Speculating on the name Ritz

July 17, 2014
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Once upon a time, in the Swiss village of Niederwald, César Ritz was born into a family of goat farmers. He started his hotel career at age 15 (like every one else at the time). Fast forward to 1889 when Ritz found himself at the head of London’s newest and most opulent hotel: the Savoy. In 1890 his friend Auguste Escoffier joined him as Executive Chef.

In 1897, at the age of 47, Ritz agreed to act as Managing Director of the Ritz Hotels Development Company for 10 years. In 1898, however Ritz and Escoffier were both dismissed from the Savoy for, “among other serious reasons, gross negligence and breaches of duty and mismanagement.” Ritz was asked to vacate the premises the same day. He eventually settled with the Savoy, and paid back 6,377 pounds, some of which was to cover some fine wines he had apparently “mistakenly” delivered to his own address instead of the hotel.

Ritz rebounded, later opening Ritz hotels across the channel in Paris and later again in London, Budapest, Madrid, Barcelona and Lisbon. It also resulted in a corporation called Ritz-Carlton, which spread throughout the major cities of North America and the old world.

In 1902, Ritz had a nervous breakdown. In 1912, his family brought him to a hospital in Lausanne and two years later they moved him to a clinic in Kuessnacht near Lucerne. He died in 1918. In each of the cities where there is a Ritz hotel, there cannot be a Ritz-Carlton. Which explains why the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Barcelona is operated under the name Arts and the Four Seasons in Lisbon is referred to as the Ritz, a Four Seasons Hotel.

We ought to be told officially very soon: Madrid’s landmark Ritz will soon be leaving Belmond (formerly known as Orient-Express) to become a Ritz-Carlton.

What remains to be seen is whether Ritz-Carlton guests, who have been staying in Marriott or JW Marriott properties in those cities where the name did not belong to them, will be able to afford the rates Madrid and possibly Paris and London will be calling for. (As it is highly unlikely a room at the Paris Ritz, upon re-opening will go for anywhere under $1,600). The Marriott type of Ritz-Carlton guest looks for comfort and convenience. The Ritz Madrid, Ritz Paris and Ritz London guest looks for luxury, refinement and tradition.

My speculation applies to the Ritz Paris, more so than the Ritz London (the Barclay twins, who own the London property, have made it clear in their feud to acquire Claridge’s, the Berkeley and the Connaught, that they are unlikely to let go of their investment). In Paris, octogenarian owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, (who bought the Ritz in 1979 for $30 million) is going all the way with a complete restoration of what was once the best hotel in the world, and the one expressing César Ritz’s “coup de patte” (signature touches). Ritz came up with recessed lighting and apricot tinted table lampshades to flatter women’s complexion. Al Fayed is not well and has been disposing of several major assets, including Harrods of London, which he sold to Qatar Holdings, the sovereign wealth fund of the emirate of Qatar, on May 10, 2010. What if Qatar Holdings, that is already the owner of the Hotel de Crillon (to be managed by Rosewood) the Royal Monceau (managed by Raffles) the Martinez in Cannes (managed by Hyatt) and the St. Regis Bal Harbour (managed by Starwood) could purchase the Ritz Paris at any inflated price and have Ritz-Carlton come in as operator, maybe even with sliver equity to help swallow the overall cost, that is bound to be over one billion dollars.

21 Comments

  1. Robert Allender July 17, 2014 6:05 pm

    Fascinating, Benoit. Thanks for the enlightenment and the thought provocation.

    Reply
  2. Marcos A Rodríguez July 17, 2014 6:34 pm

    Riitz Carlton has lost its highs standards since bought by Marriott thats what they have to open Ritz Carlton Reserve, Rosewood it is very inconsistent I wonder how will manage to operates this Grands Hotels

    Reply
    • Robert R. Cohn July 18, 2014 4:02 am

      Marcos, year ago we used to joke, that nobody had ever caught a Ritz Carlton making any money yet, and that was quite true, before Marriott got involved, who, I am sure make money with the hotels. You are likely very correct about the stqandards, as we all know Marriott’s level of standards.

