The head hall porter at the Ritz London talks to Katherine Alano about his 45-year journey in service, which includes being the youngest head concierge in the hotel's history
You are celebrating your 45th year working at the Ritz London. How did you get the job? I started at the Ritz on 30 July 1973. I used to come into the hotel during school holidays to assist my father, who worked in room service. I met the head hall porter at the time, Victor Legg, who took a liking to me, and when I turned 16, I left school and started in his team as a page boy. I became head concierge at the age of 24 and was the youngest head concierge in the hotel's history.
Do you remember your first day? Did you have a mentor?
My mentor was Victor, who ran the concierge department at the Ritz for a very long time. He clocked up 51 years' service, and he was very well-known everywhere. What I learned from Victor was that learning on the job is invaluable. I remember watching his mannerisms and his way of working with the clients. Victor used to call me hombre, because I'm originally from La LÁnea in Spain, near to Gibraltar. He used to say to me that if I was good, we'd give Gibraltar back!
I believe it's essential to watch and learn from others.
How would you describe your role at the Ritz? How has it changed over the years? My role hasn't changed from day one. I like to try and be an ambassador and I am always promoting the hotel whenever I can.
I have always said that what makes the hotel is the staff within. Clients relate to people. It's the little touches that make a place special. I always acknowledge small children as they become the clients of the future.
I don't think in the 45 years I have worked here that I've ever let a guest down. I always go the extra mile and it's the service element that I enjoy.
Today I oversee a 21-strong front of house service team, including the concierge and night concierge, the luggage porters, the doormen and the page boys.
What is the key quality you need to do the job? It is important to be a good communicator and a good listener as well as to be able to give clear instructions on the phone and on the radio. I speak five languages [Spanish, Portugese, Italian, Greek and English]. The know- ledge that you learn over the years teaches you how to go about a request, as well as the contacts that you make worldwide.
What have been your biggest achievements so far? Nearly 45 years of service to date. I made a promise to my father to do 50 years, and this is my goal and my motivation. In 2013 I was awarded a lifetime achievement from my peers at the Clefs d'Or.
What have been your biggest highlights? Attending Lady Thatcher's funeral; meeting several members of the Royal family; my role in the film Notting Hill with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts - which we filmed here overnight; running an errand from Jackie Onassis for her daughter, Caroline… that's just a few. Over the years I have had the privilege to serve heads of state, top financiers, ambassadors and high dignitaries.
Would you recommend the industry to others? Yes, absolutely. My son Robert has done work experience here and he is now a concierge at the Lanesborough, London. He began as a luggage porter and now holds the position of concierge and has been made a member of the Golden Keys. It is all on his own merit - I am very proud.
What do you love most about your job? All aspects, but I love the challenge, and the harder the better. This keeps me motivated and puts a smile on my face when I am able to complete a challenging task. At the moment, some of the biggest challenges can be to get tickets for the Hamilton musical or Harry Potter and the Cursed Child during the school holidays, or perhaps a large table at a top restaurant or new opening.
There are many other members of the Ritz team celebrating long service. What makes the Ritz so special? The staff - there's a real family atmosphere. The ownership. The management.
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