It’s a such a pleasure to present Ralph Radtke, a man with nearly 40 years in the hotel industry across 15 different countries to his name, is a sizeable reference guide for this industry. Following a noteworthy career path as General Manager of Sofitel, Director of Operations in Accor Hotels in Luxembourg and a nomination to Vice President across 15 Sofitel hotels in Europe, among others, he was named General Manager of the Ciragan Palace Kempinski a few years ago. In our conversation, we discuss everything from the client experience and the future of services in the luxury hotel industry, the importance of safety, and his vision on the role of digital technology in a hotel room.

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What is your vision of service in the hotel industry: in room service, dining, reception, etc.?

The new service that is truly necessary in luxury involves, once again, going back to the essentials. But the essentials are not always easy to secure. For instance, what would really by luxury would be to promise our clients that they can arrive leave when they want rather than have fixed hours for leaving their room or being able to check in. This is especially true for clients on business trips because it is not always practical to leave the room before noon or to be able to enter your room only after 3 pm. But these are very complicated actions to put in place when the hotel is full.

Above all, the essential element of service is about holding true to the promises made the client. The hotel sector has always had the same rules in place for centuries because it has never invented anything. That’s why it is not necessary to add too many technological gadgets in the rooms. The important things are: lights, shower, quality of service and human contact, comfort, air conditioning, etc. These things are sufficient if the promise is truly upheld.

The same thing goes for dining. Going back to the essentials means having competent and polyvalent staff. A few years earlier, when I was working at the Ritz, a maître d’hôtel was entrusted with taking care of everything. He was just as capable of ensuring an impeccable service as he was with flambée-ing a duck. Today in foreign countries, many maîtres d’hôtel are in their position thanks to their track record, but they are not necessarily competent. The people who are in charge of service have become dish holders; they no longer know how to do the rest. But luxury service is not like that. It is important to be able to recover this competence and the essential authenticity of service. That is why I am working on the “Back to the Future” project in my hotels: to restore the value of the services and their careers.

In hotel schools, there are probably no students who want to work in a restaurant as a server, and yet there is a true added value to beginning in service. It is very important to see and understand before being able to do other things because it is the base of the hotel industry. The willingness to serve these students is crucial for them to be capable of being good hoteliers without forgetting their personality. When I am recruiting, I am not so preoccupied with technical knowledge because that can be learned on the job, but I accord a great importance to the personality of the candidate because that is something I cannot change.

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Ciragan Palace

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