What it's Like to Be a Hotel Concierge
For a hotel concierge, engagement ring shopping, clearing a helicopter to land on a small island and doling out recommendations for an area's best restaurants are all in a day's work. Just ask Wendy Waltz, who -- at one time or another -- has encountered each of these tasks in her role as chief concierge at the Mayflower Park Hotel in Seattle.
Below, Waltz chats about what it takes to ensure that her Mayflower Park guests are the happiest travelers in Seattle.
CareerBuilder: As a hotel concierge, what does your job entail?
Wendy Waltz: Concierges are in the hotel to assist guests with basically everything. I realize that is kind of a broad statement, but on any given day we can be expected to help with anything from making dinner reservations to helping with a surprise wedding proposal.
Most of the time we are called upon to ensure that our guests' visit to Seattle is a pleasant one. Whether they are touring the area and need guidance with a city tour or a whale watching trip; or are here on business and need transportation and a place to have dinner that is appropriate for a small meeting. We are here to help with all of that. In my particular hotel we also assist with the VIP program, making sure our extra special guests are attended to, and with the delivery of amenities such as flowers and gift baskets.
What is the strangest request you've ever gotten from someone staying at your hotel?
Ah, such a tough question to answer really. I have been a concierge for 17 years and have been asked just about every question one can think of! One of the most interesting that comes to mind is when I had to get a top designer to send me a brand new tuxedo from their latest line for a guest who was in a wedding that weekend. Not that unusual on its own but the reason was unique. My guest was royalty and didn't want to wear a rental tuxedo that had been worn before, but he had to be in the same tux as the rest of the wedding party. The tux came in the nick of time.
There was also a time when I had to find certain medical equipment for a guest who forgot his and was getting on a cruise ship on a holiday weekend. The request was not really strange but was very challenging to solve.
I've also been a key player and/or planner for several wedding proposals -- from organizing them to actually picking out and purchasing the engagement ring. I once had to get a small town on an island to give me permission to have a helicopter land on it, the trouble being that the President of the United States was also on the island at the time. It can be very satisfying when you figure those things out. I am not sure now if I would find any request to be strange.
What do you enjoy most about being a concierge?
The best part of my job is that it is never the same. Every day I have different people with different requests. It is never boring. I personally love to talk to and meet new people and I get to do that for a living. What's not to love?
What are the biggest challenges?
In our high season the biggest challenge is volume. Sometimes we just can't get to all of the requests. Along with helping guests in person and on the phone we also receive many, many e-mail requests. Attending to everyone in a timely manner can be a real challenge. You want to give everyone your undivided attention since it may be your only chance to help them.
Other than that I would think that "reading" my guests correctly is what I take most seriously. Often they are asking you to make a decision for them and you don't want to get that wrong. Hopefully I am pretty good after all these years at listening to what my guest is actually saying but it can sometimes be a challenge.
How did your career take its current form? Where did you start out and how did you end up doing what you're doing now?
I started my career in the hotel industry as a reservations agent. I have worked in several areas of the hotel business, in both front and back of the house, transferring from time to time within the hotel I was working for or changing positions while moving within the same company. I have worked for several big hotel chains in several different states in the U.S. and have worked everywhere from the front desk to the dish washing department. The hotel business is a lot of fun and you can do so many different things without actually changing where your work or the company you work for.
I took my first concierge job sort of by accident. I was moving back to my hometown without a job and contacted a colleague who was working in the human resources department of a hotel in that city. All that was available was a concierge position. I honestly wasn't totally sure what that entailed but I took the job. Within a couple of months I was hooked. Once I reached the point in my career when it became possible to apply for membership in Les Clefs d'Or (the International Concierge organization) I did. I have had my "keys" since 1999.
What would you say are the top qualities needed for someone who wants to work in the hospitality industry, and why?
Number one would be a true enjoyment of working with people. You hear people say that all the time "I like working with people" but to be a concierge you really have to mean that. [Guests]may be impatient and stressed out and maybe just not nice but as a concierge you need to roll with that and not let it affect how you help them.
A very close second would be really great organizational skills. Multi-tasking is the name of the game. Then I would say energy and patience. You also have to be dedicated because you can spend a lot of time (beyond your regular work hours) learning things. Hitting museums or checking out the latest restaurant or exhibit so you can talk to your guests about it with firsthand knowledge. This is unpaid time and possibly time away from your family, but it comes with the job.
What advice do you have for people interested in getting into your industry? Are there internships, experiences, or knowledge that helps in becoming a concierge?
Any hospitality experience or at least customer service experience is helpful and a good start. If you happen to have knowledge of the city [where you are employed], that is a plus. Traveling on a personal level can be great experience for any future concierge as well.
There are also schools (colleges, community colleges, etc.) with hospitality programs, and some of those schools offer internship programs as well. There are two International Schools of Tourism and they both offer concierge training programs. Even with schools and training classes available I personally think that being a good concierge is something you are born with, you either like it or you don't. The details can be learned but the desire can't.
Once you become a concierge I would highly recommend becoming an active member of your local hotel concierge association if your city has one. The exchange of knowledge between concierge colleagues in these associations can be invaluable.
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