Virus forces ‘paper napkin’ makeover at swanky German hotel

FRANKFURT AM MAIN (AFP) – From wipe-down place-mats to paper napkins and a drive-through ice-cream stand by the grand entrance, guests returning to the swanky Kempinski just outside Frankfurt will find a very different hotel when it reopens its doors after a two-month lockdown.

Hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the hotel has seen its revenues dry up as events from business seminars to weddings were scrapped and guests cancelled.

After two painful months, the hotel has been authorised to reopen, but only on condition of drastic changes to ensure social distancing and hygiene rules. So the starched tablecloths are gone, replaced by washable place-mats on tables that would have to be placed 1.5 metres apart.

Sumptuous breakfast buffets are also a thing of the past, replaced by set menus printed on easily-disinfected laminated sheets.

And instead of service with a smile, guests will be greeted by mask-clad trainees, as many of the hotel’s experienced 115-strong fulltime staff have been furloughed.

A trainee prepares a napkin bearing the name of luxurious five-star Kempinski hotel in Gravenbruch just outside Frankfurt am Main, western Germany, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO: AFP
Jana Maria Kessler (L), a first-year trainee in hotel management, and her colleague Tim Spoehr prepare the restaurant at Kempinski hotel

At reception, a marble fountain stands dry and the desk is bereft of its customary fruit basket, and only one person at a time can ride in the elevators.

Wearing a mask covering her mouth and nose, trainee Jana Maria Kessler practises serving under the new conditions, carefully setting the table from a tray loaded with paper napkins and cutlery blasted with ultraviolet light to eliminate germs.

The face coverings are a “big problem”, she believes, making it “impossible to talk to guests like we did before”.

But for the Kempinski management, any measures that make diners feel safer, such as regular disinfections of every nook and cranny, are the most important factor in winning back business.

Germany’s hotel industry as a whole has taken a hit of more than EUR10 billion (USD10.9 billion) in revenue compared with 2019 in January-April.

With its vast grounds, the Frankfurt Kempinski has the space to spread outdoors over summer to fulfil social distancing regulations.

“Our luxury is having so much space,” said hotel Manager Karina Ansos.

But for smaller players in the hospitality industry, it is a different story.

Across the hotel sector, infection control measures mean bookings may be between 50 and 70 per cent lower than under normal conditions, predicts President of the German hoteliers’ and restaurateurs’ association Guido Zoellick.

Guests will only return to the Kempinski from next week for overnight stays.

Its new initiatives however seem to be tempting clients back.

Business is brisk at the drive-through ice-cream stand offering 10 home-made flavours like asparagus or lime. The ever-popular German favourite currywurst – sausages slathered in spicy ketchup – is also in demand.

“Every crisis is a time for creativity, too,” said Ansos, whose latest brainchild is offering “show-cooking” displays as chefs demonstrate their skills in the midst of the diners – from behind the safety of a plexiglass screen.