Named “Best Hotel in the World” in 2014 for the 11th straight yet, the legendary and iconic Four Seasons George V is one of Paris’ most beautiful palaces, a true symbol and benchmark of French luxury hospitality.
Francois Vatel will remain in History as the incarnation of the French Art of Hospitality at its apex of exigency; Catherine Cardoso, a Vatel Nimes 1998 alumnus and Special Events Manager for over ten year in the Palace, pays tribute to him each and every day by the sumptuous receptions she organizes.
Why did you decide to attend Vatel and what memories do you have of the time you spent there?
It was a chance opportunity when I was talking with Martine Lessault, whom I met in Lisbon, when I was finishing my Baccalaureate. Martine managed one of the most beautiful hotels in Lisbon, the Lapa Palace, before she managed the Vatel Hotel & Spa in Nimes. So choosing Vatel seemed completely obvious for me, as, even when I was only 16, I knew that I wanted to work in hotel and tourism management. So I made the decision to trust a true professional. At the same time, I had done some research on other hotel management schools, but I was much more attracted by Vatel’s practical application courses, where the principle was that you can’t do a job well if you don’t know everything that is required to do it. And what better way to learn than by actually doing a job? Vatel was the school that was made for me.
If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t hesitate for one second. Because today, I still have my new team members start by a one-month observation period in immersion in all the departments and services of the hotel in which they will deal with on a daily basis in their roles and missions. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand his or her needs and constraints remains the best way to understand a job. You can’t sell something you don’t know. And at this level of hospitality, we’re selling dreams and emotions. You have to live them to feel them from the inside out, to be able to talk about them. In addition, that allows you to create a team spirit, to learn how to discover the other person, to talk to them, to embrace them, to tell them things and really communicate. This is something that’s really important when you’re managing conflicts, for example.
What did you learn in while you were at Vatel?
Having theoretical courses follow practical operational work every other week in a four-star hotel was a unique opportunity to learn all the tricks of the trade. We weren’t role playing or “playing store,” because we were hosting real guests in the 57 rooms and suits, the gourmet restaurant and brasserie that the hotel had when I was attending Vatel. We were in the nitty-gritty of the job, because we were in real professional situations. Internships shored up our practical application weeks, especially in the first year internship, that took place only three months after we started school. A very important internship as it allowed all the students to be sure - or not - that they had chosen the right job they wanted to do in the future. The second and third internships allowed us to specialize in the job we liked the best as we learned more and more. I personally chose F&B, something that’s still very present in my current job.
In the George V, you started as the Banquet Assistant and you are now the Conference and Banquet Manager for a team of twelve. How did you get promoted to this job?
Here, once again, by following my instinct: you can’t sell something you don’t know. When I applied for a job at the George V, I was the Banquet Coordinator in the Sales department of the Hotel de Crillon, where I had been hired after my final internship. And the George V was about to rise from its ashes (as the Four Seasons brand) - after a two year renovation period- just a few weeks later, but all the Sales positions were already filled. So I jumped at the opportunity by accepting the operational Banquet Assistant position, still following my deep belief that my on-hands work would end up by making this an easier job. My experience in sales for exhibitions and receptions at the Crillon Hotel quickly showed me my limits in this point, because I didn’t have any specific operational experience in this department. So I didn’t hesitate for even a second when I was offered the opportunity of setting up the operational Banquets service for the grand opening of the Palace.
The other “rungs on the ladder” were also opportunities that I had: I found myself at the right place, at the right time, with the right people. I’m not “running for office” or looking for a medal: satisfaction of work well done on a daily basis is what drives me. In addition to that, I feel that I have a mission in the hotel chain I’m working for: changing the Special Events job, which, in hotels, is something that is just beginning. And as I’m a very persevering person, I build, stone by stone, something I hope to soon see finished.
You have been in this job for ten years now. What is your fondest memory?
My fondest memory is and will remain the transmission of my passion for this job.When I see students, at the end of their internships, say that they’ve found the job they want to be doing, that’s the best gift anyone could have.
This job is an endlessly repetitive cycle, because nothing is ever permanently finished and we create personal emotional experiences for each guest. What is the most gratifying is the result of a well thought-through and successful pedagogy. This is the main part when you are conveying knowledge. Because this job is something you can’t learn by reading a book - it’s full of so many different emotions. Like the job of a Concierge or Spa Manager, these are jobs that require a lot of technical expertise, and by definition, can’t be learned in less than three years, and you start to be really good in them in ten years. I still learn something new every day! So you have to have dogged perseverance and be patient.
This is a constantly changing job that you have to reinvent every day and one that requires a lot of flexibility, adaptation and a multitude of skills, because guests always want something new. It’s an ideal job for those that are curious about everything and everyone, creative, perfectionists, and who always want to challenge themselves.
Can you tell us a bit about a typical day?
There aren’t any typical days! This is quite usual in service related jobs where our core activity is to respond to our guests’ desires in real time. And as we’re a hotel, by definition we never close, and days have peaks of priorities to be managed, and these priorities are always being overturned. And that means that we never get tired of doing our work because there’s no monotony in this job, in spite of the paradoxical fact that these are ephemeral experiences that our guests are looking for. Because we could think that the requests would always be the same, but that’s not true at all!
So a very interesting job, but one that is also very demanding. Can you do these jobs and still have a balanced family life in your opinion?
Yes, because there’s no longer an “office” and a “home.” With the very connected world we now live in, there are no longer barriers between the two of them. One of them is always present in the other. Our guests no longer work in front of a computer, they don’t have to be in an office to answer their emails, and often the professional and personal phone (usually a cell) are the same one. Each person is responsible for taking time out and knowing how to disconnect to take a break and recharge their batteries.
How would you define the French “art of hospitality?”
It’s the art of details, sustainable methods, transmission of recipes, commitment and respect of our peers, or mentors, our trainers. The defense of esthetics, elegance, refined sophistication and good taste, proper conduct in all situations and a life style. And above all, being proud to be a part of a school of life when you work in a hotel. In my opinion, this is a great part of what makes the French Art of Hospitality so famous, and why it is copied in many other countries. All of this is mixed in with true values of service, ethics, proper conduct, humility, and sharing which are a part of many other cultures, and that is not the art of hospitality, but the art of serving other people. In luxury based jobs, this goes much farther. I would define luxury based services as a type of instinctive sensibility to make others happy while serving them. I spoke more about this point in an interview I recently did for a magazine specialized in Special Events: http://www.mazel-events.com/