Behind the scenes at Florence’s five-star hotel is an ever-present figure, the manager, who is the pillar of the whole place. David Foschi tells us about his profession, the secrets, the tricks of the trade and the anecdotes.
Certainly, it was January 1 2011. Becoming manager was the crowning achievement of a long experience: I grew up professionally at the Bernini, for me it’s like home. I’d been informed a few weeks earlier by Signor Franco Vanetti, general manager of the Duetorrihotels Group, the new owners. When he gave me the news, I felt a great sense of excitement and satisfaction. It was a very, very challenging period: when the Group took over. many members of the old management left the hotel and of all the people left I, as room division manager, held the highest rank. There were no fixed hours anymore, and I was working from eight in the morning to ten at night. It was tiring but also exciting. I never regarded the promotion as a point of arrival but rather as a new point of departure. It was a source of pride, a responsibility, a permanent challenge that I accepted with joy.
What are the most important lessons you have learned during your career?
I’ve learned that every day is different for the next: this isn’t a predictable job. It requires an open mentality because the surprises never end, and this is another nice thing about the job. It’s impossible to get bored. This experience is always teaching me to accept challenges, especially where human relations are concerned, hence the pursuit of total satisfaction for guests. The most important lesson is teamwork. There are about 40 of us in the hotel, a few more than that in the high season. Some of the people I work with may be youngsters but they already have ten to 15 years of service under their belts and, since I’ve held different posts, I’ve often worked side by side with them. I know how much passion they put into their work, I recognise their merits and I have total confidence in their skills. A real bond has been created between the different departments inside the hotel, and this holds us together. It creates a spontaneous, friendly atmosphere which guests, finding the same people year after year, can feel and enjoy.
Which is our favourite room or space in the hotel?
It’s certainly not my office which for me is a sort of storeroom. I much prefer moving around the hotel and keeping in close contact with the staff. Maybe my favourite place is the corner of the Lounge Bar
where I occasionally stop for a pause, especially at aperitif time. At that time of day, it’s dark outside and the luminous reflections of the lamps give the place a vibrant, evocative atmosphere, and it seems to come to life with the sound of the guests’ voices, sometimes accompanied by piano music in the background. I also love the Risorgimento breakfast room
, the Sala Parlamento
: here where members of Parliament used to meet in the years in which Florence was the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, you can really sense the passing of time. The past relives in the frescoed tondi with the portraits of the protagonists of the period: it’s like being in a museum in which visitors begin the day over breakfast. Even now after so many years, I still can’t get my head round this wonder.
What’s your favourite memory?
I remember as if it was yesterday how I started working at the hotel. I was only 21 and I had a job as a waiter in a very fashionable place in Florence. When a similar job became vacant at the Bernini, I applied and got it. I asked the manager whether, were the opportunity to arise, there would be any chance of me working at the reception desk. And so it was that a few months later when a job working shifts at reception became available, I accepted with enthusiasm, even if it did sometimes mean working nights for years to come. Thirty-seven years have passed since then.
In the course of the years, of the many famous people have stayed at the hotel, who has impressed you most?
I’ve had the privilege of meeting a great many celebrities and with some of them I’ve shared truly precious moments. I’m a great music lover, and I’ll never forget when we had the Simple Minds
staying with us. I chatted with them – especially with the vocalist Jim Kerr and the guitarist Charlie Burchill – about music, albums and concerts. It was also a great thrill to welcome the Archbishop of Constantinople Bartholomew I
, the spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians, who occupied a whole floor with his entourage. He presented me with an Orthodox gold cross, which I guard jealously. Last but not least, ever since I was a youngster at the Bernini, I’ve had the good fortune to meet actors who have written the history of Italian cinema
: the likes of Mastroianni, Sordi, Gassman, Tognazzi … all unforgettable figures.
Describe us a typical day in the life of the manager of the Bernini Palace Hotel?
First, I have to make one thing clear: I’m always available and in the event of problems, they can call me at all hours. My day starts early: I get to the hotel at eight o’clock and go straight to the Front Office, where the secretaries fill me in on the flow of guests and room occupancies. Then I go to the Booking Department, where I check the emails even before our booking operators start arriving. After that, I pop in at the breakfast department, the administration offices and the other departments, where I discuss things with the heads and the staff in general. I move about a lot and I try to be active. If needed, I try to lend everyone a hand, maintenance staff and porters included. The moment of the day I enjoy least is the paperwork I’m forced to do, but nothing fills me with satisfaction as much as direct contact with people.
The Bernini Palace Hotel is a focal point in Florence. How do you see its role in the city? What relationship does it have with citizens?
Compared to other places, we have the good fortune to enjoy a position
that’s one in a million, alongside Palazzo Vecchio. It’s the heart of Florence and its cultural and architectural jewels
. All Florentines know where we are and they think of the Bernini Palace with a sort of reverential respect
, partly because its history
has been indissolubly linked with that of the city for the last 270 years. My dream is to tell this story and bring the Florentines themselves into the hotel. An art historian friend of mine had access to the historical archives and made a detailed study of the palazzo that houses the Hotel Bernini, which she later published as a book. I decided to have an excerpt, the part about the hotel, printed: it’s a text packed with information and anecdotes
which we present to guests and Florentines, to bodies and associations, and to the municipal authorities. The Bernini Palace is a member of Locali Storici d’Italia
(Historical Places of Italy) and Esercizi Storici e Tradizionali Fiorentini
(Historical and Traditional Florentine Businesses) and the guided visits of the hotel that we sometimes organise are a great success.
When you’re travelling, what do you note the most in hotels elsewhere?
I like setting out on adventures, travelling to special, unique, exotic places. To do this, I’m happy to adapt to any type of hotel, from the five-star to the humblest. I exploit these opportunities to “steal” ideas and suggestions for the Bernini. Every journey opens the mind and is an opportunity to learn. I’m not a difficult, demanding client, but out of professional curiosity I do observe every detail, and in hotels of a certain level what I pay attention to most of all is hygiene.