Have you ever wanted to know what really goes on behind closed doors in the hotel industry? This week I go behind the scenes in a humorous tell-all expose with an insider who for obvious reason will remain anonymous, and for the sake of this post we will call “The English Teabag in Canada” ;-P
I caught up with The English Teabag in Canada (TETiC) in a dimly lit hotel bar in Mayfair. Where else, of course? A high achieving professional in her trade, (TETiC) is an esteemed concierge who currently works for one of the most iconic five-star hotels in Canada. Rumour has it that the hotel is haunted by a ghost who died on her wedding day; falling down some stairs in her bridal gown. The hotel even does haunted tours every Halloween, although no one knows how historically accurate the stories are retold. Every floor in the hotel has a room ending in ’73, with the exception of the eighth floor where a hidden bedroom can be found. When you look at the corridor, you can see where the room was originally built and then bricked up and covered in drywall. What exactly do you suppose happened in room 873??
I asked TETiC of all the roles in the hotel industry, why concierge? She tucked her long legs underneath herself whilst she sipped on her martini thoughtfully.
“Concierge gives me the chance to interact with guests and really add that extra special something to each person’s stay. We are in the best position to get to know them; often starting from before they’ve even confirmed their reservation. I’ve been working as a concierge for seven years now and have won several awards and accolades along the way.
I love what I do and I’m good at it. Each month someone at the hotel is given the Memory Maker of the Month Award. The idea is to make an impact by making guests stay really memorable. As well as recently winning this award, I was most recently given a Star during an audit from a Leading Quality Assurance Secret Shopper who paid a visit to the hotel and was recognised for being the most personable and professional employee.”
Getting to the good stuff, I jumped right in and asked, what celebrities have stayed at your hotel?
“In terms of high profile guests, we have a lot of royal families coming through, especially from the Middle East. They are generally attracted to our iconic location with amazing mountain views.
To be honest, I am not so good with famous people. Half the time I meet them and don’t even realise who they are! Like met and assisted Vince Vaughn; I had no idea who he was throughout the whole interaction!
I’ve also assisted a previous Secretary-General of the United Nations. It was quite curious that even after being out of the post for five years he was still constantly surrounded by bodyguards.”
So, what was the most outrageous/ unique pre-stay request you ever received? She dipped her perfectly manicured finger into her glass giving it a little stir.
“Has to be the time I received a request for a sex swing! Generally speaking, hotels will do almost anything for their guests as long as it is legal and any associated costs are covered by the guest. To make this unique “dream” come true, we would have had to upgrade the guest into a suite so that we could attach the swing to a strong beam/doorway, but they weren’t up for the extra cost of the upgrade so it never happened.”
Do you ever get thank you gifts or tips from guests?
“I was once gifted an $8,000 dress to wear for a staff gala party after a guest got speaking to me and mentioned that she had packed a couple of dresses with her for a different gala that she was attending while staying at the hotel. She invited me to go and try on a couple of her dresses after my shift and pick one out to keep. I felt a little bit like Jennifer Lopez in Maid in Manhattan!
I also got a $500 tip the other day for doing nothing other than chat with a gentleman. I literally didn’t even make a reservation for him; nothing. He left it with the front desk and a note saying he loved my personality and both he and his wife would love to host my hubby and me when we are next in Vancouver. I assure you it wasn’t an Eyes Wide Shut moment!
Generally, tips are about $10, so to get $500 in one go for doing nothing more than having a conversation was a lovely surprise.”
So, what’s the best moment on the job you have experienced?
“Being located in one of the most romantic destinations for five years meant a lot of my job was setting up proposals; I think these are my favourite moments! You have the opportunity to connect with people, playing a huge part in their love affair, and really assist them with something so special that you know they will remember forever.
I always try and do something different as I don’t think any two proposals should be the same. I’ve done proposals as simple as making sure a warm cup of hot chocolate awaited the guests when they come in from ice-skating on one of the nearby frozen lakes, to spelling out “will you marry me” in Spanish, with 700 candles. I’ve even received an invite to some of the weddings, but unfortunately have never been able to attend.”
What about the funniest moment on the job?
“Mmmm, funniest moment was when I worked in a hotel where concierge was set up in a side room off the main hotel lobby. I’m not sure what the thought process was (possibly out of sight, out of mind), but I had one employee who let one off – for the next 30 minutes we had to tell guests we were experiencing technical difficulties so that we could temporarily close concierge until the smell had gone!
Another funny guest moment – I worked at a hotel that had a resident dog and concierge was responsible for it. Generally, the dog was well behaved, but occasionally he fancied a bit of peace and quiet and would position himself under a table in the restaurant and refuse to move. Many-a-time I’d find myself having to crawl under the large circular table and drag this poor pup by his tail out the restaurant with guests looking on. I assure you he wasn’t hurt in the process, he just really loved hiding under the table!
Talking of dogs… there was also the time that we got a call from a neighbouring business that provided sleigh rides, to say a couple of Jack Russells they owned had gone on their own snowy adventure. Next thing I know, I have a guest calling me to tell me they’d found a puppy on the fourth floor. I headed straight up there to discover that it wasn’t just one puppy, there were five of them running amuck up and down the hall. Apparently one time even one of the horses from another local firm made it into the hotel from the nearby corrals but luckily, I happened to be off that day. Soon after the incidents, management made the very sensible decision to replace our electric front doors – wonder why!
