by Elizabeth Kye
would believe genies exist? If you're ever fortunate
enough to stay at the Hotel Plaza Athenee, you would
meet one right at the front desk. Chef Concierge Johannes
Schaafsma, heads the concierge desk at the Hotel Plaza
Athenee, and he makes certain that your wish is his
command. Beginning his career in 1992 as a doorman
at the Nikko Hotel in Mexico City, Johannes Schaafsma
has worked his way up to become the head concierge
at one of the finer boutique hotels in the world.
He is also a member of two of the more prominent associations
in the industry, Les Clefs d'Or (literally translated
"the golden keys") and the New York City Association
of Hotel Concierges. Johannes Schaafsma's insights
into the life of a modern day genie.
Elizabeth Kye: How
did you get started as a concierge?
Johannes Schaafsma: I began as a
doorman at the Nikko Hotel in Mexico City. My progression
from doorman to head concierge went from doorman,
to butler, to concierge, then to assistant chef concierge,
to guest service manager, and finally that led to
my position as a head concierge (also called chef
EK: What do you like about being
a concierge, and what are some of the perks about
JS: I enjoy the diversity. As a
concierge you are constantly meeting people from all
over the world. I also enjoy the challenges of the
career because you are always confronted with something
new. New requests are new things to explore - new
things to find out, you must be knowledgeable, but
you can’t know everything, so you have to be
resourceful as well. Another thing that is great is
being a part of what the insiders call the “concierge
world.” I am an active member of Les Clefs d’Or
and the New York City Association of Hotel Concierges.
We are regular people who love to service guests and
network with our associates. As a concierge we have
to form relationships with many people in the hospitality
As for the perks, being a concierge you are invited
to events, restaurants, or Broadway shows because
these establishments want us to send them business.
This affords us to provide educated recommendations
to our guests. Many restaurateurs invite us for dinner,
or we get tickets to a play, but that doesn’t
guarantee that we will recommend them. If we like
them, yes, but if we don’t, we won’t consider
referring a guest to such a place. Part of being a
concierge is being ethical; honesty is something that
cannot be compromised. The guests at the Plaza Athenee
are very savvy, they don’t want to go to a show
just for the sake of going to a Broadway show, so
at times they will ask me for a recommendation.
EK: What is the strangest request
that you ever received?
JS: Recently, we had a guest request
a grand piano to be placed in the hotel restaurant
on the same day. However we could not place a grand
piano in the hotel restaurant, as this would affect
our other guests. So we arranged to have a piano to
be delivered and placed in her room. We had everything
ready to go, and just before the piano was delivered
she canceled her request.
EK: Did her request to cancel
JS: Not at all. This happens sometimes.
It’s no problem. We have many different requests,
and many need to be filled on the same day, or by
the next day. Some guests ask us to get them yachts
or even private jets, another guest asked us to contact
an artist in Tunisia to find out if he still had a
specific painting available. If you are not happy
to provide these services, you will not be successful
as a concierge.
EK: So who are some of your
JS: Approximately 80% of our clientele
are return guests, so many people become familiar
faces. My favorite guests are the ones that feel like
family. There are just some people who are warm and
embrace the staff at the hotel. We have very good
relationships with these guests and in time we will
EK: The concept of the traditional
concierge has evolved in today’s market. There
are now companies that rent concierge services by
the day or hour. What do you think about this?
JS: I think it is a great business.
My only concern may be the professionalism, and the
quality of service that a customer is getting. I know
of a few companies that provide great concierge services,
but I also am aware of ones that don’t. Some
companies just do it as a business. They receive money
from certain restaurants because they send a certain
amount of customers to them; it’s the way their
business works, they barter. Again, being a good concierge
requires following a certain code of ethics, when
you get accepted into an organization such as Les
Clefs d’Or, it is because you have fulfilled
certain requirements on a professional level. You
must work in a hotel for 5 years, have 3 years experience
as a concierge, and currently work as a concierge
in a 4 or 5 star hotel. You also need the recommendation
of your supervisor, pass a written test, and a practical
exam registered by Les Clefs d’Or. But being
accepted into Les Clefs d’Or also means that
you have worked and continue to work in an ethical
EK: Do you have any advice for
someone who wants to become a concierge?
JS: They should try to make friends with
a concierge to learn about the inner details of the
profession. They should make sure that serving people
requires that you have patience, and on occasion you
may be talked to in a manner you don’t appreciate.
However you must be gracious. Being gracious at all
times becomes a part of you and is part of the profession.
You can learn it, but you really need to like it to
be a manager in the industry.