“The comfort, the luxury, the amenities—these are all givens,” says the Turkish-born Kasikci, who hired six of his top former Peninsula lieutenants, including the chef concierge and the man who keeps limousine traffic flowing in the forecourt—a job so important in a Beverly Hills hotel he heads his own department and is part of senior management. “Service,” Kasikci adds, “is the only area where we have to prove ourselves.”
Montage guests “own” their rooms for 24 hours; the industry norm is 19 to 21 hours. The hotel also offers flexible round-the-clock check-in and checkout, a practice Kasikci is widely credited with introducing in the mid-90’s. (One of the things that makes this possible is switching out the regular fleet of Windsor Sensor S12 commercial upright vacuum cleaners for ProTeam’s quieter Super Coach Back Pack models when cleaning rooms in the small hours.) Kasikci wants you to start living the Montage dream even before you arrive, booking the transfer from your departure city through the hotel ($136 from Manhattan to JFK in a Lincoln Town Car) and using an airport expediter who takes charge of your luggage, checks you in, and has relationships with gate agents that allow you to speed through boarding ($85). The driver and expediter are well steeped in Montage “mores,” if not quite as steeped as full-fledged employees who have attended the hotel’s orientation program, where the difference between listening “actively,” “empathetically,” and “selfishly” is drilled into them, and which ends in an excruciating got-to-be-me moment of freestyle dancing with fellow trainees. The two big words attached to Montage service culture are gracious and humble. I like the gracious, but a lot of the personnel interpret humble as “fawning.” On the other hand, a lot of people are into being fawned over.
If the hotel’s menu of enhancements seems out of sync with the abstemious times we’re supposed to be living in, they’re not anything it would occur to the average Montage customer to refuse, and frankly they’re not going to break that customer’s bank. In what Kasikci says is a first, on the arrival end you can be met at the airport by two greeters in separate vehicles, one to take you to the hotel ($142), the other to stay behind and retrieve your bags ($85). This saves time and eliminates those painful moments of small talk around the luggage carousel when the chauffeur and retriever are the same person. Forty of the 55 suites are billed as being packaged with a complimentary Mercedes-Benz (but not a driver). For a $1,200 corner unit, which comes with a CLK350, that’s a value of $349 per day. (Of course, to pocket the value, you have to want a car in the first place, and you have to snag it: there’s only one for 16 suites.) Instead of a taxi, Kasikci hopes you’ll consider one of his manned Hyundai Genesis sedans. A Beverly Hills cab would cost the same, he says, but they’re famously not so nice—and Montage wouldn’t be controlling the experience.
The competition is doing its best to appear neither too threatened nor too confident. “Sure Montage makes everything more challenging—it’s a wonderful brand,” says Alberto del Hoyo, general manager of the Beverly Hills hotel. “The problem for the company is that people aren’t aware of it—it’s unknown.”
“Given the ultratraditional look Montage has chosen, it probably can’t aspire to trendiness,” says Radha Arora, general manager of the Beverly Wilshire. “My guess is that it will steal clients from each of the hotels—we all have 10 percent of our business that’s up for grabs. But it remains to be seen if the Big Six will become the Big Seven.”
Kasikci would argue that with services like John Lobb–certified shoeshines (the Connaught in London is the only other hotel in the world that provides them), Montage is already in the club. Glazing and refurbishing, which takes 30 minutes—twice as long as the standard complimentary shine—is $15. Guest relations manager John Macbeth underwent 22 hours of training at Lobb in New York, in turn training his staff.
Offer Nissenbaum, who took Kasikci’s place at the Peninsula, says Montage does not have to wait for any jury: it’s an instant player. “The hotel will definitely give Beverly Hills a boost as a destination,” Nissenbaum says. “I haven’t seen every nook and cranny, but it’s a very good product. Now it has to develop its own DNA.”