EMP Summer House is back, and we have Janey Whiteside to thank. The globe-trotting EVP and general manager of American Express Platinum gives us the scoop on how our hardworking Platinum Cards have even more magic in store for Card Members—particularly in the Hamptons, of course.
First things first: Thank you for bringing back EMP Summer House! Why was the partnership so successful last summer?
It was something new in the Hamptons, and the combination of Will [Guidara] and Daniel [Humm’s] food and vision—and the indoor/outdoor space and garden—made it successful. Coming into it, it was a gamble. We hadn’t done something like that before, and neither had they, and we were all blown away by the response. Will and Daniel aren’t known for that more casual experience under the EMP brand, and we were super excited about what it was able to bring. I think they were excited to test their creativity in new and different ways, and integrate local artisanal producers to bring the flavor of the Hamptons to life.
Clearly, there was an incredible response!
[Laughs] EMP Summer House was our most-requested restaurant through Platinum Concierge in the U.S. last summer, and Eleven Madison Park, now that it’s reopened, remains one of our most globally requested restaurants among Platinum Card Members.
Will the format be the same this summer? Any changes we should expect?
The main format will be the same — same space and garden — but there will be some menu variations. Daniel is working on bringing back some old favorites, and introducing some new ones, too.
What can you tell us about your plans for EMP Winter House in Aspen?
We’re still percolating, but you can expect all the things that make the Summer House fun — the more casual atmosphere and a locally driven menu, but with a winter theme in Aspen.
This is the second year of the Platinum Collective initiative. Who have you added to the mix?
We’ve added 15 new members, including Zanna Roberts Rassi [Marie Claire and Milk Makeup], Audrey Gelman [The Wing], Daniel Arsham [Snarkitecture], Jen Rubio [Away], Carol Lim [Opening Ceremony and Kenzo], and Tyler Haney [Outdoor Voices].
What are the characters — sorry, characteristics! — you’re looking for when you search for new members of the Platinum Collective?
Well, they’re all characters. [Laughs]. People ask me about this a lot — there’s a difference in my mind between social media influencers, who are selected to distribute a message to their followers on social media, and people I’d like to come onto the Collective. People in the Collective are successful in their own right, either as individuals, or because they are building and working with brands that are successful with the next generation of consumers. They’re all influential, inspiring, inquisitive, and thought-provoking, and so the very nature of our work with them is twofold. We bring them in under the cover, so they can give us feedback, look at our ideas, and help push us. And then, we work with them to curate some really interesting collaborations to bring something extra to our Card Members.
Has the EMP Summer House’s success inspired any new ideas for members of the Platinum Collective or Global Dining Collection?
Yes to both. One of the things we’ve spent a lot of time working on with the Collective is helping them curate their expressions of themselves. For example, Daniel Arsham designed our Platinum House at Coachella this year, and Zanna Roberts Rassi brought her Milk Makeup bar. On the Global Dining side, we continue to add more chefs to the program and create unique experiences with them. Recently, we brought Massimo Bottura to Hong Kong, where he did a pop-up at the Peninsula. We’re working with our existing and new chefs on creating either unique experiences or reaching new audiences.
The Platinum Card underwent a full-scale refresh in 2017. Which of your initiatives generated the most response from Card Members?
It’s hard to separate them all out, but for example, we upped our reward points on travel, and we saw a significant uptick in both travel spend and allover spend just with that one change alone. Then we relaunched the card, so we introduced new benefits like Uber credits, and we feel that it’s really worked well. We introduced the metal card design, and about a third of our preexisting Card Members proactively contacted us to ask for the new card. We’re continuing to see great levels of engagement across the board. Each time we host an experiential activation, we see more people than we expected, and we’re getting great sell-through. We now have more Platinum Card Members than we’ve ever had, and half of our new Card Members are under the age of 35.
Tell us about the Platinum Houses you brought to Coachella, Art Basel Miami Beach, and Aspen Food & Wine Classic.
Our intention is to go to places where we know our Card Members are and help elevate the experience. At Coachella and Art Basel, there’s a lot of nighttime activity, but not so much happening during the day. The intention was to create a really nice retreat for our Card Members during the day. At Coachella, that involved food and beverage, Zanna’s Milk Makeup bar, and a stage that was programmed by Republic Records. At Art Basel, we had a great space on the beach, health and wellness events during the day, hair and makeup services, and great food and wine. We were also able to host a really special private concert with Drake on the first night. It was so intimate that at one point, he was taking the phone out of the hand of one of the guests, singing and FaceTimeing.
You have real insight into millennials and how they’re spending money. What do they value, and what are they spending money on?
What’s unique about them as a group is that they value and spend money on experiences. Whether it’s places they’re going or experiences they’re having, we ask ourselves how we can elevate that through dining, entertainment, and travel. We’ve introduced a lot more lounges, for example.
What can you share about the Centurion Lounge that’s opening at JFK next year?
I am more excited about JFK than I’ve been about any of our other lounges, for a host of reasons. First, it is by far the biggest—it will be in excess of 15,000 square feet. If you know Terminal 4, the minute you go through security, it’s right there. It’s all glass-fronted and consists of two levels, and there will be a whole range of food and beverage options and fitness offerings. If you’ve ever been to a Centurion Lounge, expect a Centurion Lounge on steroids.
How much time do you spend on the road?
A lot. My job is global, so I’m traveling some part of two weeks a month.
How has all of that experience with Card Members, globally, impacted the work that you’re doing?
A card in London or Singapore or New York needs to be locally relevant, but what we have the option to do is look globally. Most of our Card Members have the savvy and the smarts and means to be able to understand what’s going on when they’re at home. How do we help activate that same sort of experience for them when they’re traveling? Whether that’s travel experiences, By-Invitation-Only events, or our servicing experiences, we want them to have seamless interactions when they’re at home as well as away.
What’s the craziest request you’ve ever made of an American Express concierge?
I’m really boring. [Laughs] Today, I asked for dinner tonight for six people at Frenchette!
You’re a Southampton regular. What’s your weekend strategy?
I’m a beach girl. We get up, go to the beach early, stay there for a late lunch, come back into Southampton, get a sandwich at Sant Ambroeus or Citarella, and then go back home and chill. I’m very much on the down-low in the Hamptons. I like it quiet and chill.
We promise not to accost you when we spot you having dinner at EMP!
You know what I didn’t do last year? I never tried one of those cocktails that comes in a gnome! I feel like I missed out, so I’m going straight in for a Garden Gnome on opening weekend.
Last question: How do you spend your points?
I usually transfer them into Delta and use them for flights to Europe. This year, we’re going to Portugal with my parents and my brother!
Check out the full issue of The Daily Summer here for more great stories.
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