All About the Guest

Editors’ Note

Manfred Hörger and his wife Christina have been managing the Savoy Hotel Baur en Ville since 1985.

Property Brief

Founded in 1838 by Austrian immigrant Johann Baur, the Savoy Hotel Baur en Ville is Zurich’s oldest hotel, sitting proudly on the celebrated Paradeplatz, which houses the gold vaults of Swiss banks. Its 97 elegantly appointed rooms and 15 lavish suites include dramatic lofted ceilings, luxurious marble bathrooms, and exquisite Biedermeier-style furniture. The property is also renowned for its two exclusive restaurants and its popular café-bar. Over the years, these attributes – as well as the Savoy’s legendarily discreet service – have attracted a loyal following of discriminating guests worldwide.

What advice would you give young people today, to help them succeed in the hotel business?

I think there are too many degrees nowadays. With too many degrees, people forget that in the middle of our life is our guest. Our guest is our existence, and if you don’t look after him, and focus on the budget instead, you won’t have any guests. I would advise anyone going into the hotel business to do an apprenticeship. In two or three years’ time, he will know if that is his future life or not. If he works really hard, right down at the bottom, and still stays in the industry, then he can specialize in marketing, in accounting, or in management.

But most young people don’t want to take three years out of their lives. They want it now.

That’s a very big problem. Whatever work you do, you have to do it with your whole body and with your brain. That’s the only way, because careers are not made in the elevator. If you go into the elevator and it collapses, you are destroyed. If you take the stairs instead, you only fall down one step and you can regain your footing. Young people want to have everything today, but they cannot have everything today. They have to be patient, and they have to train themselves to understand quality. If you do not know what quality means, you cannot give quality.

SAVOY Lobby.tif

The lobby of Savoy Hotel Baur en Ville

But maybe no one is teaching them that.

They don’t listen, but it’s very important. A famous chess player once stayed with us at the hotel after he had won the world championships. He was just in his early 20s, so it was quite an accomplishment, and yet he was unhappy and nearly had a nervous breakdown. I told him what an achievement it was to be world champion at his age and he said, “Exactly. Now what is left for me?” For quite some time, he struggled with this. People always demand things that cannot happen at that moment. The British have a saying: We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. So don’t worry about those things before you reach the bridge. Wait until you get there and then deal with it.

When young people go to hotel schools, they’re not taught these things. Should the curricula at hotel schools be changed?

The Ecole Hôtelière Lausanne is not the hotel school it used to be, since it became a university. In fact, young people who finish there think they are General Managers, and sometimes they really are General Managers for the simple reason that international chains need people they can move easily, just like on a chess board. These youngsters just do what they are told. They may be in Zurich today and in Dublin tomorrow, but they never have contact with the people of the city. In Zurich, especially, it’s very important for the people who work in the luxury hotels to live in the town. If you are a foreigner working in a hotel, and you don’t have contact with banks and with the local government, you will never succeed – you will always be seen as an outsider. That is a big problem.

In Lucerne, we have traditional hotel schools like Belvoir Park and the Hotel School of Montana, where those who attend do an apprenticeship. Afterwards, they go to school for six months and then they practice their skills. It takes them perhaps 10 years instead of two years to become a general manager, but by then, they are real professionals.

Do the students of those schools come mostly from Switzerland?

They come from all over the world, but mostly from Switzerland. These are people who have proven they want to stay in the hotel business.

Switzerland used to be known as a country of hoteliers. It was where the great hoteliers came from, starting with Cesar Ritz. In the time of the big hotel chains, that has dwindled, and the Cornell School of Hotel Administration in New York is now a big draw for future hoteliers. Is that changing back now?

I don’t think so, because there’s too much money involved. Cornell is absolutely perfect, because you can choose what you want to go there for. The people who attend Cornell have already done apprenticeships. They have worked in the kitchen and everywhere else, and they know what they want from life. You can’t know that at 18, 19, or 20 years of age.

At the Ecole Hôtelière Lausanne, the diploma used to be called Diploma Hotelier and Restaurateur. Do you know what it’s called today? Bachelor of Science. We forget that our profession is about caring. Nobody cares. That is the problem.

Aside from wanting everything now, young people want money, and the large chains offer them a program for promotion and increased salaries. Can you do that in a small hotel?

We do it. Sixty percent of our staff has been with us for over 20 years, and the rest have been with us for between 6 and 15 years. I’m absolutely sure that this is not because I’m easy, but because I’m honest and straightforward, and I know that every day is a new day. The applause of last night, we don’t hear the next morning. Each day is a new day, and each day you have to give your best to satisfy your guests, but also to satisfy yourself. It’s a pleasure to know that your guest is happy.

What traits do you look for in a new employee?

First of all, I look at how he presents himself. There are youngsters who say they want the job, and when I go to them and say hello, they don’t even stand up. So I don’t need to know any more at that point, whatever diploma that person has. But if the person can look at you with open eyes, an open smile, and an open face, there’s no problem. I also expect professionalism.

You can micromanage because you have a small hotel, but isn’t it impossible in a larger hotel?

Nothing in life is impossible. You just have to organize yourself. You don’t need to go to every department every day. But everyone should see you once in a while. You have to walk around and call out when you see something you don’t approve of. I don’t schedule meetings; I just take people aside the minute I see a problem.