Meet the Trinny and Susannah of the Israeli Hotel Industry

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Hayley Levy, left, and Linda Mady train the breakfast crew at the Norman Tel Aviv hotel, September 2014. Credit: Moti Milrod

So you’re starting your first day of work at a new upscale hotel, and this is an American visitor’s idea of striking up a light conversation: “Hey, what’s the deal with Hamas?”

Or better yet, an ashen-faced guest emerges from the elevator and runs across the lobby hollering in your direction: “There’s a cockroach in my room.”

Role-playing with the breakfast crew.Credit: Moti Milrod

No worries. Here to the rescue are two former Londoners promising to guide you through these and other delicate hotel situations likely to challenge the typically blunt and brusque Israeli.

As new high-end, boutique hotels pop up around Israel, Linda Mady and Hayley Levy are finding their expertise — they call it training staff to meet international guest expectations — increasingly in demand. Particularly at this time of year, when the country’s hospitality industry is gearing up for the busy High Holy Days season.

Their clients call them the “Trinny and Susannah of hotels,” and for good reason. Just like the British TV queens of fashion and makeovers, light-haired, blue-eyed Linda and Hayley tell it like it is, dishing out a good helping of humor as they go.

Among their most important clients these days is a hotel being touted as Israel’s most exclusive and luxurious in the boutique line, the soon-to-be-officially-opened Norman Tel Aviv. On this early afternoon, Linda and Hayley, both dressed in smart navy-blue sleeveless dresses (“we definitely didn’t plan this”) and high-heeled sandals, are presenting a training workshop for the hotel’s breakfast crew. Seated around the table wearing their hotel uniforms — white dress shirts and bow ties — about a dozen young Israelis are here to learn how to answer basic questions about the breakfast menu from guests with deep pockets and well-developed tastes.

Linda proposes a bit of role-playing. “Large choice here,” she says, pretending to be a guest. “What do you recommend?” she asks no one in particular.

“My personal favorite is the French toast made from homemade brioche, with glazed nectarines and a dollop of crème fraiche,” one of the servers-in-training responds, jumping to the challenge.

“I love it,” Linda gushes. “That was perfect. And dollop is a great word. Repeat that please.”

Their next subject is jam, which Linda reminds them are also called “preserves” in the United States. “The Americans and British have different words for many foods, and we’re going to spend our next session dealing with that,” she informs them.

But back to the subject of jam, and the really important question: How do you make it sound sexy? “Descriptive words,” Hayley emphasizes, “are critical.”

“Homemade is a good one,” adds Linda. “Or how about this? ‘Our incredible homemade plum jam.’ Now doesn’t that sound inviting?”

Apart from these basic etiquette workshops with staff, this dynamic duo also provide a growing list of exclusive Israeli hotels with help in sales and reservations as well as using social media (“giving them an English voice,” as they put it). Their service package also includes the new “nip and tuck” program, which involves venturing into hotels incognito (only the owners and management know who they are) and snooping around to see what specific problems require attention. “It could be carrots on the breakfast table that aren’t cut nicely, or it could be dirty carpets,” explains Hayley.

It could also be — and these faux pas were actually caught by the two “mystery guests” — a general manager adjusting his fly in the lobby after exiting the men’s room and an overly enthusiastic server throwing his arm around a breakfast guest. (“One of the important things we teach them is that foreigners don’t necessarily like being touched,” notes Hayley.)

Posing as prospective guests, Linda and Hayley have also been up to other sorts of mischief in the “nip and tuck” program, like sending phony emails to the hotels just to be able to gauge the professionalism and politeness of the staff’s responses.

Linda, a former music video specialist, moved to Israel seven years ago, and Hayley, a former marketing executive, came two years later. Their joint company, EasyBEE, began as an English-language tutoring service for Israeli business executives. Their expertise in addressing cross-cultural differences, acquired as a result of this work as well as from simply living in Israel (“We’re both married to Israelis, so we know the cultural stuff,” explains Linda) helped them find a new calling in the boutique hotel industry, which has increasingly become their focus in recent years. A relatively new phenomenon in Israel, these small, trendy hotels cater to a more upper-crust clientele from overseas that attaches greater value to comfort, service and charm than the large organized tour groups that still constitute the overwhelming share of Israel’s hotel guests.

EasyBEE’s client list includes more than a dozen boutique hotels in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, among them the soon-to-be-inaugurated Market House, a first of its kind in the port city of Jaffa.

The biggest challenge they face in this not especially service-oriented society, says the duo, is teaching hotel staffers to use the word ‘sorry.’ “Israelis think they only need to say sorry if they’ve killed your cat with their car,” notes Linda. “If they personally haven’t done anything wrong, they don’t understand why they need to use the word.”

And back to the question of the deal with Hamas: So how does the poor little receptionist behind the desk answer that one? “You have a few options,” responds Linda. “You can either say something like ‘I’m not a political person’ or even easier is ‘You’ve got the wrong person for that question.’”