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Without empathy, without me

As I lie on the uber-comfy bed of my chambre classique at the Hotel Brach in Paris, admiring the art-filled walls with the chic Starck-esque ambiance, I realise how quickly I had checked in.

Three Times Lucky Without Empathy... 230327 Daniel F Illu Dan Roznov RZ

Like, five minutes from getting out of my taxi to sinking onto these soft sheets. Had I been to the reception? Yep, even led to my room. The experience was so seamless and comforting thanks to the team’s warm humanity, that I seemed to have immersed myself in it. Somehow it felt so normal. I don’t mean in an overly trivial, condescending manner, but in the extraordinary sense of exactly how it should be. And it made me feel welcome in the most special way.

You might raise your eyebrows and ask, how on earth could it have made you feel special? They didn’t roll out a red carpet, offer you a glass of champers or wave palm leaves at you. No sir, they quietly delivered by doing their job with lots of flair. The team understood the value of my time as well as the true meaning of luxury: it is not a thing but a feeling, a notion, a never-ending journey to stimulate our senses on the most sophisticated levels. It is about experiences that money cannot buy; although I am tired of that phrase, it reflects the sentiment of noble experiences with the human at its centre.

Easier said than done. When it comes to luxury hospitality, staff in top establishments tend to be overly attentive, on the presumption that this attitude reflects top-notch service, which is what the guests pay for. But here is a friendly reminder: luxury doesn’t scream, it is rather soft spoken, always personal and very good at listening. It is all about quiet confidence.

I myself despise waiters who disturb me ten times during dinner with my darling, just to ask repeatedly, if the food is delish, while I am still chewing. You don’t disturb cats while they are eating, do you? And please don’t fill up our glasses after each micro sip, it feels like you are spying on us. I know, their intentions are super-kind; it is their job to pamper us and I am so appreciative of decent service. In my humble opinion, finding the perfect balance between care and giving us our space, is a dying art form. The best hotels and restaurants I have ever visited have figured that one out.

You know, my parents owned a restaurant, and most of my spare time during primary and high school was spent working there. On Mondays we were closed and always went to lunch at a competitor’s establishment. Think working- class, rather rustic outlets in rural Switzerland. My father was never shy to give feedback on food or service and point out their screw-ups. He was convinced they need feedback to improve. Once we had a particularly bad lunch, but he kept quiet and paid our bill. Then he said to me, ‘Son, never forget: if the waitress is unfriendly, it means the restaurant owner is an idiot.’ That time, my dad knew his input was pointless and wouldn’t help, because the owner didn’t have a quality attitude.

I think of this sentiment every time I walk into a nice restaurant or hotel and meet a gifted team who understand it is a people business, as there is a management team behind them who grasp that true quality cannot be expressed by words or conveyed by a nice interior, but only by actions of empathy. It is the very essence of deluxe hospitality, and makes you feel like a human being, not a mere guest who consumes pricy products and services.

Especially now, post-Covid and pre-Artificial Intelligence, as luxury hotel rates are continually rising, we must be aware that clients’ expectations rise too. So let’s keep the product offering up to date and relevant, and invest in the human factor to differentiate ourselves. Luxury is no longer a shiny gold foil on the welcome card. It is all about human empathy during the user journey, both online and offline, and to realise that CARE is the best marketing strategy ever.

I came for the hotel, but I stayed for the people. More importantly, it is they who will make me come back. Well, maybe this super-snug bed also helped. Taking a power nap now, before exploring the rooftop hotel garden with its henhouse, providing fresh eggs for breakfast, laid with a view of la Tour Eiffel. But that luxury story is for another time. Until then: bon voyage!

Words Dan Roznov
Illustration Daniel Föllmi

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