Secrets from Luxury Hotel Staffers

Hotel Insiders Speak

Employees at top properties from Hawaii to Hong Kong on their work and why they love it.

Tumi Brando, Naturalist Guide, The Brando. (Photo by Tim McKenna)
Sheldon Ritz, King David Hotel Jerusalem. (Photo by Yadid Levy)

By Marika Cain
What makes a hotel more than the sum of its marble bathrooms and gilded lobby? The people who run it. Here, hotel staff talk about their work, why they love it, and what you do when the president comes to stay.
Nicholas Pestana, Footman, The Goring, London
“Footmen were traditionally something of a luxury in Britain at the turn of the twentieth century, and therefore a status symbol. As our managing director, David Morgan-Hewitt, says, ‘Everyone has butlers – but people with real style have footmen.’ ”
Question everyone asks: “ ‘What’s the most outlandish request you’ve received? – but I never tell them!’ ”
Christopher Kostow, Chef, The Restaurant at Meadowood, Napa Valley
“Just sit back and appreciate [the foot]. I want people to have a great time. It’s not about understanding everything and judging everything. It’s not Iron Chef; it’s not Top Chef.”
Typical number of courses per meal at his restaurant: 15
Sheldon Ritz, Deputy General Manager and Head of Official Delegations, King David Hotel, Jerusalem
“If the president wants a sandwich, you can’t just make him a sandwich. You have Israeli Secret Service and U.S. Secret Service standing there. They select two slices of bread from maybe ten loaves. Then there are the food tasters.”
Hours worked per week: 75
Maurice Dancer, Chef Concierge, The Pierre, New York, a Taj Hotel
“A single mother was traveling for the first time to New York and was unsure how to navigate the city with her teenage son. She asked if I could join them on their day’s outing. I gladly accepted, and now I have been a friend of the family for over 15 years.”
Years in position: 22
Olessya Merceron, Housekeeper, Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Paris
“Our clients must feel really confident with us. They leave some very expensive items in their rooms, and we have full access to their privacy.”
Favorite rooms: Suites 868 and 878 for their Eiffel Tower views
Marie-Helen Krebs, Restaurant Manager and Head Sommelier, Schloss Elmau, Germany
“Riesling probably exudes the greatest fascination [among German wines], with its unmatched diversity. Having said that, it would be a pity to neglect all the others, such as pinot blanc, silvaner, and pinot noir.”
Her don’t-miss wineries: Weingut Rainer Sauer in Escherndorf and Weingut am Stein in Würzburg.
Jerome Jacob, Assistant Executive Pastry Chef, Bellagio, Las Vegas
“I have a wonderful machine that can produce 5,000 filled chocolate truffles in 25 to 30 minutes.”
Pounds of chocolate used per week: 350 – or more.
Nathalie Seiler-Hayez, General Manager, Beau-Rivage Palace, Lausanne, Switzerland
“For my top room, I would go with 560, a junior suite, for the view. It is all done by famed interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon – it’s like the lake is coming into your room.”
Previously in command at: The Connaught, London
Clifford Naeole, Hawaiian Cultural Advisor, The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, Maui
“I want the world to know that there is the intangible side to Hawaii besides the golf, beaches, cuisine, and hotel services.”
Top Hawaiian cultural experiences: The Ulalena show in Lahaina, the Old Lahaina Luau, and the Ritz-Carlton’s “A Sense of Place” program.
Kate Francois, Wedding and Proposal Manager, Fairmont Pacific Rim, Vancouver, B.C.
“Give me chocolates on Valentine’s Day and I’ll enjoy it. Give me chocolates from my favorite shop across town when you know I’ve had a rough day, and I’ll remember it.”
Words to propose by: “A from-the-heart proposal doesn’t have to mean over the top.”

Johnny Chung, Senior Bartender, The Peninsula Hong Kong
“Clark Gable (who was staying at The Peninsula while filming Soldier of Fortune) asked for a ‘screwdriver.’ I had never heard of such a drink, and was about to call the hotel’s engineering department for assistance, when Gable explained the recipe to me, and thus the screwdriver was introduced to Hong Kong.”
Years at hotel: 58
Tumi Brando, Naturalist Guide, The Brando, Tetiaroa, French Polynesia
“After work I keep my bathing suit on and go for a swim in front of my house with blacktip and lemon sharks.”
Sustainable equation: The resort runs on 70 percent solar power and 30 percent coconut oil-fueled generators.

Originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Virtuoso Life.