5Q: David Mounteer, GM of TIFF's hottest hotel
If David Mounteer sold secrets of celebrities he'd probably make a pretty penny, but A-listers, B-listers, film executives and partygoers passing through his hotel don't have to worry: Mounteer knows there's currency in keeping things hush.
The Thompson Toronto hotel consistently tops lists of the hotspots during the Toronto International Film Festival. For weeks, the 45-year-old general manager has been prepping his staff for the glitzy affair, which runs Sept. 5-15.
If the hype is right, this year's festival won't be short of any crowd-drawing celebs. Those reportedly attending? Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth and Julia Roberts. Alcohol inventory up. Security quadrupled. Mounteer and his team are ready for "star-filled, business-filled parade of deals and parties," he says.
You've been involved with TIFF through the hotel industry for a few a years now, who are some of the biggest stars you've taken care of?
Oh boy, am I allowed to talk about this? You create personal relationships with people. The relationships are built over time. It's a small industry and everyone knows each other so I would hesitate to say who I've dealt with in the past.
TIFF is depicted as a brew of celebrities, parties and deal-making, how does your hotel fit into that bigger picture, and how do you prepare for it?
People in the hotel business, myself included, this is what we live for. These kinds of challenges, this monumental wall of business and craziness, is exactly what we crave. If we wanted stable businesses we would go into different areas. The hotel business is all about people, it's all about relationships. TIFF is where all of this comes together. It's a huge task.
In what specific ways do you prepare for TIFF?
We multiply our beverage orders by at least four times ... We have a specific night where we have four different studios doing parties on all levels of the hotel, from the rooftop to our nightclub to the entire main floor, which is our lobby and our restaurants. They're not meant to combine. In the end, these will combine.
Are there other examples of that?
A new thing for me this year is we've had to bring in some butlers for some of our guests that request that level of service, that 24-hour presence ... We're doing weird things, for instance, our loading dock, which is normally a forgotten spot, we're beautifying our loading dock because we know stars will want to park their cars, get in and out quickly. We're painting and putting plants in the loading dock. Once it's painted it's going to be a pretty stunning little loading dock.
How important is it for the hotel to have stars stay there and how do you balance wanting them, while also charging them high rates?
It is. It's very important. It's all about image. The stars add to the glamour... During TIFF, it's understood that all the hotels in the city -- especially luxury hotels -- are in high, high demand. Especially the suites. The stars do pay. (During TIFF, a suite costs between $1,000 to $3,000 a night.) It's in our best interest for them to be happy, to return, to refer. We do focus on them quite a bit. But we focus on everyone.
How do you recruit celebrities and charge at the same time, and does that create a tension?
We recruit studios. We deal with studios -- and occasionally we deal directly with an agent -- that are working with a film and doing PR or junkets in the city. With each studio comes a variety of talent ... Everybody thinks celebrities get everything for free. We charge celebrities for our services because it's part of our principle and our business model.
Any surprising requests by celebrities over the years?
One of our most shocking requests [when I worked at The Hazelton Hotel] started off innocently enough with a request for a large number of bottles of champagne. To our surprise this was not for a wild TIFF party, but rather for a champagne bath for two. One guest was very specific on their demands for their TIFF stay, right down to the dimensions of the ice cubes for the drinks. We had a team member shave them down to perfectly symmetrical cubes.
A bit unrelated to TIFF, but how important is a destination-style restaurant to a hotel? Is it mainly for the guests, for diners, for catering parties?
It's more about building the vibe and energy of a building in the sense that you may get a few rooms that book, you may get some people that come from other hotels that go to your destination restaurant, but it's really about building energy ... This restaurant has to a part of that energy that flows throughout the building. It would be less about putting heads in beds. The restaurant is more about creating energy within the building.
Especially during TIFF, how important is the doorman job at the hotel?
It's extremely important. We call ourselves a New York-style hotel, but the one thing that we don't want to emulate from New York is the snotty doorman. Here our doormen are warm, friendly guys, good looking guys, that really welcome the guests.
*This interview has been condensed and edited