Mike Williamson runs an extraordinarily successful and, it seems, timeless hotel. Hilton Tokyo first opened its doors in 1984. Today, with 821 bedrooms, it achieves 91% average occupancy and he has the luxury of knowing that all his restaurants will be full, thanks to locals. Every day they will serve over 2,600 main meals, and only ten percent of those are to hotel guests. Lunches, especially buffets, are full from 11.30 a.m. but the main showcase, a prime marketing tool for this whole operation, is afternoon tea.
It is marketing genius because it is themed. Right now it is psychedlic afternoon tea – see the image above, and the video below. When it opens at 2 o’clock, in two separate venues, there are probably over a hundred already standing in neat lines for the reservation they made weeks ago (right now afternoon tea is booked solid, six weeks ahead). Customers pay the equivalent of $35 and they can stay as long as they like, and eat as much as they like, and as anyone who knows Japan knows, the tiniest waistline seems able to put away vast quantities of carbs, especially sweet cakes. They are also encouraged to take, and post images, and there is much to excite.
Every afternoon the tea display, whatever the theme, is set in a superb ambience, decorated by the staff. One wall right now has witty Andy Warhol-style paintings done by a concierge, hanging above real pairs of turquoise and day-glo yellow knee-high plastic boots, and a proper guitar (an armchair next to it is a patchwork of colour-of-the-rainbow fabrics). All this helps motivate staff, and encourages recruitment, says Mike Williamson, fully aware that he is fighting to attract newcomers in a city that has two percent unemployment. But when people find Hilton Tokyo they do tend to stay. Several have been working here for over three decades, one for 35 years nonstop.
Walking down from the upper-floor food area that takes over that entire space, I looked down at the ground floor lobby’s Marble Lounge. Every one of 260 seats here is full, day and evening long. Next to the buffet are a plausible red London telephone box, made from scratch by staff; overhead hang three multicoloured wannabe Murano chandeliers, left over, for eternity, from an earlier theme. At lunch I notice the same pasta chef I saw several years ago. Today, as always, he is smiling. He has the luxury of working in a hotel that has a good solid brand behind it, and it is obviously lots of fun. NOW SEE A VIDEO OF THE PSYCHEDLIC TEA