Why this five-star French hotel allowed Gen-Z Britons with no experience to run it
Dippy, an 18-year-old student from Cardiff, welcomes bemused guests to the “French Rivvy ‘area’”; Bristolian supermarket cashier Mollie marvels that anyone would pay €200 for hotel champagne when they “could get it for a few quid down at Asda”; and Blackpool boxer Jackson warns fine diners at a seafood and wine tasting that they might “gip” (vomit) at the sight of fresh Mediterranean oysters.
This is not the sort of service you’d expect in a five-star hotel such as Les Roches Blanches, set in the heart of the Côte d'Azur and once frequented by Winston Churchill and Edith Piaf. But it’s all in a day’s work for Fred Sirieix, the seasoned French maître d'hôtel and TV star.
Fred’s Last Resort is Sirieix’s response to the global hospitality recruitment crisis, an eight-part reality TV show that spirits 12 Gen-Z Britons out of their everyday jobs as cashiers, students, boxers, bartenders and baristas and tasks them with running this five-star resort – much loved by Paris’ grand vacancing belles personnes.
In the show, the green recruits run VIP lunches and lavish birthday parties, organise fashion shows and canine photoshoots and try their hand at concierging; arranging luxury excursions for the hotel’s demanding clientele (in one case booking a well-heeled couple on a chugging fishing boat with a bottle of warm wine in lieu of a luxury yacht). At the series end, which will air in April, one top-performing recruit will win a year’s work contract with Accor Hotels (which has London’s Savoy and Raffles Singapore in its portfolio) as well as £10,000 to kickstart their hospitality career.
“The project was very personal to me,” says Fred Sirieix, who began his own career in hospitality in the demanding five-star resorts of Monte Carlo in the 1990s and chose the south of France as the show’s setting for this reason. “I have wanted to showcase the industry for a long time and this, the playground of the rich and famous, is the dream environment for [the 12 young competitors] to learn.”
Thomas Molfessis is the hotel development manager at Les Roches Blanches. He spoke to us in the run-up to the busy spring season for the centenarian hotel, an establishment that’s weathered wars and most recently the travails of the pandemic – a challenging period for hoteliers everywhere. I asked Molfessis why he decided to let 12 hapless young Britons loose on a five-star estate where rooms cost up to £10,000 a night and the Call My Agent set lay their expensively coiffed heads.
“Well, the TV producers were very good and nothing was ruined apart from a few smashed glasses,” Molfessis laughs. “And of course we chose dates to film that would be least disruptive to our guests and kept cameras out of their way with very precise scheduling and site use, unless they had agreed to take part.” Most guests, of course, did not want to feature in a widely broadcast reality television show, discretion being part of the package with a five-star hotel experience. “We did call our reserved guests to let them know there would be filming and of course some were not so happy about it,” Molfessis says.
In the end the filming, which took place in the hotel’s quieter post-summer shoulder season in September 2022, only lost Hôtel Les Roches Blanches a handful of bookings. Molfessis hopes the property’s starring role in what’s fast becoming a cult hit for British viewers (who describe it as a more heart-warming take on the Apprentice, in a dazzling seaside setting) will lead to a rise in bookings from the UK. At the moment the lion’s share of Les Roches Blanches’ bookings are from domestic guests seeking summer sun, and from moneyed Americans.
Sirieix’s project of shining a light on the job opportunities to be had in a sector struggling for recruits also appealed to the hotel management, Molfessis adds. The French hospitality sector lost more than 237,000 employees between 2020 and 2021 and there remain more than 200,000 vacancies to be filled in the country’s famously well-oiled restaurants and hotels. “Like all establishments in France we have found it difficult to recruit staff since the pandemic,” Molfessis says, “particularly in the food and beverage areas”.
It’s a crisis that’s echoed in the UK, where pubs, hotels and restaurants had a record 176,000 job vacancies in 2022, but only one in five young job-hunters said they would consider hospitality as a career. This is a shame, Molfessis notes, because the sector offers great perks, as well as the possibility of rapid promotion: “If you are motivated to learn in this industry, you can have a lot of responsibilities very quickly,” he explains. “It’s a great career accelerator.”
Hôtel Les Roches Blanches is also taking on younger French recruits to stem its staffing crisis, as well as returning higher managers to front-of-house and the restaurant floor. It’s something that’s being seen across France, he says: “Managers who would have been hands-off before are now welcoming customers and serving drinks.”
Sirieix initially took a dim view of his recruits, who are pictured arriving at the hotel in episode one in a state of screaming excitability. “I wondered: ‘where is your mind at?’” Sirieix says.
Yet, as the more indolent contestants are weeded out over episodes one to three, a mutually supportive group of hard-working young hotel workers emerges; and it’s a heart-warming watch.
It also gives you hope for both a generation derided as being distractedly wedded to their smartphones (and which generation of youth isn’t condemned as insubordinate and lazy?), as well as for an industry that needs new blood as much as it needs fresh bed linen. Sirieix believes that, for some of his young charges, the experience will be the first step in a stellar career in hospitality. “I have great hopes for them,” he says.
“Who was my favourite recruit?” Molfessis asks. “Well if I say that I will divulge who won and ruin the surprise, but I will say that when they first arrived they were acting like idiots and within a few days, and with Fred’s expert management, they started to grow into the sort of young people I would very much employ here at Les Roches Blanches.”
Fred’s last Resort airs on Tuesdays and Wednesdays on E4 and on demand at All4
Hôtel Les Roches Blanches offers doubles from £299 (00 33 44 201 09 30)