What is it like to be a hotel concierge?
In his one-on-one Q&A with Hcareers, Ryan Lettier, Concierge at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants' Hotel Vintage Portland, breaks down the joys, challenges, and day-to-day responsibilities of a full-time, career concierge.
HC: How long have you held your current post?
RL: I’ve been with Kimpton for 13 years, 9 of them as a concierge. I was the Chef Concierge at the Hotel Monaco Chicago for 7 years and relocated here three years ago.
HC: What appealed to you about becoming a Concierge?
RL: After graduating college, I needed a steady job and income. I fell in to a front desk agent role at the Hotel Monaco, Chicago and spent two years learning the hospitality industry and different departments within the hotel. I always watched our concierge team in awe of the things they knew and how constantly busy they were – sometimes with two phones up to their ears. They seemed like magicians and made things happen. There is not much turnover in the concierge world, it’s a coveted position. My General Manager at the time recognized my love and passion for Chicago and approached me to ask if I had any interest in a concierge position.
HC: How is your day-to-day spent?
RL: No day is ever the same as a Concierge, which is the best part. Some days are more routine than others. Each morning, I recommend restaurants and make reservations, set up city tours and book car reservations. I change flight times, set spa appointments, and get guests in to the hottest restaurants in the city – helping them get from point A to B. I may also run to Nordstrom to pick something up for a birthday! I’ve had to find a way to ship a tractor back to Ireland, too. Sometimes it’s not about doing something great for a guest, but just listening or lending an ear. As a concierge you also play the role of a therapist at times.
HC: How has your job duties evolved over time?
RL: Between social media and apps, you would think the role of Concierge would be obsolete now, but I’m just as busy now as ever. People are looking for that human connection. What app can give you that? People want you to sympathize with them. When they ask about a hot, new restaurant they saw on social media, they come to the Concierge (local expert) and ask you if it’s really worth it? I become the salesman now.
HC: What soft and hard skills are critical to success in your line of work?
RL: Number one and most important: if you’re not a people person and don’t crave human connection, this is not the career for you. You need to be able to be on the guest level and speak their language. It might mean having some knowledge on wine or nice watches. It could also mean knowing where the local knitting shop is. You have to be able to read a guest, fast! If a guest comes from a small town in Ohio with a family of four and asks for dinner reservations, do you send them to a Michelin rated restaurant or something more approachable? Multi-tasking is a huge part of the profession, too. Be ready to prioritize and juggle your daily work load. No two days will ever be the same. Patience is also a huge factor. You may have 15 different things going on and then you need to give all of your time and attention to each and every guest that approaches your desk. The guest shouldn’t feel rushed, or like they’re a burden on you.
HC: Have you learned any hard lessons along the way?
RL: Balance. Because of what we do, you’re never really off the clock. Somedays you’re at work for 8 hours, followed by an event or two. Then, it’s back to the grind the next day for a 9-hour shift because someone called off. With no two-days ever being the same, you need to find some sort of balance in your personal life, or you will get burnt out immediately and won’t perform at your absolute best.
HC: How can one advance further in their company as a Concierge?
RL: Once you’re a concierge, you’re not done. In some hotels, they have a Chef Concierge, who oversees all of the other concierge. They typically write the schedule, coach you and are basically your boss. After you’ve acquired so many years at the Concierge desk, you can apply to become a member of Les Clef d’Or, an international organization of elite hotel concierge. You can recognize one by the gold crossed keys on their lapels.
HC: What are the greatest challenges of your job?
RL: It’s a challenge, but one I LOVE. It’s keeping up with what’s new and with hot in the city. It could be a new theater production that I need to see, so I can tell guests about it. Or it could be learning the newest restaurants opening. Something always sneaks by you that you didn’t know of. It’s also the closing of establishments, too. The more you know, the better you can serve your guests and the better your hotel and department looks.
HC: What keeps you motivated and inspired?
RL: Constantly changing city. I have to be on the top of my game. I remain inspired when I get to meet wonderful guests, who come from all over the world and stay at my hotel for different reasons. Being able to connect with these people, to get them to open up, and to get to know them. I have been fortunate enough to have several of my guests become some very dear friends.