With the recent TV documentary Inside Claridge's highlighting the importance of concierge services in hotels, BigHospitality has spoken with the current Concierge of the Year. David Haines is head concierge at Park Plaza Westminster Bridge. With over 25 years’ experience in the hotel industry, he is seen as an ambassador for concierges across the capital.
How I got to where I am today:
I fell into it. When I left school I went into engineering, but the company I worked for went on strike after a couple of weeks and because I was too young I wasn’t allowed to strike, so I ended up changing jobs and doing double-glazing. I was a test pilot for the City & Guilds vocational qualification, and I did that in six months.
Then the owner of the double glazing company decided to shut the factory, he did offer me another job to go into, but I ended up taking a job with my friends dad, who was the head night concierge at Park Lane Hotel – and that’s how it all started.
I was a night porter for six months, then the assistant head night concierge at the hotel for another year. Then I became the assistant head concierge. It was just a process of moving up.
My greatest career achievement:
I’ve had quite a few, but being named the Concierge of the Year (at the Annual Society of the Golden Keys Awards) earlier this year was probably one of the best. I don’t have specific goals, I don’t want to be a GM or anything like that, in five years I just want to be where I am here.
I’ve met a lot of famous people along the way. I had to once walk Lady Diana down the stairs, I had a Chinese one night with Charlie Sheen, I used to chat quite regularly with Jackie Stuart and Shaun Connery when they stayed with us.
My biggest challenge:
Challenges are part of the day-to-day work as a concierge. When I was at the Grosvenor House, an Arab Prince came to stay and he wanted fresh yak’s milk delivered to his room every day. This was back in 1995 when you couldn’t buy anything like that from supermarkets.
So I phoned London Zoo and got put in touch with someone who had a yak farm, and was selling milk at £37 for half a pint - so I managed to overcome the challenge!
Dealing with difficult requests:
When you’re in a five-star hotel, you never say no to a request, because money’s no object. But when you’re in a four-star property it can be a bit harder, because people might ask for things when you know it’s out of their price range.
So you’re trying to do the best for the guest but at the same time not insult them if something is too expensive. Sometimes it’s better to just tell them the thing they want is unavailable.
But truthfully, anybody who says that a particular show is sold out a restaurant’s fully booked, it’s not necessarily true. You can get into any restaurant with the right contacts. So the job is all about who you know, and making the right contacts.
What I love about being a concierge:
It’s the daily challenge – every day’s going to be different. You have the same old questions, but it’s the obscure things that come along and you try and sort them. I prefer to have a little bit of a challenge, when guests can walk away with something they can remember.
What I don’t like about the industry:
The hotel sector has changed because of the internet. Someone will book something through the internet and then they’ll come to me to try and sort it all out for them, which can be extremely difficult.
Also, the levels of service at some hotels is also not great, there are other companies that are just worried about numbers and getting heads on pillows. But that’s what I love about Park Plaza, it’s all about great service and value for money.
If I wasn’t working in hotels…
It’s difficult to know what I’d have done, but I think I would probably have stuck it out in double glazing. But I’m glad I didn’t. Ever since I’ve done this job, I ‘ve not once got up and not wanted to go to work, I enjoy every day, it gives me a good feeling to work here.
My advice for young people in hospitality:
First of all, their attitude has to be right and they need to be prepared to work hard. A lot of young people coming through today don’t have the right work ethic. Young people don’t understand shift work, they don’t realise how tiring it can be. The hospitality industry is either for you or not for you.
When I was younger, if you looked at someone the wrong way, or if your shirt was out, you’d get the sack for it. Nowadays the attitude just seems a bit different.
The work that Park Plaza does with Springboard has been really good though. We have loads of young people coming through with great ambitions, we can give them the foot in the door that they need and teach them that it’s all about the guests and providing them with great service.