IT MAY HAVE BEEN DAY TIME, OR NIGHT TIME, OR A COMBINATION OF BOTH – when I think back on the highlights of any of my trips to review a hotel or restaurant, my memories are made up of sunsets, sparkling ocean, fabulous cuisine, beautiful decor, convivial ambiance, fun and laughter – and the unforgettable key members of staff I’ve met who made it all happen. Sometimes it’s simply a driver who’s conversation added another element to the journey between locations, on other occasions, it’s been a member of senior management who’s gone out of their way to ensure every moment of my visit to their hotel or restaurant has been exceptional…

What makes for outstanding service? For me, it adds up to innate charm, attention to detail, and personal generosity of spirit – with nothing to gain other than knowing the individual did their best for the client. Staff training is only part of it; the main component comes from within the personality, and their establishing a connection between the guest they are serving is crucial to the success of the establishment where they are working. 

Individual members of staff make or break an experience and it’s a subject that’s repeated over and over in social conversations and between those in the hospitality industry. You can have the best hotel in the world, but with the wrong personnel a hotelier will lose guests; you can have the best luxury product in the world but with the wrong salesperson, a brand will lose custom. Often, the manner of the staff is a direct reflection of the management or owner – the same approach to operations trickles down the line from the boardroom to the kitchen galley. Sometimes, the front-of-house staff has a better handle on things than the management does – because they are closer to ground base and have a better understanding of exactly what the customer/guest/client most requires in the immediate moment. 

Many of the amazing staff members I met over the past months were especially relieved and elated just to be back at work after lockdown, and this added to their natural, in-built effervescence. On that note, here are a few exceptional individuals who have a professional attitude and – combined with charisma and genuine good-heartedness – they individually added another dimension to my various experiences over the past summer of 2020…

ALEX MILAN AT HYDE BEACH CLUB: Alex is the manager of Hyde Beach Club in Cannes – charming, modest, professional, good looking, fun and with an international attitude; he is definitely someone you want to have on your team. The magnetic vibe of a cool beach bar/restaurant is a cocktail of white parasols, clean sand, fabulous music, delicious drinks, mood lighting, great staff and excellent cuisine – and giving guests the freedom to get on with having fun without a mass of managerial restrictions. During the covid era, Alex has managed to create a balance of socially-distanced ocean-side perfection – masqued-up, or not. Instagram: @hydebeachcannes

LISA MADRAY, HOTEL DU CAP EDEN ROC: One of the best meals of my life was enjoyed at Hotel Du Cap Eden Roc during the past summer; it was a seven course tasting menu at Eric Frechon’s new gastronomic terrace restaurant, ‘Louroc’. Among the memorable staff members are Christophe who manages the bar, the two Jeremys who run the floor, Vincent the sommelier and Lisa, who presented the most amazing selection of cheeses at the end of the dinner. On occasion, some people just strike me as exactly who I’d employ if I was running my own establishment – due to her charming, elegant manner, Lisa is one of them. Instagram: @hotelducapedenroc

THE TEAM AT YES SIR, CANNES: This fitness centre just off Promenade de Anglais in Cannes is home base for the most enthusiastic, upbeat and energetic team of fitness trainers and wellbeing experts aka The French Hero Team. Guests can pop in for a nutritious smoothie and fitness assessment before being given a specially tailored exercise and diet program. I felt better just walking through the door. If you want to feel fitter, healthier and more gorgeous within ten minutes flat then pass by and spend time in their company. Truly uplifting! Instagram: @yessircannes

JULIEN BOURGOIN, PLAZA ATHENEE, PARIS: If you follow me in Instagram, you’ll have seen Julien – he is the VIP guest relations manager who organised the ‘cutting of the ribbon’ ceremony into my suite at the hotel, along with lots of gifts inside which included laminated print-outs of my favourite personal images from social media over the years. The impromptu drama that surrounded the occasion, shortly after weeks of solitary lockdown in the UK, was enough to have me burst into floods of tears. The team at Plaza Athenee really know how to pull the heart strings… read my love letter to the hotel later this month. Thank you again, Julien, Nicole and all at the most wonderful Plaza Athenee Paris. Instagram: @plaza_athenee