We have so many funny moments in this job. We haven’t even touched on the amusing questions we get from guests, like “when do they turn the waterfalls off each night?” and “when do the bears come out for the parade?” I often feel like the guests must have “vacation brain”, given some of the questions that come out their mouths.”
So where are the top three destinations on your travel bucket list?
“I know its madness given that I work in the travel industry, but I don’t really have a travel bucket list. I have already stayed in two places that were dream destinations for me. I’d always wanted to stay at The Savoy Hotel in London and The Plaza Hotel in New York, and because of their amazing reputation for high standards in service and fantastic central locations that I just had to experience it for myself.
I do want to visit Japan someday and stay in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). I’m just saving up a few more vacation days so that I can make it a big trip (you only get two weeks holiday a year in Canada).
I’d also really like to do a road trip through all the big ski resorts in Canada and the US, ending up in Jackson Hole – they have the best snow and heated chair lifts. Winning!”
As we finished our drinks, I waved a waiter over to order another round. What’s the most expensive suite in your hotel?
“The most expensive suite I’ve worked with is the Royal Suite. Unsurprisingly we have had several royal families stay, including several members of the British Royal Family. Now it is generally used for hosting events and makes a fabulous location for an intimate pre-dinner drinks reception. It is also very popular with bridal parties the night before the wedding as can sleep quite a few guests and has lots of natural light and the most amazing views. The suite will set you back around $9,000 a night.
I used to work at a hotel where episodes of The Bachelor were filmed a few years ago. The suites that the bachelor himself stayed in were around $3,500 a night and the production company booked four of them for him!
Generally, these sorts of rooms are occupied at about 65% of the time. The front desk team are able to offer reduced rates if they happen to still be available at check-in. These rooms do come with all the extra perks you’d expect, such as complimentary afternoon drinks and canapes in an exclusive lounge, dedicated butler service and turndown service every night. I’d say a good chunk of the reservations is actually made up of full rate reservations by guests who want that extra special treatment.”
Wow, so it is still possible to get a complimentary room upgrade when you arrive at the hotel?
“Absolutely – you should always enquire about a complimentary upgrade, especially if you’re willing to pay a $50 tip to the front desk agent. A lot of the front desk teamwork on commission so would welcome a gesture of goodwill to bump you a couple of room categories. I’d say a $50 tip will get you something in the region of a $400 upgrade.
The key is always to be nice and never demanding or expect it. You’ll find that the agents will be more willing to bend the rules for people they like. Try to find a common connection e.g. did they grow up in the same town as you/ attend the same school etc. and get your chat on. At the end of a long day with lots of guests arriving, a little idle chit-chat can go along way and really cheer up the team.
Also make sure you ask for complimentary parking, valet service or access to the spa. These are at a minimal cost to the hotel but make your upgrade so much better and can really add something special to your stay in the hotel.
Unfortunately, the hotel industry has become so competitive in the last few years so completely free upgrades generally come under scrutiny by hotel management. They are only meant to happen when we are oversold in the category that the guest has booked and need to move some guests to a more expensive room so that we can accommodate all reservations.”
Where are the best rooms in the hotel that you should always request?
“Corner rooms are generally larger and situated away from the noisy traffic of elevator areas, however, be careful; in some hotels the elevators are so far away it can add an extra five-minute walk just to get off the floor, so not ideal for the elderly or if you’re like me and always forget something in your room.
I personally always ask for a bathtub in my room. Rooms with fancy showers in the bathroom are only there because they are too small to accommodate a bathtub. Bathtub rooms generally tend to be larger and many hotels charge a premium for the extra space.
Other great rooms are the unique ones. Always call a hotel and ask to speak to someone located at the hotel, preferably on the front desk as they often have pictures of the specific rooms in the hotel and can send them to you to help pick out the perfect room. Waking up to a fantastic view, or a room with a bit of extra history will only add to the memorability of your stay.”
By this point, I could see the woman sitting a few tables over with was straining to hear TETiC’s hot insider tips. They were gold! We continued, are there complimentary items available upon request that people don’t really know about?
“Well, there are the standard complimentary items like overnight kits. But, what many families don’t realise is that we often have dressing gowns for younger children to use during their stay, all the way down to gowns for two-year-olds.
I would also say that concierge itself is complimentary service available to guests. We are here to do whatever you need us to. The other day I was setting up a guest bedroom, placing out pictures of the guest’s girlfriend. I then placed an itinerary for their visit that included cute facts about their dating history together. All of this was for complimentary, at no additional cost to the guest. A concierge is pretty much your secretary/ PA whilst on vacation.”
You must be a girl in the know when it comes to hotel restaurants. What should we look for in a good hotel restaurant?
“My favourite restaurants… they tend to be the ones with a patio or a view.
Go to the restaurants that have been open more than a year but not more than five years. After five years I find they usually become complacent and no longer creative with their menus.
If you’re going to a restaurant, my belief is you shouldn’t be able to buy that dish from a supermarket!”
So, before I let you slip away, what is the strangest request you’ve ever had on concierge?
That would have to be the guests who wanted to visit Niagara Falls. It’s not strange as in quirky, but rather unusual given they wanted to do it as a day trip and the property I worked in was 3,500 km away from Ontario!
We managed to make it work for them with private planes and such, but I genuinely don’t think the guests realized how big Canada was when they asked. All they knew was that they were visiting Canada, and therefore had to see Niagara Falls at the same time!”
I thanked The English Teabag in Canada for her time. “Anytime,” she said, as she guzzled back the last of her drink. And with that, she was out the door into the cool night air.
Until next time, safe travels.
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