Today's luxury travellers have a need for flexibility, and five-star hotels have an obligation to provide them with the service they want, when they want it, according to John Stauss (pictured), general manager of the newly opened Four Seasons London at Park Lane.
Such a consideration has played a significant role in the design of the new hotel, which opened its doors on Monday following a £125m refurbishment that took two years and four months to complete.
Walking into the glossy new interior, you would never know that you were in the same hotel that originally opened on the site as the Inn on the Park in 1970. The structure has been totally reconfigured and an additional level has been added to create a 10th floor to accommodate a spa, fitness centre and lounge.
It has taken five years to get from the point when the decision was first taken by the Four Seasons head office in Toronto, Canada, that the London hotel was to undergo a transformation. Stauss, who has been regional vice-president of Four Seasons (responsible for properties in Dublin, Hampshire, Canary Wharf, Lisbon, Prague and Budapest, as well as Park Lane) since 1996, as well as general manager of the hotel since 1994, is delighted that he has been able to oversee the entire project from the beginning to its opening this week.
"Closing the hotel in October 2008 was the most stressful thing I have ever done, but working towards the opening has been enormously positive and rewarding," he says.
For Stauss, the two most exciting elements of the refurbishment have been his involvement in the vision behind the hotel's new look and the hiring and development of the team of 437 staff.
THE VISION FOR A NEW FOUR SEASONS LONDON
Pierre-Yves Rochon - responsible for the recently refurbished Savoy hotel as well as creating the interiors of Four Seasons hotels in Paris, Florence and Washington - was the designer who was commissioned to create a totally new look for the London hotel.
From the outset, he wanted to know what Stauss wanted to accomplish from the refurbishment.
"For me, there were five key elements," Stauss explains. "First, it was important that we built upon our fabulous location on Park Lane, overlooking Hyde Park. Next, I wanted it to be different from all the other five-star hotels in London.
"Third, I asked Rochon to bring the park into the hotel through the incorporation of plants, rather than cut flowers, and plenty of light. I also asked for there to be a fireplace in the lobby, and not only do we have one in the lobby, but we now also have a further 31 around the hotel.
"Finally, and significantly, I wanted to create a food and beverage concept which allows the guest complete freedom to order a sandwich whenever and wherever they want it. In a luxury hotel, why should we, the staff, insist your eat breakfast or enjoy tea in one place and not another. In Amaranto, which incorporates a restaurant, bar and lounge, the guest has complete freedom to order from different menus at different times of the day."
Stauss believes the design that Rochon came up with - after several were rejected - is perfect. "It is sophisticated without being ostentatious or over-the-top opulent as you see in some five-star hotels," he says.
After walking through the sleek, spacious lobby, the guest reaches a succession of spaces which go to make up Amaranto. Here, different shades of deep red interspersed with black furnishings provide a welcoming, cosy - but also classy - interior.
A dramatic hand-moulded sculptured wall in the main lounge features motifs reflecting park-life which, together with the greenery-filled planters and floor-to-ceiling windows, meets Stauss's wish of bringing the outdoors in. In the restaurant, a mix of dark woods and textured fabrics within the interior of the room gives way to a lighter conservatory, where the flooring is marble and the table-tops are onyx. From here, guests can access the private garden terrace.
To the other side of the restaurant, the bar provides a clubby atmosphere with an eclectic collection of portraits and a coffered wood ceiling contrasting with the contemporary steel and glass fireplace and zebra-striped upholstery. With a wine wall in chrome and glass which runs along both sides of the bar, this sexy space is set to become the hub of the hotel, with live music being played throughout the day.
The bedrooms are intended to have a residential feel with rich walnut or sycamore wood panelling and suede creating a homely, but ultimately luxurious place to stay. Marble cabinetry and vanity mirrors with integrated televisions in the bathroom, together with bespoke toiletries from Roja Dove, add to the exclusivity.
Rochon's aim was to create the look and feel of an English country house, ready to welcome guests for the weekend. With its eclectic collection of paintings, sculptures and antiquities, combined with superb craftsmanship, the new Four Seasons London combines both a luxury and comfortable experience.
BUILDING THE BEST TEAM
Bringing together a team of 437 staff - whittled down from more than 6,000 interviewees - has been hugely inspirational for Stauss. He knows that gathering the right people around him is paramount to the success of the hotel.
"The hotel might look absolutely wonderful, but that is no good if the staff can not deliver the service our guests demand," Stauss says.
To this end, employees have been hired predominately on their attitude, rather than their technical ability. The spa and kitchen are the only two areas of the hotel where the required skills have to stem from years of solid experience - in all other departments the skills are taught if required.
For Stauss, the key to service at the Four Seasons London is insightfulness. "In order to stand out from out competitors we need to exceed our guests' expectations," he says. "That means it is not enough for the concierge to be efficient in booking a table for dinner for a guest, but he needs to be able to recommend the most suitable restaurant for the occasion.
"It is also about understanding exactly what kind of experience the guest want when coming into Amaranto - hence the flexibility in the different menus we serve and the locations we can serve them in."
Stauss explains that in order for the staff to adapt to a more flexible style of service, it is important that they are adaptable in their demeanour. To this end, they are allowed to wear their uniform in a way that they feel most comfortable or suits them best. For instance, the shirt and waistcoat worn at the breakfast and lunch service can be worn with or without the waistcoats, with the waistcoat buttoned or unbuttoned, with sleeves rolled up or down.
"We are after excellence in service, without excessive formality or rules," Stauss says.
