account the authenticity and uniqueness of countries, customs and cultures.

Is Relais & Châteaux a strong brand internationally?

It is a very powerful brand, a human-sized association of restaurants and hotels with an average of 30 rooms. They are in unique, often beautifully secluded locations, with authentic architecture that evokes the past or celebrates contemporary design. Each property offers its own style of service and cuisine, recognized by our 340 Michelin stars. All these qualities have contributed to lowering the average age of our guests by five years, which has now fallen below the 50-year mark.

How do you envision your presidency?

I intend to devote myself totally to it, without upsetting everything. Relais & Châteaux is unique in the world, bringing together 580 members in 65 countries, managed by an efficient, dedicated and competent management team. We must remain attentive to the quality of our network, to the values ​​that we share and to which each member must feel aligned. I think it is necessary to broaden the 2014 Manifesto, to maintain our pioneering role, and to give it an even more societal and eco-responsible dimension. We can thus motivate and retain our employees, give more meaning to their profession, retain and federate our current members and attract guests who are also aligned with our commitments.

What are your concrete intentions?

Write and publish a new Manifesto in 2024, building on the work of 2014, but encompassing current issues and taking into account the specific sensitivities of each country. I focus on three main axes: reducing our environmental footprint with economically realistic solutions; preserve biodiversity, working in particular with our chefs; and strengthen respect for each of our employees and increase social responsibility; while maintaining the financial health of our Association. All the members of the Executive Committee wish to move forward in this direction. Just as Philippe Gombert worked closely with his vice-president, Olivier Roellinger, a chef, on the 2014 Manifesto, I will be closely aligned with Mauro Colagreco, an Italian-Argentine chef whose restaurant Mirazur has three Michelin stars and who is a long – militant time for eco-responsible gastronomy. In 2024, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Relais & Châteaux, we will unveil our new ambition.

Want a dynamic start?

As I said above, the high quality management team successfully watches over the image of Relais & Châteaux, its dynamism, its community and the interests of our owners and their properties. Our innovative communication increases brand awareness and highlights the activities in terms of services to members and guests, and towards the environment. I am delighted that all Relais & Châteaux employees are so dedicated to the association and its 580 members, and work so hard to sustain and develop the brand – we have seen this especially during the COVID pandemic. Thanks to this collective dedication and expertise, I look forward to my presidency with confidence, enthusiasm and ambition.

About Relais & Chateaux

Relais & Châteaux, created in 1954, is an association of 580 unique hotels and restaurants around the world, owned and operated by independent entrepreneurs – most often families – passionate about their profession and deeply committed to building warm and lasting relationships. with their customers. . Established on five continents, from the vineyards of Napa Valley to Provence via the beaches of the Indian Ocean, Relais & Châteaux invites people from all over the world to savor delicious journeys, to discover the inimitable art of living in each local culture and to share an incomparable experience, an unforgettable experience. Relais & Châteaux members protect and promote the richness and diversity of culinary and hotel traditions around the world, to ensure their sustainability. They are also committed to the preservation of local heritage and the environment, as articulated in the Vision of the association presented to UNESCO in November 2014.

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