When one thinks of The Savoy in London, one recalls that of high tea, formality and maybe even an episode of Masterpiece Theatre’s famous series, Downton Abbey. Serving as a bastion of society and refinement for 125 years, The Savoy remains a landmark of British heritage as well as world-class hospitality.
Relying on the prestige of the past isn’t the hotel’s only card. Far from it; managers are forging the way towards a modern interpretation of classic British service concepts. The Savoy was acquired by Fairmont over five years ago. Closed for more than two years, the property underwent an amazing transformation. While protecting the structure and many of the fixtures, all of the workings (heat, air, electrics, plumbing, electronics) were totally replaced.
Presiding over the hotel’s team is Managing Director, Kiaran MacDonald, coming by way of Fairmont’s Waterfront (Vancouver) and Scottsdale properties. Fully steeped in North American luxury, he now holds the reigns of one of the properties recognized as a world leader in service. Thus my meeting with him was to learn more about the influences the ‘new world’ has made on the ‘old’ and what he sees as the differences.
Scottsdale and now London? Wow! Talk about a difference.
There’s no question, there is a significant difference in the two climates! But the guest needs and the responsibilities of the hotel in performing the tasks necessary to meet those requirements are very similar. In every hotel, the staff only have a few minutes to interact with the guest. These interactions are golden moments and we need to ensure that we take full advantage, ensuring that we do our best to support them. At one time in house, our guest list could include locals who have been coming here for decades, businessmen wanting to take advantage of our location and first time visitors from all over the world – many with families in tow. We also welcome a great deal of high profile guests to The Savoy. For each group of guests, their hotel needs are different. Our colleagues have to be able to understand and adapt to these individual needs. Exceptional service is both about anticipating a guest’s needs – when possible we pride ourselves on being able to fulfill requirements before a guest has even made their request – and staying in tune with what the guests of today want and ensuring we can deliver it to the highest standard.
I always thought of The Savoy as formal, unbending to the times, the last bastion of the Empire.
The Savoy has been part of the fabric of London for 125 years but whilst we are incredibly proud of our rich history and heritage we consciously strive to stay relevant and forward thinking. We continue to respect tradition, which can be seen in colleague’s uniforms for example (our team dress a bit more formally than in North American properties perhaps) but this sense of tradition shouldn’t be mistaken for rigidity. Our team recognizes that many of the old customs only create roadblocks in service delivery and we are also very aware that our typical guest, if there is such a definition, is savvy to the ways of the world, and is probably more comfortable around a smartphone than a dinner plate surrounded by a dozen pieces of flatware.
Give me a demonstration of the new Savoy, and contrast it to The Savoy of old.
Our Kaspar’s Seafood Bar and Grill restaurant offers an informal setting, in response to the changing expectations of London diners, yet still retains our traditions of the highest quality ingredients and service. Our monthly dinner dance gives an opportunity to blend old and new. Our American Bar combines modern cocktails with many classics while the Beaufort Bar, open since our restoration in 2010, offers an entirely new and unique cocktail offering while paying tribute to the Art Deco roots of The Savoy and its past links to theatre and music. Our rooms and suites are totally redone with modern technology, yet many of the decorative touches hark back to our heritage.
Do you see technology as a replacement to service?
To the contrary, technology can aid traditional service. Whereas I do not see an iPad or other tablet device taking the place of our concierge, I do see tablet devices as a means of enhancing our ability to provide guests with information on a faster or more efficient basis. With mobile capabilities, our team can synchronize their efforts and provide a more seamless guest experience. However, under no circumstances will we let technology form a barrier between our staff and our guests.
The irrefutable knowledge base of the Savoy butler: fact or fiction?
We do indeed offer 24-hour butler service for our suites. While our butlers are extremely knowledgeable, exceptionally trained and seasoned in the art, they are not infallible. New skills are added all the time. While they are still adept at finding last minute seats for the latest West End Show or fitting a tuxedo at the last minute, they have added new skills, such as linking a new computer to WiFi. In particular, our butlers are trained in the art of knowing when it is appropriate to extend the services of a more traditional butler versus behaving as more of a personal assistant to our guests.
What can every hotelier learn from The Savoy?
Our team is continuously searching for ways to further enhance the guest experience. To the hotelier, true service means continually staying just one step ahead of the guest, anticipating their needs and demonstrating how we can be of support to their needs. We want their stay, regardless of type – leisure, business, group or social event to be the best it can be. The Savoy is the destination and the conduit by which great memories have been, are being and will be made. Find your balance. Learn what you can from the old and translate this into a new way of meeting guest needs.
(Photo courtesy of The Savoy Hotel, a Fairmont-managed hotel. Article published in eHotelier on Friday, January 30, 2015)