Portrait of César Ritz
23 February 1850|
|Died||24 October 1918
César Ritz (23 February 1850 – 24 October 1918) was a Swiss hotelier and founder of several hotels, most famously the Hôtel Ritz, in Paris and The Ritz Hotel in London. His nickname was "king of hoteliers, and hotelier to kings," and it is from his name and that of his hotels that the term ritzy derives.
Ritz was born in the Swiss village of Niederwald, the youngest of 13 children in a poor peasant family. At the age of twelve he was sent as a boarder to the Jesuit college at Sion, and at fifteen, having shown only vaguely artistic leanings, was apprenticed as a wine waiter at a hotel in Brig. Dismissed after a year as an unsuitable candidate for the hotel trade, he returned briefly to the Jesuits as sacristan, then left to seek his fortune in Paris at the time of the 1867 Universal Exhibition.
Ritz's formative five years in Paris, including the siege of 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, gave him sufficient polish and confidence to transform himself from a waiter and general factotum into a maître d'hôtel, manager, and eventually hotelier. Beginning with the humblest of hotel jobs, he moved on to waiting in restaurants and was employed at the high-class Restaurant Voisin between 1869 and 1872. Here he waited on Edmond de Goncourt, Théophile Gautier, and Alexandre Dumas[which?], learned the essentials of his trade from the owner, Bellenger, and served up dishes such as elephant's trunk in sauce chasseur as supplies of fresh meat dwindled during the siege and zoo animals took their place.
In 1872, Ritz became floor waiter of the Hôtel Splendide in Paris, meeting many rich, self-made Americans as guests. In 1873 he was a waiter in Vienna at the time of the International Exhibition. In the winter of that year his astonishing career in hotel management began when he undertook the direction of the restaurant at the Grand Hôtel in Nice. Regular moves then followed, usually twice a year just ahead of the migration of the international tourist set from the hotels of Nice or San Remo in winter to Swiss mountain resorts such as Rigi-Kulm and Lucerne in summer.
In 1878, he became the manager of the Grand Hôtel National in Lucerne and held the same position, in parallel, at the Grand Hôtel in Monaco until 1888. A pioneer in the development of luxury hoteliering, he knew how to entice wealthy customers and quickly gained a reputation for good taste and elegance. He was the first to mandate that "the customer is always right". His code was "See all without looking; hear all without listening; be attentive without being servile; anticipate without being presumptuous. If a diner complains about a dish or the wine, immediately remove it and replace it, no questions asked."
In 1888, he opened a restaurant with Auguste Escoffier in Baden-Baden, and the two were then invited to London by Richard D'Oyly Carte to become the first manager and chef of the Savoy Hotel, positions they held from 1889 until 1897. Ritz put together what he described as "a little army of hotel men for the conquest of London". The Savoy under Ritz was an immediate success, attracting a distinguished and moneyed clientele, headed by the Prince of Wales. Aristocratic women, hitherto unaccustomed to dine in public, were now "seen in full regalia in the Savoy dining and supper rooms". In 1898, Ritz and Escoffier were both dismissed from the Savoy. Ritz was implicated in the disappearance of over £3,400 of wine and spirits, as well as kickbacks from suppliers.
Later in 1898, he opened the celebrated Hôtel Ritz in the Place Vendôme, Paris. He went on to open The Ritz Hotel in London in 1906, which became one of the most popular meeting places of the era, for the rich and famous. The Hotel Ritz Madrid in Madrid, opened in 1910, inspired by King Alfonso XIII's desire to build a luxury hotel to rival the Ritz in Paris. Ritz enjoyed a long partnership with Auguste Escoffier, the famous French chef and father of modern French cooking. The partnership lasted until Ritz had to retire in 1907 because of deteriorating health.
Ritz himself withdrew progressively from the affairs of his various companies, selling out his interests in hotels at Frankfurt and Salsomaggiore in 1905 and retiring from the Ritz Hotel Development Company in 1907, from the Carlton Hotel Company in 1908, and from the Paris Ritz Company in 1911.
By 1912, according to Marie-Louise Ritz, to all intents and purposes his life had finished. In 1913 he was placed in a private hospital at Lausanne, and the following year he was moved to another on Lake Küssnacht in Canton Schwyz. He died at Küssnacht on 26 October 1918. Although from a humble Swiss background, César Ritz and his luxurious hotels became legendary, and his name entered the English language as an epitome of high-class cuisine and accommodation. He is buried in the village of his birth.
See also 
- As the Paris Ritz Shutters, Remembering Its Mysteries, Misbehaviors, and Unhurried Luxuries | Society | Vanity Fair
- Brigid Allen, ‘Ritz, César Jean (1850–1918)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 accessed 3 July 2012
- Ashburner, F."Escoffier, Georges Auguste (1846–1935)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, May 2006, accessed 17 September 2009
- Brigid, Allen. "Ritz, César Jean (1850–1918)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edition, May 2006, accessed 18 September 2009
- Levy, Paul. "The master chef who cooked the books", The Telegraph, 9 June 2012
- Ritz, une histoire plus belle que la légende - Claude Roulet - Editions Quai Voltaire - 1998 ISBN 2-912517-04-4
- Ritz, The King of Hoteliers and Host of Kings, Film by Frank Garbely, r-film Zurich 2007, ISAN 0000-0000-62E8-0000-U-0000-0000-L