From renting coffins to delivering prosthetic legs – our industry insider this month reveals there’s never a dull day as a hotel concierge.
Michael Hagan is the Head of Concierge at Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane. He has been a proud member of Les Clefs d’Or for nearly 25 years and leads the team with the most Golden Keys in London.
What is the hallmark of a good concierge?
Someone who is resourceful, curious, and enjoys interacting with people. Our guests want us to be able to recommend unique experiences – not just relying on Google or standard things like visiting Buckingham Palace – they want the personal, insider stuff. As a team we’re constantly exploring different restaurants or new exhibitions to be able to share our findings.
What are the tricks of your trade?
If our guests want tickets to things that are sold out, we have to have a way of getting them. When I first started as a concierge in London 32 years ago, it was easy – you just called the ticket agent and they would book the show. You can’t do that anymore because things sell out online very quickly. Now we have to go deeper and build relationships with the right contacts – people in theatre box offices, managers at restaurants. Another way is to utilise the concierge world. Seven of our concierges at the Four Seasons are members of the Golden Keys, or Les Clefs d’Or – an international concierge network that unlocks impossible doors.
Can you give us an example?
Visiting Highclere Castle (of Downton Abbey fame) is very popular, particularly with our American guests. But it’s difficult to get tickets as it’s a working house and Lady Carnarvon still lives there. We have been able to build a special relationship, so even if tickets are sold out online, or if it’s not even open to the public, we can usually send our guests for a private viewing, and sometimes to have afternoon tea with Lady Carnarvon.
What are the most popular requests from business travellers?
Popular requests include transportation from the airport, meeting spaces with high-speed wifi and good restaurants for a business meeting. We’ll always recommend our in-house facilities – we’ve got our new restaurant Pavyllon, plus our private dining room upstairs. Nearby, Scott’s in Mayfair is renowned for business lunches. You also have 34 Mayfair, which is excellent, or Wilton’s in Jermyn Street, which is a traditional restaurant and a popular spot for MPs to host meetings. As business travellers are on a tight schedule, we also try to be proactive and reach out to them pre-arrival to anticipate their needs.
How do you personalise the experience for every guest?
Using a guest’s name is a very powerful tool to build a relationship and personalise the service. We have a guest’s information on arrival sheets, and profiles of guests in our system, and we also use little techniques like checking luggage tags on the suitcase to greet them by name straight away. When guests give feedback, they always say they appreciate being addressed by name.
What is the craziest request you’ve ever had?
We could talk about this for hours! One that springs to mind was shortly after the financial crisis hit. One of our regular guests had been invited to a fancy dress party and he wanted to
go dressed as an investment banker – and arrive in a coffin. So we had to hire him a real coffin, and I sent one of the bellmen with him to help wheel him out of the vehicle when he arrived at the party.
What’s the strangest item you’ve found left behind in a hotel?
I’d say the strangest was a prosthetic leg! I think the guest must have had different legs for different occasions, rather than leaving the hotel on one leg. When it was found, we contacted the guest and shipped it back to Texas for them, so they weren’t without their leg for very long. People will also forget to empty their safe quite often, then they get to the airport and call to say they forgot their passport and we have to try and get it to them in time for their flight.
What is the best part of your job?
I think it’s having a guest come to you and asking for recommendations, or having a conversation about things they enjoy, and then building a personal itinerary that they love. It’s so satisfying when the guest has trusted you to get it right, and then they say “Wow that was wonderful, thank you so much, we really enjoyed that art tour or haunted London experience.” Often guests will even write letters to us when they check out, which is really special.
What’s your favourite hotel in the world (that’s not a Four Seasons)?
In London, I really like The Goring Hotel. It’s a little bit old-school with its design and oak panelling which I really enjoy. I also really like The Rosewood hotel because they have huge rooms and a great design. Around the world I really like our hotel in Paris, the George V – when you walk into the hotel you’re met with amazing flowers everywhere and you just go “wow”. I like The Ritz in Paris too, it’s got a great location and a traditional aesthetic.
Who is your favourite kind of hotel guest?
One who asks us for recommendations and trusts us to deliver. I love these guests. And I also love the guests who are organised and contact us pre-arrival with a list of things they want, as it gives us time to create a special itinerary for them.