I recently interviewed Frank Laino, who is the Concierge at The Stafford London. He’s been in the hotel business for 25 years, the last 20 as a concierge, though he looks far too young for his CV (I’ll get round to just how he manages this later in this post).
He says of The Stafford, “We have a higher percentage of guests who use the concierge than many other hotels I’ve been associated with.” That’s partly because the luxury 5 star hotel has a high number of repeat customers, who use the concierge desk whenever they stay for advice on theatre, dining, sightseeing, or just directions.
One of a good concierge’s key strengths is his contact book, Frank says – not just information, which you could get from a guide book, but knowing who to approach and being able to ask for favours. “You build up your contact book over a long period of time,” he says. “A lot of the things you’re asked for, the information is out there in the public domain – your value is in knowing what is worthwhile and being able to get the difficult things.”
But he says the concierge isn’t just a dispenser of hard-to-get tickets or a booker of tricky-to-obtain tables. A good concierge is also someone to talk to, a good listener, a trusted adviser. He says “you need to be able to converse with people on a wide range of subjects, to have empathy, to get on people’s wavelength. You can always get the information, you can do the networking, but you need to be able to get on with people – a skill I didn’t even appreciate I had until people pointed it out to me.”
Then of course a concierge needs to keep up with the latest trends and new openings. Keeping current takes a great deal of time. “You can never stop,” Frank says; “London is a phenomenal city and it changes faster now than it ever has in the past.”
Information overload is a problem for many of his customers, so he helps them cut to the chase by publishing his own newsletter, ‘Frankly Speaking’, picking out what he thinks are highlights of the month ahead, and telling The Stafford’s guests what’s hot and what’s not. He also often has to advise guests not to cram too much into their visit, but instead concentrate on one or two sights – “Too many people try to do too much”, he laments.
He does think there are some over-rated London attractions.
Madame Tussauds for instance – “Why you would want to queue up for two hours to see some waxworks defeats me.” And he says that while the Changing of the Guard is “a must-see,” it’s not worth standing in front of Buckingham Palace for an hour beforehand to get a good view.” Instead, he suggests watching the guards group up at their barracks, and following them towards Buckingham Palace. He also warns that taking a guide on this trip is “a waste of time really”; visitors can see everything they want to without needing to hire one.
“We know what time is best to go to places,” he says; for instance, tour groups do the Tower of London in the afternoon, so it’s better to go in the morning. Getting timed entry tickets for major exhibitions also helps cut queueing time – that’s something he can do before visitors arrive.
Right now, Buckingham Palace is hot, with the display of Kate’s wedding dress; but Frank’s favourite tip is the tour of Parliament which is available on Saturdays (as well as during the Parliamentary Recess over summer).
He admits some guests can be demanding. “Some clients come up and just want to talk,” he says; “…they don’t always sense how busy you are.” Regular customers have though learned to get hold of him in more efficient ways – “They see the queue, they know I’m busy, so they Blackberry me.” Modern tools make it easier for guests to access the concierge.
Requests have included tai chi on horseback, how to ship a London bus home, and a special visit to Buckingham Palace for a man who wanted to see a painting not usually on show. “He wanted to see all 34 Vermeers and this was number 33.” This client had already made a direct approach to the Palace without success – Frank’s contact book made the difference.
His top tip for using the concierge to best effect? Phone ahead. “It’s always satisfying to deal with people who plan in advance,” he says.
Outside work, Frank has a busy life – he’s a big fan of Shakespeare plays and likes going to concerts and festivals. He spends two evenings a week going out to the theatre or restaurants in London, just to keep up to date.
But he also makes sure he keeps fit, and I’m sure it’s this which makes him look so good. I was most impressed by his cycling prowess – he recently had a three day ride to Paris, and regards the London to Brighton run as just a training ride. But above all Mr Laino is a lovely guy – his people skills really shine through and that is probably the key requirement for anyone who is recruiting for concierge jobs at top London hotels.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also appreciate our interview with the housekeeper at the same hotel or indeed our recent review of The Stafford. We’ve also previously interviewed the concierge at Hazlitt’s Hotel.
Photo credits: xiquinhosilva’s photostream, The Stafford Hotel (Kempinski).