At 27, her job is certainly not run-of-the-mill, and quite frankly rather intriguing, especially for a woman. Marine Leroux is concierge at the Plaza Athénée. From her cubicle, located at the entrance of the palace, she manages on a daily basis and with great professionalism, the whims and requests from a particularly exacting clientele. Calm, smiling and passionate about what she does, this young woman, native of Nice, reveals the daily behind the scenes aspect—not very relaxing, but particularly exciting— at the heart of this prestigious establishment on the avenue Montaigne. Immersion.
How did you become a palace concierge?
The traditional route is in-house promotion. After working as groom, bellhop, valet parking attendant and/or luggage handler, after that you can gain access to the functions of concierge. For a long time, it was the only way. But since ten years, the hotel high school of Toulouse, in partnership with the National Education and the Golden Keys (the association that regroups concierges from around the world), offers a year-long program called FPE Concierge d’hôtel. Just like me, most women in this trade come from there.
At which moment did you decide to become a concierge?
Rather young, around 15-years-old, following a discussion with a friend of my parents. Even if my purpose was rather clear-cut, I chose a liberal arts option in high school. After my Bac L (literature and languages), I had to follow a special upgrade course. So I presented a technological baccalaureate, then a BTS specialty in the food division of the high school hotel in Nice, before being accepted on an interview basis at the high school hotel of Toulouse. It comprises at the same time theoretical courses, conferences with concierges and two two-month internships. Each student is placed in a hotel in keeping with their personality, the profile of the head concierge and of course the establishment itself. I integrated the Plaza Athénée Hotel then the Hôtel Hermitage in Monaco. Once I had graduated, the Plaza Athénée called me back. It was five years ago.
What exactly does your concierge job entail?
Our mission is to take over the client from beginning to end, in other words before, during and after a stay. Because a palace is like haute couture, you need to be able to offer a personalized stay—it’s a question of precision.
And concretely how does it work?
Before the actual stay: today, not only must one grant the desires of clients, one must also anticipate their requests. If the client contacts us —we don’t take the initiative ourselves— to order a chauffeur or reserve restaurants, it’s important to try and find information. Example? An anniversary date on a passport that falls right during the stay, it’s also important to mark the occasion with a special gesture. If a client tells us he is passionate about art, we will send him or her a list of exhibitions taking place in Paris.
During: we are the privileged interface of the client, because we centralize both the services of the hotel and those of the outside world. This saves a lot of time for our clients who have no time to loose! Some want their desires to be anticipated, others prefer asking us in case of a particular need. Right from the start, one tries to target the person in front of us. Their personality, culture, attitude. We are available for them 24h/24 in the cubicles located at the entrance of the hotel. This strategic position enables us to keep an eye on arrivals and also to ensure our duty of security and control. We can also play the role of confident, if certain clients want to share their day with us, their worries…
After: once the client has left, we send him a personalized email indicating we are at his disposal during this next say. Some of them leave packages we must send for them.
What happens during a typical day?
There is never a typical day, everything revolves around client requests. But generally, in the morning, I arrive at 8am having read the papers and fully aware of the weather report. It’s out of the question to bypass a news item a client might mention! I put on my costume, notably my jacket featuring two crossed keys on the lapels. The night concierges pass on the requests they have received and we ensure the relay, a restaurant to reserve for example. Before taking them on, we check the daily, a note from management that features the key information of the day: occupation rate, the eventual birthdays of clients, the arrival of VIP clients. After, it’s the surprise!
Palaces have the reputation of never saying ‘no’ to their client. Is this also true in your case?
Quite right. Our goal is foremost client satisfaction, no matter how many hours we spend or the number of phone calls we make to meet their requests, while always abiding by the law. That’s the limit.
What are the most ordinary requests?
Booking appointments at the hairdresser and lots of restaurant reservations. Some clients know exactly where they want to go, others need advice. In which case, it’s important to ask questions in order to meet their request as best as possible. What type of restaurant? Which atmosphere? Would they like to stay at the hotel or prefer dining out… Same for a flower delivery: which budget? Will there be a personal note? The delivery hour. It’s up to us to think of all these details, without forgetting any. The conciergerie service is of course included in the price, but if a request implies expenses, we quote the price to the client, who will then be billed.
And eccentric whims?
One of our faithful clients wanted to eat white truffles from Alba, but had already been to all the Parisian places serving them. He wanted to find a new table. As a joke, I told him to go to Alba. Double dare! We organized the round trip to Italy for him.
Another anecdote, for Easter, a client, who lives between Paris and China, wanted to offer personalized eggs from the hotel as gifts to his family members. Downside? He could not transport them in the plane cabin, and in the hold, for sure disaster would occur upon arrival. First, our pastry chefs made the eggs in record time. Then, we asked a shipping company to build special wooden boxes so that the package could be sent without risking breaking the eggs.
But sometimes there are problems. We had the case of a client who was getting married at the Plaza Athénée and wanted to bring in an elephant ! The Mairie de Paris refused for security reasons. In this kind of situation, we explain, we offer alternatives—clients are very comprehensive.
How do you deal with pressure?
In a palace, all the clients are important (business men, politicians…), they are used to everything being done in a snap. Impossible to make a mistake. There is always a small stress, that can increase in keeping with the demand and the time allotted to handle it. But we never allow anything to show—we have body language training. And function with a teamwork method. At the Plaza Athénée, there is: a manager, an assistant manager, the concierges and the assistant concierge. Personally, stress motivates me—I function with challenges. And when I really need a break, I go for a walk, I spend time with my friends or my family.
It’s a trade with a masculine reputation, what is your feeling in terms of being a woman concierge?
For the time being, there are still more men than women, but times are changing. Most palaces have women in their teams. In terms of my collaborators, I was accepted as a full-fledged member, even though at the beginning, it was more difficult with certain clients. On the telephone, they would say “I would like to see the concierge” or “please put me through to a man concierge”. Others were delighted to be in contact with a woman. Today, there is no longer a problem, and in certain cases, it’s even an asset. For example, a lady client might feel more at ease with me for an intimate request (a doctor’s appointment, lingerie…).