London’s finest

Let’s talk ultra-luxury — in this case, the upper echelon of this class in the city of London. When one thinks of The Savoy in London, one recalls high tea, formality and maybe even an episode of Masterpiece Theatre’s famous series, “Downton Abbey.” Serving as a bastion of society and refinement for 125 years, The Savoy remains a landmark of British heritage as well as world-class hospitality.

Relying on the prestige of the past isn’t the hotel’s only card. Far from it — managers are forging the way towards a modern interpretation of classic British service concepts.

The Savoy was acquired by Fairmont more than five years ago. Closed for more than two years, the property underwent an amazing transformation. While protecting the structure and many of the fixtures, all of the workings (heat, air, electrics, plumbing, electronics) were totally replaced.

Presiding over the hotel’s team is Managing Director Kiaran MacDonald, coming by way of Fairmont’s Waterfront (Vancouver) and Scottsdale properties. Fully steeped in North American luxury, he now holds the reins of one of the properties recognized as a world leader in service. Thus my meeting with him was to learn more about the influences the “new world” has made on the “old” and what he sees as the differences.


Larry Mogelonsky: I always thought of The Savoy as formal, unbending to the times, the last bastion of the Empire.

Kiaran MacDonald: The Savoy has been part of the fabric of London for 125 years, but whilst we are incredibly proud of our rich history and heritage we consciously strive to stay relevant and forward-thinking. We continue to respect tradition, which can be seen in colleagues’ uniforms, for example — our team dresses a bit more formally than in North American properties, perhaps — but this sense of tradition shouldn’t be mistaken for rigidity. Our team recognizes that many of the old customs only create roadblocks in service delivery, and we are also very aware that our typical guest, if there is such a definition, is savvy to the ways of the world and is probably more comfortable around a smartphone than a dinner plate surrounded by a dozen pieces of flatware.

LM: Give me a demonstration of the new Savoy, and contrast it to The Savoy of old.

KM: Our Kaspar’s Seafood Bar and Grill restaurant offers an informal setting in response to the changing expectations of London diners, yet still retains our traditions of the highest-quality ingredients and service. Our monthly dinner dance gives an opportunity to blend old and new. Our American Bar combines modern cocktails with many classics while the Beaufort Bar, open since our restoration in 2010, offers an entirely new and unique cocktail offering while paying tribute to the Art Deco roots of The Savoy and its past links to theater and music. Our rooms and suites are totally redone with modern technology, yet many of the decorative touches hark back to our heritage.

LM: Do you see technology as a replacement to service?

KM: To the contrary, technology can aid traditional service. Whereas I do not see an iPad or other tablet device taking the place of our concierge, I do see tablet devices as a means of enhancing our ability to provide guests with information on a faster or more efficient basis. With mobile capabilities, our team can synchronize their efforts and provide a more seamless guest experience. However, under no circumstances will we let technology form a barrier between our staff and our guests.

LM: The irrefutable knowledge base of the Savoy butler: fact or fiction?

KM: We do indeed offer 24-hour butler service for our suites. While our butlers are extremely knowledgeable, exceptionally trained and seasoned in the art, they are not infallible. New skills are added all the time. While they are still adept at finding last-minute seats for the latest West End show or fitting a tuxedo at the last minute, they have added new skills, such as linking a new computer to Wi-Fi. In particular, our butlers are trained in the art of knowing when it is appropriate to extend the services of a more traditional butler versus behaving as more of a personal assistant to our guests.

LM: What can every hotelier learn from The Savoy?

KM: Our team is continuously searching for ways to further enhance the guest experience. To the hotelier, true service means continually staying just one step ahead of the guest, anticipating their needs and demonstrating how we can be of support to their needs. We want their stay, regardless of type — leisure, business, group or social event — to be the best it can be. The Savoy is the destination and the conduit by which great memories have been, are being and will be made. Find your balance. Learn what you can from the old and translate this into a new way of meeting guest needs.