To ensure an understanding of the guests' experience - and to provide an opportunity to snag the property - many of the staff have stayed at the hotel in the run-up to the opening. And to encourage a fabulous team spirit, a treasure hunt was organised throughout the property a few weeks ago, with an appreciation rally to thank all the staff for their hard work during the pre-opening period being held just two days before paying guests began to arrive.
In deciding what should be incorporated within the new-look Four Seasons London, Stauss insisted that there should be a spa. "It is an absolute given now in a five star hotel, the guest assumes you will have one," he says, whereas he dismisses the need for a swimming pool, which he believes are a wasteful use of space and energy and rarely used by anyone.
In a major feat of engineering, the Spa has been installed into a new rooftop storey, creating a totally new outline to the building. From inside the 12,000sq m of new space, 360º views of the city can be enjoyed.
Created by London architect and designer Eric Parry, the look of the spa is quite different from the rest of the hotel, with the views taking central stage through the huge expanse of glass walls,
The Spa incorporates a fitness centre, lounge (where early arrivals can relax before checking into the hotel and light snacks can be enjoyed) and viewing terrace.THE FOUR SEASONS HOTEL LONDON AT PARK LANE Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London W1J 7DR Tel: 020 7499 0888 www.fourseasons.com/london](http://) General manager and regional vice-president John Stauss Hotel manager Annabel Shaw Senior director of sales and marketing Kristien Deleersnijder Director of food and beverage Karen Ayad Directory of engineering Glen Murphy Executive chef Adriano Cavagnini Bedrooms 192, including 45 suites Staff 437, representing more than 50 nationalities Rates from £495 to £625 for bedrooms and for suites, £925 to £11,000 (three-bedroom Presidential suite) Guest ratio (geographical) 40% North America, 20% UK, 12% Middle East, 8% Asia, 6% Russia and other former Soviet republics, 14% rest of the world Food and beverage the Amaranto restaurant, bar and lounge is a single space. Total number of covers: 200 Leisure facilities 10th floor spa and fitness centre with nine treatment rooms Conference and banqueting eight rooms, from the 66sq m Halcyon room for small dinner parties for 10 to the 326sq m Ballroom, which can seat up to 370 guests. GLEN MURPHY !(https://cdn.filestackcontent.com/CMEeMxQRT2DWiWvnjKi7)Senior director of engineering To ensure all 192 bedrooms and suites of the hotel function without a hitch, Glen Murphy and his team of 24 staff (up from 20 before the refurbishment) have tested and re-tested every aspect continually in recent weeks. "We have been lucky to have had an extended period of time to ensure that we have ironed out every glitch," he explains. "Every room has been slept in six or seven times to ensure everything works and that any odd noise or vibration has been eradicated." Murphy is certain that every practical aspect of a bedroom has been thought of to ensure a guest will have the most comfortable of stays. That means that there are plenty of power outlets in all the right places, with both US and European voltage sockets. The lighting has been vastly improved, with a light positioned wherever there is a chair and a pinpoint spot above every pillow. Bedrooms are warmer than before, but in a more efficient way, with the guest having total control over the temperature - as do event organisers in each of the banqueting suites and meeting rooms. The ambient temperature in the public areas is set at 21-22°C. KAREN AYAD ![Director of food and beverage The creation of the three elements within Amaranto - the restaurant, lounge and bar - means greater flexibility for the guest and a steep learning curve for the food and beverage staff, says Karen Ayad. "They are required to be equally knowledgeable about the menus in the restaurant, bar and lounge as our guests may choose from any of our menus in their preferred location," she explains. "However, this also provides them with an exciting opportunity to learn about three departments in one when traditionally they might spend a year or more in each area." The logistics of the food and beverage operation are now vastly superior to what existed before the refurbishment. There are now two kitchens, instead of one, with the banqueting one servicing the eight function rooms, which are situated on the first floor, and the restaurant kitchen serving Amaranto on the ground floor. Ayad, who joined Four Seasons in Hampshire in 2003 as director of catering, describes the food in Amaranto as "modern, inspired by Italian flavours and British style, and is enhanced by tastes from around the world." She adds: "We have removed all the boundaries that previously existed between a restaurant, bar and lounge. If our guests make a reservation for afternoon tea, but would like to be seated in the restaurant, that's fine; if they choose to have a cocktail in the lounge, the team are delighted to assist. "It is a very exciting environment to work in." A MESSAGE FROM THE WEST ONE GENERAL MANAGERS' ASSOCIATION We all wish John Stauss every success in the opening of the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane and welcome him back on to the London stage. Graham Bamford The Royal Garden Colin Bennett The Sheraton Park Tower Katie Benson The Langham Stephen Boxall The Ritz Roland Fasel The Dorchester Michael Gray Hyatt Regency London The Churchill Francis Green The Landmark Geoffrey Gelardi The Lanesborough John Hazard London Marriott - Grosvenor Square Stuart Johnson Rocco Forte's Brown's Hotel Klaus Kabelitz The Berkeley Thomas Kochs Claridge's Kiaran MacDonald The Savoy Anthony McHale Mandarin Oriental at Hyde Park David Morgan-Hewitt The Goring Thomas Orchard The Metropolitan Derek Picot Jumeirah Carlton Tower Stuart Procter The Stafford London by Kempinski Alvaro Rey InterContinental London Park Lane Nathalie Seiler-Hayez The Connaught Michael Shepherd London Hilton on Park Lane Anthony Steward-Moore Grosvenor House, a JW Marriott Hotel