Interview: The Towers at Waldorf Astoria Chief Concierge Michael Romei

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Wes Anderson’s oddball 2014 film Grand Budapest Hotel dominated the Oscars by, most unusually, revolving the story around a hotel concierge – played so engagingly by Ralph Fiennes. And while it’s true that it is a job that rarely gets its proper due, virtually every one of us has at some time had a concierge rescue us from a quandary, predicament, perhaps even embarrassment.

BlackBook has always been an advocate of the men and women manning those desks of dreams. And so we jumped at the chance recently to sit for a chat with Chief Concierge Michael Romei of The Towers at The Waldorf Astoria New York (bonus: it was conducted amidst the regal splendor of the hotel’s Penthouse Suite).

What about the Waldorf Astoria itself makes your job particularly fascinating?

I think the Waldorf is some kind of symbol around the world. If you travel the world and speak to hoteliers, there is always a story or some kind of connection to the Waldorf.

That’s interesting. We sometimes joke that everywhere you go, you seem to run into someone who once worked for BlackBook.

Well, I travel often, as I have this seminar I do called Creating Service Magic – which has become extremely popular around the world. I was at the Fujiya Hotel, which is the oldest hotel in Japan, very traditional and beautiful, way up in a small village near Hakohne [a suburb of Tokyo]. I was the only Western guest when I was there, and there it was: a plaque up on the wall, which showed that the General Manager did his internship at the Waldorf.

So the Waldorf is a connector, in a sense, and you’re the ambassador?

Yes. And the concierge position is unique, in that it’s one of the few people inside the hotel that is actually very connected outside the hotel. I will even recommend to Waldorf guests other places in which I’ve stayed around the world.

It’s a lot of responsibility.

Certainly, and because of that sharing of expertise and knowledge, people tend to bond with us in a unique way. I actually had a guest that said to me, “I want to walk your path to and from work. And where should I stop in along the way?” And so I get to share something very personal with them.

Do you feel that now there is so much information out there that it is arguably even harder for people to find what they need without expert help?

People read all these comments on Tripadvisor, and there’s no way to be sure what is credible and what isn’t. Who knows why those people wrote what they did? So guests still very much rely on us. They will maybe book ahead of time, but they’ll still come to me and say, “Michael, what do you think about these restaurants?” And often times I will give them a different suggestion. Also, as dedicated concierges, we’re able to give them firsthand details, because we’ve been to these places.

Something like, Oh, tables on this side of the room, have a better view?

Right. And also if we send them, they will likely get a little extra special attention, versus someone just booking on their own.

 

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Has this new era of public complaining on Yelp, Tripadvisor, etc., noticeably affected how you do your job? A lot of people grumble online that the concierge didn’t just snap to attention for them.

Of course social media is very powerful. But you have to be careful how you manage the responses. When guests call us, they tend to forget that we’re in a busy hotel lobby, and that I’m getting 250 emails a day. What’s important is a quick response – even if it isn’t the answer. And when someone makes a seemingly simple request, they might not be aware that it may have taken years for me to cultivate that relationship to, say, get them that special table. That’s the beauty and the magic of it all – that they actually don’t have to know what it takes behind the scenes.

Right, you’re not going to say to a guest, “I hope you realize what it took for me to get this reservation!”

Exactly.

Do you find there are different expectations from Asian and Middle Eastern travelers than from Western guests?

Culturally, there are differences. There are guests from around the world, for instance, who like to dine very, very late…and others very early. Also, for Asian travelers the bath is much more important than the shower – so we make sure that the corresponding amenities are in place for them. And for certain cultures we make sure to have non-alcoholic selections in the minibar.

Because some cultures drink less than we do in the West.

Exactly. Asian travelers are also used to exemplary service, it’s very personalized and professional and quick – it’s exceptional. Asia also has a cultural breeding, service is innate. In India, when you enter people’s homes, they often have a little sign that says, The Guest is God.

Our service tends to be less formal.

But in New York, it’s sharp, full of energy, and very, very timely.

Hotels love to say things like, “Our staff anticipates your needs.” Which is a nice slogan, but it’s not really something you can reasonably do.

Well, you just never know what people are going to ask, you never know what might happen while a guest is staying with you. Someone might even take ill, and ultimately, it’s the concierge that has to deal with it.

And finally, your current top New York restaurant suggestions?

Le Coucou in Soho, and Le Coq Rico in the Flatiron.

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