In a series of pieces on luxury hospitality, based on interviews with leading hoteliers in Paris, Suzanne Godfrey examines the key pillars that she believes define the luxury hotel, or more specifically, the Palace. Here she explores the need for quality in all things, all of the time.
It’s no longer about the best quality furnishings, facilities and technology. Many people, especially those who can afford to stay at high-end hotels, already have these in their homes. These are expected. But still quality matters. It has to be the “best”, in fact the very best. Quality products, in all of the hotel’s “products”: the facilities, the fixtures and fittings, the service and in the delivery of it. From the best crystal (Baccarat) to the finest china and table linen. Quality craftsmanship and the attention to detail is a dimension of luxury itself. It is on display in the dining room, in the choice of fabrics and furnishings, china and silverware, and in the roles of each individual member of staff.
The Ritz Paris, during its recent closure, approached a dozen different companies as potential suppliers for its linen and bath towels. They tested for color resistance and quality after repeated washing. The peach towels remain the color of choice for all the bathrooms. Why? Because 120 years ago Madame Ritz believed they were the best for the care of women’s skin.
“What we use always is premium quality. Like what we use for bed linen is an Italian brand known for their private linen. They never do a hotel normally. So we asked them specially to produce for us because when we did the tests during the closure the results were excellent. We sent them to the laboratory to evaluate the resistance of the colors etc. They were the best. You’ll not find this linen in any other hotel,” says Jean-Pierre Trevisan, Director of Operations at the Ritz Paris. He adds the tests took almost two years to complete. “We had 12 companies provide samples just for the bath towels, the same for the bed linen.”
Michelin-star chefs don’t compromise on quality either. Whilst the cost of having a Michelin star chef, such as Alain Ducasse, on board is high, there is usually a good return on investment. A Michelin-star restaurant is able to build the quality perception of the hotel, its name and reputation. It adds to the value to the whole operation and is, in effect, a great marketing vehicle.
But quality needs to be delivered consistently, not just here and there. It’s 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day, and seven days a week. Across all facilities, service and offerings, 360 degrees of consistent quality and reliablity. According to François Delahaye, Chief Operating Officer at Dorchester Collection and General Manager of Plaza Athénée in Paris, consistency can only be delivered in luxury with a high staff-to-room ratio. “You can’t be good one day and average another, you need to be very good all the time. You need to have staff and an organization that is able to deliver that every single minute of the day. In luxury hotels there’s no room or place for complaints.” Certainly not when the guest is paying thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars or euros. This is just a basic requirement.
The number of staff per room on average seems to be three to one. However, there are exceptions. The Ritz Paris currently operates a ratio of six to one. That’s 600 employees for just under 100 rooms. It’s partly on account of not being up to their maximum number of 142 – the remaining 50 rooms are due to open later this year – but it’s also due to the reopening. They have a small window in which to woo back loyal clients who during the four years of closure stayed at other hotels in Paris.
But consistency is not that easy to achieve. Laurence Bloch, Deputy General Manager, Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Paris, is a strong believer in the vision of the Dorchester Collection. This is not about “perfection” but delivering a “taste of perfection”. She claims that “perfection” is impossible to achieve and, if it did exist, “would be boring”. As in luxury generally, little faults or flaws are inevitable, a result of the focus on the human element that is intrinsic to luxury. It shows authenticity, a reflection of the craftsmanship and that, in its place, adds character.
Consistency is more difficult nowadays to achieve anyway. In the past, employees would stay for a lifetime. Take for example Werner Küchler, the Maître d’ from the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris who has been with the hotel for 41 years; or William, the barman, at Bar 228 at Le Meurice, Paris. He has been there since 1978 but is due to retire next year. He’s part of the hotel. For returning guests and other employees, such long-term employees provide that all important consistency, delivering consistent quality service … and more.
Maintaining quality and high standards is about processes and operations, as well as having a sufficient number of employees to carry out the exacting standards demanded of a luxury or palace hotel. At the Ritz Paris, they currently have an average of seven to nine painters on hand. They are constantly working in the public areas, corridors and bedrooms. Before each arrival the carpets are cleaned. Touch-ups are carried out on paintwork if needed. All equipment – from the Bluetooth connection to the TV in the bathroom – is checked to make sure it’s working. The same is generally true for Palace hotels. At the Mandarin Oriental in Paris, there is a constant rotation with five to six rooms out of a total of 138 being closed off for about six weeks for renovation. It’s ongoing. Luxurious fabrics and furnishings, particularly wall coverings, look fabulous and aesthetic but are not always hard wearing. One mark on a fabric wall covering and it needs to be totally replaced.
Preparations for the guest’s arrival are meticulous and precisely managed. Every details counts. At the Ritz, rooms are checked and rechecked by the guest service team, as well as the housekeeper or housekeeping team. For VIP guests, the Director of Operations checks each room prior to arrival himself. For the Vendôme Suite, for example, Jean-Pierre Trevisan says there are four quality control checks. “We always find something,” he says. And sometimes the clients find something too. It’s difficult to achieve a 100 per cent success rate, he adds, “but at least we try (to achieve) 99 per cent.”
At the Plaza Athénée they use ISO (International Organisation for Standardization) international standards as the backbone to providing quality. But it goes beyond that. It challenges them to be better every year and “we have been doing that for 16 years,” says Delahaye of the Dorchester Collection.
Maintaining quality day after day in all things is fundamental but that in itself doesn’t “make” a hotel luxury or a Palace.
In the coming months on EHL Hospitality Insights, we will be exploring the other key pillars that contribute to a hotel being luxury or a Palace in this series of articles on luxury hospitality.
All photographs courtesy of Suzanne Godfrey.
Personal conversations and interviews with hoteliers in Paris, January and February 2017.