Harry Miles is the head concierge of the London Marriott Grosvenor Square Hotel, which when it was rebranded in 1985 marked the American chain’s UK debut. Miles himself has clocked up an impressive 31 years service at the hotel (previously the Europa) and has seen a huge amount of change, in an ever evolving role.
My biggest achievement:
I take immense pride in being head concierge at the Marriott. My father, who was a night porter, pushed me to try it back when I was working seven days a weeks as a contract cleaner. The pride he felt when I landed the role was enough for me.
On the work side it’s everyday, because you never know what it will bring other than different questions and new problems to solve. Things happen and you do everything you can to assist your guests, who hopefully come back to you at the end of the day and say, thanks Harry.
How I got here:
I was a night porter at the Waldorf Hotel in London for nine years, which really helped my career as you subsequently appreciate what the night workers do. I moved to the then Europa Hotel and on to days as an assistant concierge in 1979. I became head concierge in 1985 at the now Marriott.
How the role has changed:
The biggest change has been the arrival of the internet. Before if a guest wanted something you had to look it up in a directory or hit the phones. Although there are some guests that perhaps use us less and head for Google instead, there are still plenty that want to be able to ask you to sort something for them, be it a lunch at Nobu or Gordon Ramsay’s Royal Hospital Road, and know that you’ll get it done.
The style of guests coming to the hotel has changed also. Once upon a time you’d be in no doubt about the super rich, who would look every bit of what they were. Today you can’t tell who’s got the money and who hasn’t, as well-off guests are just as likely to be wearing ripped jeans and a t-shirt as they are a full-length mink coat.
What the role requires
You need a good personality and excellent hospitality skills. Without those you’ll simply never get on. You need to know how to talk to people and when to make recommendations, and you’ve got to be open to the fact that the world changes. I’m 60 years of age and still learn something new each day. Being organised and prioritising requests is important as well.
A good memory is useful but one tip we give the porters is to glance at a guest’s luggage tag when they come through the door. You score major points if as a porter you escort them to reception and introduce them by name (of course, you can come unstuck if they have someone else’s case).
My piece of advice:
It’s a cliché but in my 40-year odd career I’ve learnt that the saying ‘you can’t please everyone, all of the time’ is true. You’ll please most of your guests but there are always some you have to treat with kid gloves. In those cases you let them believe they’re winning – perhaps they just want to give someone a hard time – and ultimately they actually go away happy (so in effect you’ve successfully done your job by letting them have a go).
Also, never say no to a request until you’ve exhausted all the options.
Some of my more unusual requests:
I had an emergency request a few months ago when the Iceland volcano blew and closed down all flights into and out of the UK. There were two guys at the hotel that had to be in Hong Kong in person by Saturday to seal a deal. It was Thursday and no flights were leaving the UK.
I booked a direct flight from Barcelona to Hong Kong for them on Saturday morning. I then got a van and driver to collect them and their samples, drive them to pick up a Eurotunnel connection at Ashford, Kent, where they went over to Calais and drove all night through France.
A brief hotel stop later and they were into Spain in time to make their flight. Saturday evening I received thanks from them, as they’d made it and sealed the deal.
If I had wanted to leave I would have done so long ago. This hotel is my baby and it’s a great place to work. I’m not the longest serving employee here, though. One of my concierge team has clocked up 36 years, so I’ve some way to go.