A coffee at the Romanisches Café is €6, which is extortionate even if you account for the silver tray on which it’s served and how many people must pocket the spoons. What you have to consider is their astronomical fixed costs. That Bizazza encrusted display cabinet with 5 cm thick glass doesn’t come cheap. Neither do the 5 hotel school trained waitresses, buzzing around the table enquiring about your satisfaction with the meal…5 minutes in, 10 minutes in: until eventually prompting you to ask for the check prematurely just to stop the onslaught of hospitality.
What bothers me more is that the concepts are never original or concise. There is always a Caesar salad and a skinny woman chewing each leaf slowly. (This time there were actually two skinny women chewing slowly. I wanted to tap them on the shoulder and tell them that there is so much mayonnaise in their salad that they would be better off with the bread basket.) Sandwiches. Doorstep sandwiches because on their last scouting trip, management noticed that no one uses pre-sliced bread anymore. There is a red vintage meat slicer, which staff are not allowed to use due to health and safety. There are some French pastries (more beautiful to behold then to consume) and then a couple of unembellished loaf cakes looking out-of-place amongst all the glaze, Valrhona chocolate pearls and edible gold leaf.
Did I ever mention that I worked in a hotel? A Marriott in London. Front desk. When I was 23. I wasn’t very good at verbally genuflecting at each check in. So more often than not, I got sent to the back to answer phones. The front desk manager was Lebanese, Mr. Salha. He used to ask for cappuccinos be brought up to the back office for him. While the rest of us were expected to drink instant. And I would rile him by demanding he order coffee for the entire back office as he was setting a bad example. Until he would order me a cappuccino and then I would forget about equality because “I’ve got a ca ppu cc in O – and you all are drinking instant.”
But here is why hotel cafes are good:
Because the newspapers are free and if you take home the FT and a German one, you’ve already amortized that coffee.
Because it’s fun to walk into a place and have the doorman tip his hat off to you.
Because for the price of the €6 is not too much to pay to peer into the lives of people you might not normally have access to. The older ladies wearing elegant hats in doors and treating themselves to a slice of cake and luxury. The afore-mentioned salad eating ladies, who put on their fur coats to go out for a smoke, then go to the bathroom together – arm in arm while the accompanying men watched their swaying backsides wistfully. The sullen 1 child family who ate silently for 45 minutes, while the kid swiped away at his iPad. The man with a yellow napkin in his suit pocket and his trouser legs hoisted up to reveal matching yellow socks.
And because the finishes are just gorgeous. Even if it takes me a while to work out how to flush the toilet, whose flush is made of black glass and looks like a Bang & Olufsen speaker. I wave my hand frantically in front of it. Nothing. I gently touch it. Nope. I walk away and wait for a whoosh. No. I push the middle. Hard. Harder. No give. Do I leave it unflushed? In a last attempt, I push the corner and off it goes. I walk out red-faced and meet the salad eating ladies who have no trouble working the flush. No doubt they’ve been here before…
Waldorf Astoria Berlin,