San Diego Guide to Hotel Concierges That Aim to Please
Like the Marines, concierges accomplish more by 9 a.m. than most people do in a day. Draconian measures are taken, catering to guests' every whim - itineraries, reservations, airline boarding passes, flower deliveries, stripper poles, cat séances, gift purchases, and the list goes on. People pleasers by nature, they garner a sense of pride by helping others.
An elite group of hotel concierges named Les Clefs d’Or (pronounced lay clay door) are hospitality’s excellence. French for “keys of gold,” the worldwide organization started in Paris in 1937. Members satisfy stringent prerequisites such as obtaining sponsorship, letters of recommendation, five years working in guest service (three as a concierge), and anonymous test calls. Perseverance pays off in prestige, networking with affiliates, and a higher salary. More than 650 Les Clefs d’Or in the USA represent over 250 four- and five-star properties. In Europe the field is largely dominated by males. America sees the inverse with 70 percent women, 30 percent men. Whether a concierge wears golden keys or not, the common thread uniting concierges is service to their guests. Here are a few San Diego concierge’s stories.
Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines
10950 North Torrey Pines Road La Jolla, CA 92037 (858) 558-1500
In 2005, Dean Laurens reached Les Clefs d’Or status, after working nine years as a concierge. At the age of 43, he is the youngest concierge at La Jolla Torrey Pines and the only golden key holder on a staff of four. “Being Les Clefs d’Or there are more expectations. You feel like you must obtain a higher level of service” reveals Laurens from his post at the concierge desk. “It’s a great service position with the opportunity to learn to be resourceful and to help other people.” A mission upheld by all in the industry. On any given day, Laurens may book reservations at a coveted restaurant, reserve a limo, or, being a performer at heart, sing upon request. Torrey Pines golf course hosts the annual Farmers Open. Laurens showcases his skills on the more demanding wishes of elite athletes. He is forbidden to solicit or receive autographs or gifts from guests. But, tips are acceptable.
910 Broadway Circle San Diego, CA 92101 (619) 239-2200
Twenty-two years ago, after retiring from the Navy, Tom Turman decided to be a concierge. He climbed the ranks at numerous chain hotels, resulting in the Les Clefs d’Or position at Westin Gaslamp. For no particular reason, he waited until 2008 to obtain this status. “I can now call Les Clefs d’Or members worldwide and get help. It expands my network for helping guests,” said Turman during a recent phone interview. He’s become a good judge of people’s character having been in this profession for two decades. “You must get along well with the general public and like to help people.” This was especially evident when a guest requested 15 horseshoe nails in 45 minutes for a conference she was attending. Several calls later, the Cinderella Horse Drawn Carriage Company was happy to oblige. Last minute requests are not unusual, and are always granted if they are legal and humanely possible. When Turman goes home he must remove the two signature golden key pins from his lapels. A round, Les Clefs d’Or button is substituted when off-property. This is mandatory of all members.
Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa & Marina
1441 Quivira Road San Diego, CA 92109 (619) 224-1234
One of the younger concierges, Cecilia Carlsson is not striving for Les Clefs d’Or. While many concierges consider their position a career, Carlsson views it as a stepping stone for getting into hospitality management. Her professional path started as front desk receptionist, and hopefully culminates in the human resourse department. Carlsson views concierge as a great place to start because she must learn how to communicate well, multi-task, and “read” each guest to best advise them. Even when the desk is swarming with tourists, she must remain calm. Tips boost her hourly wage, as well as commission from car rentals and tour companies. Invitations to local restaurants and theater productions is a definite perk, and must be attended -- in the name of research. Tough job.
Coronado Island Resort Marriott
2000 2nd Street Coronado, CA 92118 (619) 522-3011
Ten years into her career, Norma Cupp still gets a thrill from her job. “I love the challenge of finding and accomplishing what the guests request. It’s like playing detective.” In her mid-50s, Cupp has thought about applying for Les Clefs d’Or, but realized it’s not necessary. Her extremely polite demeanor peppers sentences with “my pleasure,” “Sir,” and “Miss.” While NO is not in her glossary, Cupp did have to utter the word when a guest asked to have a helicopter land in an adjacent park. The nearby North Island Navel Air Station frowns upon such antics. She did, however, accommodate another guest’s request to make a cardboard toy gun. All in a day's work.
Se San Diego Hotel
1047 5th Avenue San Diego, CA 92101 (619) 515-3000
Chuck Huller sits behind the concierge desk - his lapels clad with shinny golden key pins - ready to grant wishes. If it’s legal, Huller will get it. Sold out play? An amateur’s task. South African Natal Plums? Huller will give directions to the nearest tree. Private beach? He knows many. All telltale traits of a Les Clefs d’Or. The first 10 years of his career were in New England, where he received a bachelors degree in hospitality from Johnson & Wales University. Se Hotel San Diego recruited him for their grand opening team in 2008. Huller and two other concierges cater to visitor's needs. Restaurant reservations and Little Italy information is the most requested service. He did have one odd demand, which he divulges in the following video.