      Reply
  3. Werner Gessner July 17, 2014 10:54 pm

    It’s a vey interesting story thank you for sharing …

    Reply
  4. Nicolas Messian July 18, 2014 1:32 am

    My great grandfather, Henry Alexander Elles, joined Cesar Ritz as a restaurant manager in 1889 at the Savoy and he was also dismissed few years later for tasting heavily the amazing wine collection. Nevertheless he became few years later the GM for the Ritz in London and Paris.

    Reply
    • Benoit Gateau-Cumin July 18, 2014 3:21 pm

      Your great grandfather was indeed a superb hotelier.

      Reply
  5. abdalaziz abu yousef July 18, 2014 3:54 am

    Very amazing story and distinct experience, i would rather prefer that Ritz Carlton stand away from other neither brands that cannot compete nor spectacular as Ritz flavor and tradition.

    Reply
  6. Robert R. Cohn July 18, 2014 3:59 am

    It remains a good story. Thank you for writing it for others to learn, Benoit.

    Reply
  7. Brian Honan July 18, 2014 4:19 am

    Thanks Ben – agreed – very concise, well written and enlightening. Wonder what ol’ Cesar is thinking now looking down on all this..and the state of our whole industry in general.

    Reply
  8. Maurice Constantin July 18, 2014 7:19 am

    Tank you Benoit for a great article… in a world were “productivity” is the buzz word and were chefs hardly cook anymore it is hard to magine any big name chain operating the likesof the Ritz and Escoffier properties. It is also true that for the majority of travelers especially business, efficiencies and practicalities are more improtant that old style luxuries. For those of us who came into this business for that type of service it takes a shift in paradime to see success in a different light but we will always miss that environment a little.

    Reply
  9. lionel alvarez July 18, 2014 8:29 am

    Merci Benoit! Je ne connaissais pas le chapitre de l’epopee de Auguste et César!
    Je ne sais pas ce que Ritz Carlton peut avoir a faire avec Ritz de César…deux poles opposés de l’Hôtellerie malgré le meme nom d’origine…
    je sais ce que Rosewood peut et voudrais mais je sais aussi ce que le Ritz a Paris mérite!
    Je n’ai en tète que le nom de Monsieur Campbell qui était á mon époque du Ritz en 1976 le chef de réception – aujourd’hui son titre serait VP Operations in charge of the Rooms – mais l’essence de ce qu’il savait et faisait ne nécessitait rien de plus qu’un bon crayon bien taillé toujours…une bonne gomme un télephone avec un fil en roudoudou qui pouvait le faire aller dans le bureau de derrière la reception la ou il avait ces differents dossiers et autres archives des sejours precedants des illustres clients du Ritz…et une petite equipe de 2 ou 3 personnes a l’ecoute de ce qu’il demanderait a quelque moment que ce soit….desquels pour quelques semaines etait le privilégié lionel alvarez! Pouvoir aujourd’hui se rappeler ce que ce Monsieur Campbell pouvait faire et gérer a l’époque sans software sans mobile phones sans super techniques or Ritz training centers était simplement d’une autre dimension…la dimension du Ritz de Paris de l’inspiration de César et Auguste et de la passion de donner une experience avec ce coup de patte et d’orgueil qu’aucun autre établissement n’a su garder et sauvegarder! Merci Monsieur Al Fayed pour avaoir perpetué ce style et de encore donner a ce joyau de l’ Hotellerie Internationale la dimension qu’il est seul a pouvoir encore laisser planer sur cette Hotellerie du 21eme siècle qui cherche ses racines dans le Back to the Origins et de passer outre toute autre priorité que celle de penser particulièrement et tout faire pour ses clients fidèles avant tout…en non pas seulement pour l’ occupation, le ADR ou pour ses investisseurs et le “ROI”!
    Merci Benoit pour ce “Ritz story highlight”…bringing back sweet memories…dans ces moments si tristes de l’actualité.

    Reply
    • Benoit Gateau-Cumin July 18, 2014 3:25 pm

      My dear Lionel, good of you to remember the great Monsieur Campbell who would eventually become the President of the Association des Clefs d’Or, and after whom a trophy was named.

