It’s about “doing things right, the first time, on time, without having to be asked.”
“A perfect day in the hotel business,” says Cristiana Kastrup, General Manager at Fasano Rio, “is being able to make everyone happy.”
That’s easier said than done. Between special requests (a child who wants stars on the ceiling; a private en suite Shabat dinner) and all the little touches that keep regular guests coming back, the hotel employs a “guest services” team, who engineers astounding feats of hospitality. Traveling with a pet? All suites include a personalized welcome letter for each dog, with information on the closest vet, pet supply store, and recommended dog walking routes.
The whole idea, Cristiana explains, is to anticipate a guest’s needs at every moment: “doing things right, the first time, on time, without having to be asked.” She likens her task to that of a doctor who correctly diagnoses a patient: “A good hotelier recommends the correct dish, and prepares the room with exactly the correct temperature and smell. That sincere smile of happiness at the end of a guest’s stay…nothing beats that.”
It all goes back to owner Rogério Fasano’s old-school approach to running a hotel. For example, you won’t find automated check-in here. “I love that you have to pass through reception, and be handed your key,” he says. “Here, the front desk agents wish you ‘good morning,’ ‘good afternoon,’ and ‘good night.’ That interaction is just a natural part of the hotel.”
But what exactly goes into running such a place? I went behind the scenes at one of the world’s top luxury hotels to find out how the magic happens.
Before sunrise, the ground-floor restaurant, Al Mare, is converted into a breakfast room. The transformation is striking: curtains are opened to allow views of neighboring Arpoador beach, and a massive jacaranda buffet table, bearing 20 different kinds of fruit, as well as house-baked raisin bread, croissants and pão de queijo (traditional Brazilian cheese bread), is set up in the middle of the room.
Chef Paolo Lavezzini receives the morning catch, which includes grouper from the nearby Cagarras Islands and sea scallops from Buzios. On the weekend, there are oysters shipped in from Santa Catarina in the south.
Up on the roof, an attendant places towels on all 78 wooden lounge chairs surrounding the pool. “I don’t care how long the work day is,” he says in between tasks, “my office is amazing!”
A front desk agent goes from room to room, delivering the day’s newspapers in little cloth sacks. For guests who must catch an early flight, a special syndicated news digest—with all the morning headlines—is printed and left out in the lobby.
While guests are out and about, housekeeping swoops in. Room attendants undergo weeks of training to meet the hotel’s rigorous service standards. Painstakingly small details, which many guests won’t even notice (and that’s kind of the point), are wrought with utmost precision. For example, desk items must be set back 2cm from the edge—in order to “let the objects breathe”—and duvets folded back at exactly the right angle to the pillow.
A “packing butler” prepares a departing guest’s suitcase: shoes are polished, clothes are lined with Fasano-printed silk paper, and a complimentary “surprise” gift (in this case, a scented candle) is inserted in the luggage, to be found while the guest is unpacking back home.
For a large family arriving later, Cristiana has prepared seven twin beds, lined up Madeleine-style in a single suite. Special pillowcases and sheets have been decorated with ballerinas (for the girls) and pirates (for the boys). A coffee table is laid out with popcorn and watermelon slices on popsicle sticks. Later, the kids will embark on a building-wide treasure hunt, with 30 clues scattered throughout the lobby, dining room and (thankfully, empty) meeting rooms.
One particular guest, who will be staying for a month, has requested a connecting room with a kitchen. No such room exists in the hotel, so staff works on the fly, removing all furniture, laying down black rubber mats over the floor, and wheeling in stainless steel shelves, counters and an electric stove.
Later, another guest (a couple) wants rose petals on the floor—not so simple as it sounds. Covering all 1,400 square feet of a suite requires five attendants, working inward from the corners, and finishing minutes before the guests arrive so the petals are still fresh.
In a workshop downstairs, members of the guest services team bustle like Santa’s elves to prepare gifts for returning VIP guests. Usually, a chosen item (a silk eye mask, a tie, a book) is wrapped in paper that’s been custom-printed with an individual message or story for the particular guest, and wrapped with a bow.
Seven stories above Ipanema, the rooftop terrace is just as famous for its views as its restaurant and bar. At lunchtime, young families lounge by the pool, while waiters whisk plates of seafood and pão de queijo. On average, the hotel goes through 300 coconuts a day. Over 110 pounds of shrimp is consumed every three or four days. And cachaça, the nationally-loved sugarcane distillate, is a very popular choice—almost 40 bottles are needed to supply a weekend’s worth of capirinhas.
In a rare quiet moment during the day, Cristiana ducks out onto the veranda to enjoy a skim milk cappuccino by herself. She calls it her favorite spot to “slow down and get my thoughts reorganized,” and uses the time to read through memos she’s written to herself throughout the morning, which require following up with her staff. “In our business, it’s all about staying very close to people, both the team and the guests.”
Rogério Fasano, the hotel’s hands-on owner, discovers an arriving guest has been kept waiting for his room since 2 p.m. From the kitchen, he rushes out to the beach—where the guest has been surfing to pass the time—with champagne and a plate of prosciutto and fresh-baked grissini.
A couple has booked Suite 707, and requested something special to celebrate 30 years of marriage. Upon entrance, a video of their wedding is projected onto the curtains. Furniture has been cleared away from the center of the room. Off to the side, a male guitarist and a female singer (who also happen to be Fasano employees) croon the opening bars to Lionel Richie’s “Three Times a Lady.” The husband, having planned this weeks in advance, seems pleased with the impact on his wife, who cannot stop crying.
Sunsets are not to be missed up at the pool. “It’s not everywhere you can sip a caipirinha with that beautiful view,” gushes bartender Paolo.
This is Rio, and dinner doesn’t get going until late. As well-dressed crowds file in and out of the lobby entrance all night (though don’t plan on showing up without a reservation), a special underground tunnel running from the port cochère through the kitchen is used to usher high-profile guests, like Cher, who recently stopped by, to their table.
It’s close to midnight, and the restaurant waiting list still in the double digits. With hungry, high-profile international guests growing impatient, bartender Paolo improvises a new “signature” cocktail intended to keep them entertained. “It is amazing how nothing seems impossible when you have a group of people who genuinely love what they do,” Food & Beverage Director Ricardo Zaroni tells me. “Our team is like that.”
A private event has taken over the rooftop, and dozens of famous Brazilian actors are mingling over canapés. The operation has gone off without a hitch; near the edge, a makeshift stage has been constructed over the pool, and the DJ, framed in purple light, appears to float over Ipanema.