If you have ever had to wait for someone in the salon or restaurant of a grand hotel, you will know what a great place it is for people watching. Now and again I have been lucky enough to stay in one of Paris’s top hotels, but most often I use them as the perfect venue to meet up with a friend or for a business appointment.
In Paris there are just a handful of hotels that are referred to as palaces. Names like the Plaza Athenée or the Meurice, conjure up images of luxurious décor and impeccable service.
This level of hospitality is an expensive business, both for the client and for the hotel . And at the moment there is a wave of major renovations taking place. The Plaza re-opened in August after a huge renewal, and currently the Crillon and the Ritz are both closed for business while they make themselves even more beautiful
These renovations are vital if they want to maintain their reputations, but they also run the risk of seeing their most faithful clientèle transfer their business permanently. Habits change and the other hotels are keen to snap up the displaced clientèle.
Besides being the watering hole for tourists and mere mortals like myself, the lobbies and restaurants of the Paris palaces often serve as meeting places for fashion designers, politicians, CEOs, foreign dignitaries, and even spies. This tradition dates back centuries – the Franco-American treaty of alliance was after all signed at the Crillon in 1778!
Certain names famously prefer certain establishments – former president Nicolas Sarkozy, for example, often dined at the Bristol, the fashion industry loves the Meurice although Coco Chanel famously lived at the Ritz for over 30 years.
In the midst of the perfectly oiled cogs of a daily palace routine, the maitre d’ has to be continually aware of who his guests are, and what – if any – role they play outside of the hotel. Certain businessmen must never be seated together, celebrities have to be protected and politicians must not even be within sight of one another. It is a highly skilled game that demands years of experience to master.
So next time you are sipping a glass of Ruinart, enjoying the perfect macaron with your Lapsang, or politely pecking at a gourmet dish, take the time to observe the behaviour patterns of the rooms around you – I promise you some fun!
photos courtesy of the Meurice