Did I tell you I was going back to school? It’s true. Last Thursday and Friday I hit the books at Four Seasons University, learning what it takes to run a luxury hotel. I got to turn down beds, create chocolate treats for younger guests and even got a glimpse into the financials.
OK, it wasn’t real Uni, but it sure felt like it (even though I sat through lectures in the comfort of the Four Seasons country estate in Hampshire.) All that tasting beluga caviar and Scottish smoked salmon really tires one out! I was knackered by the last session on Friday afternoon, a “speed dating” exercise with representatives from 15 different Four Seasons destinations.
Let’s see, I learned about the mixed cultures of Doho, how to make Saudi champagne in Riyadh (apple juice, sparkling water, fresh mint and slices of apple) and drooled over the soon-to-be-opened St Petersburg property, a multi-million Euro refurb of “The Lion Palace”. As 4 pm rolled around, I have to admit to feeling a teensy bit smug about missing out on my usual Friday afternoon school.
What else did I learn? In the US, The Four Seasons is equated with luxury. But the brand is not as not as well known in Europe. Since the 60s, Four Seasons has led the luxury hotel experience, being one of the first to provide robes and 24-hour room service to guests.
And then there are the famous mattresses (yes, they are VERY comfortable, and I’m speaking from experience). Keeping up this level of service takes man power. Potential employees from housemaids to management go though at least 4 interviews, and are asked how they would react to tricky guest situations. You have to keep the standards up.
And the standards are high. If you work in room service you need to answer the phone by the 4thring AND sound calm and organized. If you put a guest on hold, it can’t be for more than 15 seconds, and if you have to call back it needs to be quick (within three minutes). You musn’t forget to ask about a beverage (who wants to get their dinner delivered, and then realize you forgot to order mineral water?) If it's breakfast, you need to ask if they would like a newspaper, and set expectations about the time of delivery. To get this level of service, the guest room/employee ratio is quite high — as high as 2-1 in some hotels. And this type of service costs, personnel is the biggest item in their budget.
My 36 hours were filled with good eats (think foodie, fresh and right down the road from the local veg and dairy farms). Cappuccinos were made by the rather cute and curly haired baristas from organic coffee supplier Mozzo . We ended Uni posh student style, with a gala dinner (I couldn’t remember the last one I went to) with an 6-foot ice sculpture inspired by St Petersburg, a 5-course dinner and a prize draw where 15 people won trips to Four Seasons destinations in Europe (sadly I was not one of them).
I hadn’t been to school in ages. By Saturday morning I was tired of all that learning (OK, maybe it was all the eating and partying) and on the way home, with imminent snow on the horizon, I wondered if I they would let me borrow some of the room service staff. Maybe next time.
Disclosure: The Four Seasons kindly provided me with a complimentary two-night stay and lots of nice food.
More photos of Uni:
The kitchens at The Four Seasons Hampshire. I felt like I was Downstairs at Downton Abbey!
The Four Seasons has a "just in time" food policy — ordering only for "today and tomorrow". Most of the veg at the Hampshire property comes from Secrets Farms, which is just a few miles away.
And the cheese comes from Loosehanger Farmhouse Cheeses where the cows graze on the herb-rich Hampshire Downs and are fed farm-grown cereals (!)
Coffee from Mozzo…
And in my mouth!