For Miss Carmen, things have to be done a certain way. That’s why she always puts freshly picked flowers on the tray with hot beverages she prepares for guests each morning. The 72-year-old has been with Round Hill Hotel & Villas for 55 years and she’s good at her job. She knows it’s all in the details.
“When you in charge of a villa, you see like how I do it here, that’s the way I want it to be done. Because I want to leave a mark at Cottage 20, you understand. You can’t come here and just do anything [you want to] or get [the guests] coffee [only] if you like. No. The tray must fix, sit here waiting on the guest,” she says.
For Miss Carmen, her tray must be visually appealing and easy to use with fluid movements of the hand, so the handles of the cups and coffee pots all have to point in the same direction. There have to be two pots, one with extra hot water in case the coffee is too strong. The tray is placed at the same spot every morning, facing a pool that begs to be dipped in, surrounded by umbrella-covered lounge chairs just a few steps away from lush trees. It sits on a glass-top table surrounded by cushion-filled couches that take comfort to a whole new level.
Miss Carmen often encourages her guests to enjoy the bright hues of the flowers as they sip from their cups, and she tries to meet their every whim long before they even realise they need something.
At Round Hill, everyone knows Miss Carmen and many have no clue that her real name is Laura Mae Grant-Gordon. She chose the name Carmen years ago when she was in school. It sounded better to her ears.
Her grandparents worked at Round Hill so it was natural for her. At 17 to become a housekeeper at the property. She was trained on the job. It wasn’t long before she added cooking to her skills and this helped her upward movement to being given the awesome task of running one of the villas: Cottage 18.
Since then, she has had stints at the helm of cottages 28 and 21 and now she is in charge of Cottage 20. She works with two gardeners and two housekeepers. She handles the cooking and the overall running of the villa, which includes making sure they have a well-stocked kitchen. For Miss Carmen, there’s only one reply to guests’ request.
“I don’t like tell them to wait, so I have to make sure that everything, everything order,” she says. “So anything they want I say, ‘Sure!’ ”
She has many tales to tell and, if she wanted to, she could drop names, but she doesn’t. She’s careful to respect guests’ privacy as she explains why she absolutely loves her job.
One of her best stories involves a well-known musician who thoroughly enjoyed a lunch of chicken necks she had prepared for herself. Famished after working, she realised the pot with her meal was not on the stove where she had left it. She found the super star casually sitting on the floor of the master bedroom, empty pot in one hand, and a fork in another. And he wanted more.
He’s just one of the celebrities who know of her legendary cooking skills; she has wowed the palates of her fair share of movie stars as well.
Miss Carmen is genuinely confused by the thought that some people may not see a traditional tourism job like hers as something to which they should aspire. It has always been a highly sought-after career path in her family. In addition to her, three of her siblings and a niece are now working at Round Hill.
“You have to love the work that you do. I like people, I like children; I just like it,” she says.
She admits that there can be challenges at times but says, even when she has less-than-charming guests, she manages to win them over.
“The people dem nuh miserable, them just want good service. You just have to talk to them. Sometimes they leave home with the sourness so they come here to be happy. So sometimes I just go out and have a little chat with them,” she says.
Miss Carmen is not just a housekeeper and chef who runs Cottage 20 like clockwork. In her own way she’s also an informal therapist. After listening to one guest’s litany of woes before leaving for a swim, she told her friend at the beach to “go check on her so she nuh sad”.
“She was so happy!” Miss Carmen says with a huge grin at the memory.
For her, excellent service comes naturally.
“You haffi look pan dem and see something. If you can’t read you guest it doesn’t make sense. You have to see them as real people,” she says.