SAM AT LE MOULIN DE LA GALETTE, PARIS: Sam is known as a bit of a living legend, though I didn’t know that at the time. I passed by a cute restaurant in Monmartre, popped in, got chatting with him, decided I liked the place, stayed for an Aperol, then stayed for pasta on the terrace. Later, I checked it out and he is THE Sam at THE ‘Moulin De La Galette’, the same cafe/restaurant the artist Renoir and friends frequented, and the subject of his painting of the same name – one of the most popular destinations in all of Paris. As it was quiet and just after lockdown, it was the best time to visit! Instagram: @lemoulindelagaletteofficial

MARC-ANTOINE SALEMBIER-SANTI, LE MEURICE: Marc-Antoine at Le Meurice in Paris is possibly one of the best VIP guest relations managers on the planet; I’m not sure what the management told him before I arrived or exactly what research he did, but he sincerely went the extra mile. He met me at the entrance, gave me a guided tour of the hotel, allowed me to scribble random graffiti on the priceless Philippe Starck art-piece in the lobby (and filmed me doing so), then showed me in great detail how to use the essential equipment in my suite. In advance of my visit, he’d checked out that I like to drink lemon with fresh ginger in the morning, that I don’t eat breakfast but I do have lunch (especially if it’s a salad from Ducasse), that I adore Cedric Grolet desserts, and that I wanted to try a Valmont facial in their new spa – and it was all arranged without me having to mention a thing. The best part was the surprise visit to the 7th floor penthouse Belle Etoile apartment suite at dusk to watch the lights of the Eiffel Tower from the terrace. Despite a curious fascination with telescopes that I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand, his service was flawless. Read more about it in my upcoming review of Le Meurice. Instagram: @lemeuriceparis

ALINE, GREENLAND CANNES: The first day I ordered a green juice at Greenland, I was a stranger. The following morning when I returned, I was considered a regular. By the third day, we were on first name terms; by the fourth day Aline had been renamed ‘the Princess Of Greenland’, a title worth it’s weight in gold – plus a ton of health smoothies, amazing salads and freshly ground coffee. A freshly squeezed juice along with an espresso after my morning workout is an essential for me, it sets the day on the right tone. Aline, with her high energy, effervescent personality, excellent memory and upbeat vibe is the very heart and soul of Greenland Cannes. Visit quick before she takes herself off to St Barths for the winter! Instagram: @greenlandcannes

GUILLAUME BOSREDON, THE CARLTON BEACH CLUB: The Carlton in Cannes is lucky to have Guillaume, the super-fit expert mixologist, who’s antics with drinks bottles and cocktail shakers put Tom Cruise to shame. Light entertainment and an upbeat vibe were crucial over the summer of covid doom-and-gloom (although, with the exception of hand sanitiser and masques, the pandemic was mainly disregarded elsewhere in the carefree South of France); Guillaume provided a ray of golden sunshine to add to the heatwave and a total escape to a happier world! See Guillaume at work above, and training below. Instagram: @carltoncannes

RUDY SITBON: Rudy is a personal trainer par excellence and works out of Cannes. I trained with him along the promenade early in the morning, and he got me skipping – something I like but don’t have the motivation to do myself. He’s strong on the planks as well, which helped burn off a few croissants and cocktails. Not only is Rudy a fitness expert but he’s a fireman and a lifeguard also… if you should have any real, life-threatening emergencies, you’re in safe hands while he’s around. Rudy works from Paris during the winter months. Instagram: @rudy_sitbon

SPECIAL MENTIONS: Axel at The Crillon (middle), who is the most gracious manager at the roof top bar ‘Bon Soir Paris’; me with Denis Courtiade (right, who we are shortly producing a special feature on) at Plaza Athenee; Gabriel (left) a guest relations manager at Le Meurice, who’s theme tune should be Sam Smith’s ‘I’m Way Too Good At Goodbyes’ as he has that talent perfected right down to a fine art: EXCELLENT WORK, GENTLEMEN!

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