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Brits abroad: Austen Spooner

07 April 2017 by
Brits abroad: Austen Spooner

The deputy head concierge at Le Bristol, a member of the Oetker Collection, tells Janet Harmer how he fell in love with Paris 25 years ago

You left the UK to work in Disneyland in Paris a quarter of a century ago. What inspired you?

You remained with Disney for nine years. How did that experience benefit your career?

Disney has excellent internal training programmes and a proactive style of management. Dealing with clients of all nationalities and ages in such a relaxed environment was a great way to learn about different cultures.

I dealt with a vast volume of requests, such as reserving 1,500 breakfasts in two restaurants on one day. This taught me prioritisation - an essential requirement for a concierge.

Give us an overview of your role at the Hotel Le Bristol

Le Bristol is an elegant palace hotel in the heart of the luxury shopping area of Paris. As deputy head concierge, I am the right-hand man of Sonia Papet, the head concierge. We jointly run the concierge desk, which has 12 employees. We are responsible for the guest service department (valet parking, porter and groom/runner) along with the guest service manager. We try to spend as much time with our clients as possible to ensure their stay is seamless.

Do you work alongside any British colleagues at Hotel Le Bristol?

There are two of us: myself and Joelle Edwards-Tonks, who is the vice-president of marketing for the Oetker Collection.

What do you like about living and working in Paris?

Paris is a magical city with a wonderful mixture of architectural styles, more than 100 museums and 10,000 cafés and restaurants. I have the best of both worlds as I live in a small village about 20 miles outside Paris, where I can retreat to a simple, everyday lifestyle. The sacrifice is spending about 15 hours a week in my car for my commute.

You are a member of Les Clefs d'Or, the professional networking association for concierges. How has it helped you develop as a concierge?

My first head concierge, Chantal Leroux, was the first female head concierge within Les Clefs d'Or in France. She was my mentor and opened the door for me to an entire career that I had previously known nothing about.

Networking is vital to a concierge. With the right contacts, he or she can do pretty much anything a guest may ask: book a table in a famous restaurant, get last-minute tickets for a show or much more specific, eccentric requests. The concierge is only limited by a moral and legal framework.

Where would you like your next career move to take you?

Traditionally, the highest ascension for concierges is to become head concierge. However, times have changed and I have even seen an assistant concierge become a general manager. With my skillsets, which include operational management and training, a high service level, problem solving, excellent communication skills and computing aptitudes, I could probably work in just about any management position, not necessarily in hospitality.

What advice would you give to anyone in hospitality who is considering working abroad?

It is very important to weigh up the salary versus the cost of living. If you go on holiday it may seem like an inexpensive destination to live, but if you will only be making 10% of your current salary, you will have to decide if you can afford to continue with your lifestyle or if you should make sacrifices for a career evolution.

Having a family may involve concessions, but if you have no ties you can move anywhere you like. Wherever you go in the hospitality industry in the world, there is a need for motivated, hard-working individuals.

CV

2014-present Deputy head concierge, Hotel Le Bristol, Paris

2001-2014 Concierge and then senior concierge, Hotel Four Seasons George V, Paris

1999-2001 Assistant head concierge and guest services manager, Hotel New York, Disneyland Resort Paris

1999 Assistant manager business centre/welcome desk, Hotel New York, Disneyland Resort Paris

1996-1999 Concierge, Hotel Newport Bay Club, Disneyland Resort Paris

1992-1996 Valet, porter, server, doorman, then night auditor, Disneyland hotel, Disneyland Resort Paris

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