Relais and Châteaux: Q&A Background (2005)

Posted on: November 15th, 2005 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

To most people, who enjoy the finer things life has to offer, Relais & Châteaux is the seal of approval that a stay or a meal will be of an exceptionally high standard. And it would come as no surprise that many of the world’s top restaurateurs are members or that their influence is felt throughout the industry.

So what is Relais & Châteaux?

Relais & Châteaux is a voluntary hotel association which promotes and markets independent hotels and restaurants around the world. Its 440 members, located in 50 countries on five continents, make up this Association and they have more than 300 Michelin stars between them. The Association is still strongest in France where nearly 30% of the members are located.

The Relais & Châteaux Association’s mission is to further the cultural and economic stature of its unique hotels and restaurants around the world by collectively promoting its members whilst recognising their heritage and the soul and spirit of Relais & Châteaux. A bit of a mouthful but it emphasises that this is a collection of unique, best of breed, hotels and restaurants run in most cases by their owners.

Relais & Châteaux – Some Figures

Last year Relais & Châteaux member properties had worldwide annual sales revenues of more than a billion euros and employ nearly 20,000 staff. More than half the revenue is linked to the restaurants, the balance being from accommodation and other hotel facilities. Although there are nearly 12,000 rooms worldwide the average capacity of a member property is just 30 rooms and nearly 2 million bed nights were sold last year. The average occupancy is 57% and average length of stay is 2.5 days, with less than 20% of those being business travellers. The average covers served per day in a property restaurant is 62 and the average restaurant bill is more than 100 euros.

To appreciate the size of the Association we need to put this in context and compare with a standard up market hotel chain such as Hilton. Hilton has a similar number of properties, but has 3 times the number of staff and 8 times the number of rooms available. The main difference is that Relais & Châteaux member’s properties will often be destinations in themselves whereas a chain hotel is typically a room for a stay, often in some metropolitan area, for business travellers.

79 of the member properties feature spas as part of their attraction for guests. And with the introduction of incentives such as the Spa Trophy this is clearly seen as a natural extension of the facilities that will appeal to their target customers.

Relais & Châteaux – The Quality Charter which has been the Association’s motto since 1954.

For just over 50 years the Relais & Châteaux members have upheld the “5 Cs” which make up its Quality Charter and a philosophy which reflects the expectations of its guests:

Courtesy – The quality of the welcome in a Relais & Châteaux is impeccable and the service is always attentive.
Charm – Well-appointed properties and elegant interiors.
Character – Each Relais & Châteaux has its own unique style whether it is a château, manor house or abbey.
Calm – The tranquil setting of each property.
Cuisine – Must be of the highest standard ; the Relais Gourmands are gourmet temples of unparalleled renown

How is the Relais & Châteaux brand and standards maintained?

The Membership Network & Quality Department, based at the Association’s Head Office, ensures that the Association’s quality standards are complied with. As the guardian of the soul and spirit of Relais & Châteaux, it has several “tools” at its


– Anonymous visits regularly staged to member properties, one visit to each property every three years.

– Numerous letters or emails from guests (more than 1,300 a year) wishing to comment on their stay in or visit to the Association’s member hotels and/or restaurants;

– Guest comment forms which enable guests to give their impression of the Association’s member properties. The Head Office receives more than 8,000 every year. This is an excellent “quality indicator”. 34 properties left the Association in 2005, two-thirds for reasons of quality. This means 100 departures in the space of three years.

How to become a member of Relais & Châteaux ?

Every year the Association welcomes new properties in accordance with very strict admission criteria which ensure that the exceptionally high standards of the Association are always upheld.

The conditions for admission (for hotels-restaurants):

1. Meet the Association’s quality criteria based in particular on the fundamental values defined in the “5 Cs”: “Courtesy, Charm, Character, Calm, and Cuisine”.

2. Offer hotel services which are at least on a standard of 4 stars or the equivalent.

3. Have a hotel with under 100 rooms.

4. Have a high quality restaurant. A property applying for membership of the Association may seek to be awarded the Relais Gourmand label if its restaurant is recognised as one of the best in the country based on the Association’s own criteria of excellence and by the main national or international food guides and writers.

5. At least one year’s operation under the same owner or general manager.

6. Not be a member of another marketing organisation or competing hotel association.

7. Comply with the Financial Rules of Procedure:

– an admission fee of EUR 10,000 not including tax for Relais & Châteaux and EUR 5,000 for restaurants – annual membership fees of EUR 13,000 for hotels depending on their size and EUR 7,330 not including tax for Relais Gourmands.

This official application must include a cover letter signed by the owner, hotel brochures, high quality photos, press articles and any other documents which could support the application. Anonymous visits are undertaken on the basis of a very detailed questionnaire (400 questions). All aspects of the applying property undergo critical scrutiny: from the taking of a reservation right through to the end of a stay.

Each June the Association’s Board of Directors takes a decision on the admission of new members after examining the documents in their application dossiers.

Ideal settings imbued with tranquillity, luxury and hospitality, the Relais Châteaux properties invite guests to pursue their hobbies but also to relax, enjoy culture… under the best possible conditions.

Excellent Cuisine is one of the fundamental values of the Relais & Châteaux Association – how is this promoted?

Each of the 440 Relais & Châteaux properties around the world upholds the tradition of excellence in cuisine: 135 of them are Relais Gourmands which rank amongst the best restaurants in world.

Relais Gourmands was launched in 1972 and has developed two cooking programmes as a way of sharing its member’s expertise :

– the Ecole des Chefs is a unique experience for advanced amateurs where individual participants take part in the work and life of the brigade in the kitchen of a Relais Gourmand chef. The programmes may last 2 or 5 days and cost from EUR 1,200.

– the Ecoles de Cuisine Relais & Châteaux offer a set of group classes focussing on learning the skills, regional or classical recipes based on seasonal products and the matching of dishes with wines.

Relais & Châteaux has joined forces with “Saveurs du Monde”, the world’s foremost French-language gourmet site, to create the site. This website seeks to share the culinary approaches and secrets of the chefs, and to explain the products used and presentation techniques. There will also be news about various chefs.

Who runs Relais & Châteaux?

The Relais & Châteaux Association is governed by a Board of Directors which consists of 28 members, elected from the Association’s membership. They are 28 owners and general managers of properties, including 12 Relais Gourmands, from 14 different nationalities. Including champions of fine dining in the UK like the Waterside’s Michel Roux.

All the activities of the Relais & Châteaux Association are integrated into the strategic framework defined by this Board of Directors and implemented by the teams at the International Head Office in Paris and international offices throughout the world. Their task is to ensure smooth communication between the members and the Association and to draw up a national promotion action plan for the Association.