Read on for this awesome interview!
By Mikl Wu
This is not a review of the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” If you haven’t seen the movie, I suggest you do that now and then come back. Because we’ve got spoilers galore.
Wes Anderson’s Oscar-nominated film is centered around the adventures of master concierge Monsieur Gustave H., and his faithful lobby boy, Zero. It’s not just a fantastic caper reflecting on the long lost days of civility and charm, it is also a love story to the service industry.
Madam D.’s love for Gustave’s “service” kicks off the plot. In prison, it is Zero’s girlfriend’s “too beautiful to destroy”courtesan au chocolate that, along Gustav’s impeccable service of “mush” to his fellow inmates, allows them to escape. And finally, Gustav formally calls upon the special services of the Society of Crossed Keys, who literally drop everything from putting out a fire to tasting soup to assist him.
A montage shows the camaraderie between concierges and the wide array of requests they fulfill. Shannon Boland, head concierge of the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel in Chicago says, “From an impromptu next day wedding, to a helicopter ride to the suburbs, to 10 pounds of rose petals, you never know what someone is going to ask for when they walk up to your desk!”
The movie’s mythical “Society of Crossed Keys” is based on the very real “Les Clef D’Or,” or “keys of gold,” the Union Internationale des Concierges d’Hôtels. Also known as the Society of Golden Keys, this elite group of concierges only has about 650 members in the U.S. alone.
The industree talked to Sarah Dandashy, Les Clef d’Or concierge of The London West Hollywood in California about The Grand Budapest Hotel and the Society of Crossed/Golden Keys .
IN: The Grand Budapest Hotel is an ode to the craft of hospitality. What did you think of the film and its portrayal of what it takes to be a concierge?
SD: First of all, I loved how The Grand Budapest Hotel portrayed the hospitality world in a historical and heightened-stakes manner. Keep in mind, the film takes place in the 1930’s, so it paints a world far different than the one we live in today. But I think the film showcased certain qualities that are applicable to most hotel concierge to this day. It revealed that the concierge really is the heart of a hotel, a position many aspire to hold; it illustrated that concierges form special bonds with guests and are often the reasons why guests come back; and it also recognized the Les Clefs d’Or, a closely-bound professional organization always willing to help others in the name and for the sake of the profession. Of course, elements were exaggerated for storytelling purposes, as a Les Clefs d’Or Concierge adheres to a strict code of ethics, but it was enjoyable to watch!
IN: Are there specific scenes or moments that you find especially telling or accurate?
SD: Absolutely! First off, the scene where Gustave “calls on the special services of the Society of the Crossed Keys,” is similar to how we as Les Clefs d’Or Concierge call upon each other. Although in real life it’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card, we actually call upon each other to aid in assisting our guests. But we would introduce ourselves to each other in a similar capacity, identifying our membership within the organization.
I chuckled at the interaction between Gustave and Madame D. He talks about “winning her loyalty for 19 consecutive seasons.” And there is a bit of truth to that. Oftentimes, concierge get repeat guests, and a nice bond forms. You become part of their home away from home.
Sarah Dandashy, Les Clef d’Or Concierge of The London West Hollywood in California.
Another interesting aspect of the film is how it showcases the various socioeconomic worlds that a hotel concierge must engage. A concierge must be able to identify with those working within the hotel and those staying there. It really is an interesting position. No topic is too lowbrow, and no subject is too sophisticated–s/he can maneuver through it all without batting an eye.
IN: Tell us about Les Clef d’Or. In the movie, it is portrayed as this mythical omnipotent society. How does it work in real life? How exclusive is it to be accepted as a member?
SD: Well, a Les Clefs d’Or Concierge can make the seemingly impossible, possible. Les Clefs d’Or is an international organization of professional hotel concierges. A concierge applies to his/her national section, and once approved, s/he are members of their national organization under the umbrella of the international organization. The application process is very detailed, requiring more than just years of service, but notarized letters of recommendation, written tests, test calls, interviews, and background checks, to name a few. A Les Clefs d’Or Concierge is committed to providing excellent service, consistently going above and beyond.
IN: Is there such a strong bond/camaraderie between concierges? Can you give me an example of how that would work? How often do you reach out to concierges at other hotels for help or assistance?
The Les Clef d’Or lapel pin.
SD: There is definitely a strong bond between concierges. The Les Clefs d’Or motto is “In Service Through Friendship,” which creates an atmosphere of camaraderie. Whenever there is a task or request we cannot fulfill, we are encouraged to reach out to others for assistance. I could say that we easily reach out to fellow colleagues on a weekly basis. Maybe it is to a colleague within your own hotel, or even your own city, but we certainly get requests pertaining to other cities rather frequently. I have called upon concierge in Australia, Russia, Argentina, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, DC for guidance or assistance for various requests from flowers to tickets to accommodations.
IN: In the movie, no demand/task is too strange. What are some of the strangest and most “out there” requests you’ve had?
SD: I was asked to arrange a magic show in a guest’s suite. And in theory, that sounds pretty easy. But the guest was very specific on the type of magic that he wanted. I certainly didn’t know all the various types of magic that magicians can specialize in, but I learned quickly! The fun part was vetting the magicians, having them describe their show in detail to ascertain if they would be a good fit. And even better was convincing upper management to allow doves and rabbits in the suite! Never a dull moment!
Another great request was a guest who had left his bicycle in a storage facility near LAX. The only problem was he didn’t know the name of the facility or anything about it. The only thing he remembered was that a man named José worked there. It was a real needle in a haystack. But I had to think outside the box, ask specific questions, and within three phone calls, I was able to locate the bike!
IN: With some of those bizarre requests, how hard is it to say no?
SD: A Les Clefs d’Or concierge does not say no unless it is morally, legally, and humanly impossible. Of course, in the rare situation where a request cannot be fulfilled, you provide alternatives. It’s all about giving the guest options. And I think that is what really makes a Les Clefs d’Or Concierge exceptional, [is that] we don’t say “no” and end the conversation in its tracks. We provide alternatives so that the conversation continues until the guest has a happy resolution!