The Plaza Athénée, a Place for Living
The Plaza Athénée has recently been expanded and partially renovated following 10 months of work. “If we have endeavored to expand the Plaza Athénée, it is in an attempt to continue the venture we originally began 100 years ago,” explains General Manager François Delahaye, in order to keep it a thoroughly Parisian destination, one that forms a part of the world of Haute Couture.
I had the pleasure of discovering this house of ‘Haute Couture’ Hotellerie. This, at least, describes the character of the service delivered at the Plaza Athénée. Each employee tends to your every need so that your stay unfolds in the best possible conditions, the same way designers might swarm around you to craft a tailored gown with a host of skills entering each detail of the preparation.
The Plaza Athénée was able to hold onto all of its employees during its renovation period. This clearly reflects its high budget, which remains just as important at the core as the direct expenses poured into the renovation. Salaried employees were able to keep their salaries during the 10-month period that the hotel was closed. While some were able to find work in the hotel Le Meurice, others went to England and other destinations to perfect their craft. Then, everyone returned to their post for the opening with new experiences and ideas, contributing to the continuation of a service that remains constantly in pursuit of excellence. Upon returning to the hotel, the clientele was able to take up their familiar habitudes and reconnect with the employees they knew.
The wealth of this establishment lies in its having nearly 150 of its 537 employees trained with more than 10 years of experience, including 50 employees with more than 20 years. Thus, a respect for tradition remains passed down from generation to generation all while remaining reinterpreted with the arrival of new talent.
It is the legendary status of the hotel that appeals to its employees. They take part in the history of Plaza Athénée and fashion the hotel in their own manner. Each morning, the heads of the departments convene to plan out the day, present the arrival of each client, and discuss the events that will involve the hotel, as well as devise tasks for the employees. Each head of service ensures good work conditions for his team and makes sure that all appropriate resources have been put in place for them to succeed in their missions. His role is to coach them as well as to motivate them. The social dimension remains important.
Each of the hotel employees I ran into over the course of the day possessed a sense of pride in belonging to the family of the Plaza Athénée and took to heart the mission of offering the best of themselves to ensure each client the very best stay. The French art of welcoming remains ever present at the Plaza Athénée. For François Delahaye, the General Manager of the hotel: “In France, we love to serve. There are those who love to render services and who are content in this role; they don’t feel at all demeaned. There is no sense of servitude, unlike Anglo-Saxon countries where careers in service are perceived as belittling.” To offer a service to a client is to offer him relief, to provide him a smile, an emotion, a memory; it’s a gift of oneself in service to another.
I have often wondered if the client always deserved this attention. In fact, one can sometimes run into difficult clients. I once observed a couple seated in a hall who paid no attention to their server, who meanwhile maintained a constant smile, who did everything to win a glance, a bit of attention, a sign from her clients. Blank, distant, cryptic, the couple remained closed off in their own world. Luxury is just as much an education, a culture, an attitude, and a level of respect maintained towards one’s employees. Respect and mutual accord are important for making the most of experiences. I have even met clients who have directly addressed employees during their stay and shared with them every little detail. Perhaps they knew them and simply took pleasure in conversing with them. This, too, is the spirit of the Plaza Athénée.
Laurent Delporte, an editor and conference speaker, is a strategic expert in the sector of hotels. A visionary, he brings his unique look on hotels in service to the decision-makers in the industry, whether to enhance the development of new projects or strategic visions.
Laurent has visited and audited over 350 hotels across the world and also participates in mystery visits to provide quality control for the world’s finest hotels.