      Reply
  10. Erich Steinbock July 18, 2014 10:56 am

    It pains to read about Ritz-Carlton loosing its standards. The hotel company has shown consistent growth since Marriott’s acquisition. This could only have happened by providing guests with what they look for, including food that they actually like. I remember the “good old days” when domestic hotel restaurants were driven by awards. They had five stars and five diamonds and four customers.

    Ritz-Carlton is still one of the leading luxury hotel companies in the world. Its the result of thousands of committed employees, hotel owners who are willing to invest, leaders who don’t look in the rear view mirror, and a culture that is based on timeless principles.

    Reply
  11. Jorge Collazo July 18, 2014 1:50 pm

    I always find it fascinating when hotels are spoken about by large corporations as “assets”, yes, they are assets but what really makes a hotel valuable to a guest is the passion of the hoteliers running it. How do you put a price on that? Have seen it several times with changes in flags, some of them just lose their soul.

    Reply
  12. Gérard Agid July 18, 2014 2:36 pm

    M’y grand father Alexandre Agid (and his Brother Joseph ) worked at the Savoy under Ritz and went on with him to o open the Carlton in 1899.

    Reply
  13. Craig Armstrong July 19, 2014 12:47 am

    Bonjour Benoit,
    Hope your well.
    Strange that most hotel school grads steer away from operations and head in the direction of finance and development.
    It is nice too see that things have greatly improved over the last century in the hotel-restaurant business.
    -start working days and nights at 15
    -eat poorly or too well
    -added together a lot of alcohol
    -have a nervous breakdown at 52

    Je suis encore cuisiner!

    CSA

    Reply
  14. Frank McHugh, NYC July 22, 2014 5:24 pm

    Great article Benoit. Let’s not forget either that Ho Chi Minh worked as a pastry chef under Escoffier at the Carlton in UK and subsequently was a baker at the Parker House in Boston and still later in the pastry kitchen at the Waldorf-Astoria in NYC.

    He learned well under the French !

    Reply
  15. Kris Kareti July 25, 2014 3:18 pm

    Very interesting article. Thanks for writing it. As to your speculation, I would first wonder whether the Ritz-Carlton guest does choose JW or Marriott in non-Ritz cities where other high-end luxury hotels are available. If they are “points” people, they probably do. If they really want the luxury experience, then they probably choose to go elsewhere. If a person is really in search of the luxury experience, then they would probably consider $1,600 if that is what the market dictates. In Paris, there seem to be quite a few hotels in the $1,200-$1,500 range on any given day so $1,600 doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. They would, of course, have to provide the value or they can’t sustain the pricing. At that level, the potential audience is relatively small and Paris doesn’t lack for options in the segment. Great question and definitely worth keeping an eye on.

    Reply
  16. Ben July 29, 2014 9:50 am

    a little mistake in your very interesting article; Hotel de Crillon is not and was not owned by Qatar Holdings, but is owned by Saudi Royal Family.
    Qatar Holdings, or more precisely Katara Hospiality owns indeed the Royal Monceau – Raffles Paris and the Peninsula Paris, schedule to open on August 1st, 2014.

    Reply
  17. Dominique Berhouet August 5, 2014 8:33 pm

    Great story Benoit and thank you for reminding everyone of the quality once experienced in a mostly bygone era. It can still be found in London at Le Gavroche and Mossiman but todays food and beverage services are for the most part overly profit driven, we need to put the passion back in the business. Pricing is not the problem, we need to deliver the quality again.

    Reply
  18. Helmut Knipp November 20, 2014 12:39 pm

    Benoit, Great story and thanks for sharing. Today many large Corporations in the Hospitality industry place profits over
    service an certainly good food. Its sad and certainly does not have to be that way. Years ago when I was with Hilton I managed among other restaurants two different Trader Vic’s. Although it was a political tightrope because of the agreement Hilton had with Trader Vic’s I managed to improve volume, service and reduce the cost structure and make both of them profitable. Not much, but I eliminated the losses that I had inherited and maintainned their profitable status as long as I was GM of these two hotels.
    Benoit, I trust you are well and are doing vigorous business.
    Cheers
    Helmut

    Reply

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