The Golden Keys

A pair of crossed golden keys on a concierge's lapel is the symbol of Les Clefs D'Or, the international organization of professional hotel concierges. To join this prestigious organization, applicants must have at least five years of experience in the hotel industry, and be sponsored by two current members. Then they must go through a rigorous board review. The application process is so stringent that the organization has just 450 members in the United States.

Concierge Training

Although a few university hotel schools offer programs in hospitality, and many of the larger hotels provide training for their concierges, most of the skills needed to be successful in the position are either intuitive or learned on the job. In fact, some of the best concierges in the business never had any formal training. They've started in other positions at the hotel, such as bellman or front desk clerk, and worked their way into the concierge job.

Larry Johnson, Lobby Concierge and Historian of the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, started out as a doorman. He then worked his way up to bell captain, and finally became a concierge in 2002. Johnson learned the business by literally pounding the pavement. "I would pick two streets a week, and all I would do is walk up and down the streets to see all of the restaurants and businesses," he recalls. In the process, he became so knowledgeable about the city's historical and cultural sites that the hotel made him its official historian.

Knowing your city inside and out -- every restaurant, theater, attraction, and shop -- is essential to becoming a successful concierge. Other necessary skills include:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Patience
  • Flexibility
  • Organizational skills
  • Multitasking
  • Clear and effective communication skills
  • Ability to talk to anyone
  • Administrative skills
  • Positive attitude

Concierges also need great connections -- a Rolodex stuffed with contacts in the restaurant, entertainment and tourism industries. So when a guest comes in asking for tickets to a hot new Broadway show, or front-row seats to a sold-out concert, the concierge knows exactly who to call to get them.

Despite their often posh surroundings, the average concierge earns only about $23,500 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More experienced hotel concierges can make about $50,000. The position does come with some perks, however. There are free meals from local restaurants trying to make a good impression, and complimentary tickets from theaters and sports arenas. Concierges also receive tips, from $5 to $100 or more, depending on the service they provide.

By far the most profitable side of the profession is the personal concierge business. Personal concierges who own their own company can earn well into the six figures.

In the next section we'll look at the unusual requests concierges sometimes handle.