I love London.
It has a very special place in my heart. When I studied law at the University of Liverpool, I would often take the train down to visit some friends and to explore this fascinating city. Even as a youngster London was very magical during the Christmas period and the first hotel I ever stayed at was the famous 47-Park Street. As a matter of fact, it was the only hotel my parents would book in to, – and the older I have become, I totally understand as to why because the place is spectacular. It is not opulence in the sense of a “Burj Al-Arab” interior style, or the gobsmacking grandioseness of the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, this is entirely different. It is not a resort full of activities, or in-house cinemas, spas, clubs and shopping arcades. There are no accesses to any private beaches and miles long gardens with exotic animals combined with great weather, not even a space to land a helicopter on the top of the building. No, it rains quite often, the traffic is outrageously bad, and the squirrels are probably the most sophisticated wildlife you get to observe in Hyde Park.
But guess what?
I would not have it any other way because that is precisely the London I fell in love with. From street food stands to Michelin starred restaurants, the many communities, architecture, history, art, and entertainment. This is what London is about, – yet sometimes you do not get to appreciate some of these attractions. There is just not enough availability to cater everyone. As an example, on particular days some theatrical performances are booked for years and years in advance. Trying to leapfrog the queue by paying your way in at some of these famous places may not be a good idea, as they refuse to compromise with their standards and reputation. There are plenty of wealthy people around!
Of course, there are scalping tickets available to theatrical shows and concerts with a hefty price-tag. However, lots of people get conned by paying hundreds of pounds for fake tickets. Either fake tickets or horrible seating, – talk about choosing between plague and cholera, eh?
Despite all this, there are some people in London who can make “things happen” with just a single phone call! Meet Peter Barwick, he is exactly one of these “magicians.” He is working as the Head-concierge at the prestigious 47-Park Street hotel situated in one of the most eminent spots, Mayfair, in Central London, I would even argue the entire world.
Did you know the most prominent landlord in Mayfair, The Duke of Westminster only offers leases, which makes this area proportionally more expensive than any of the top twenty most expensive 5 star hotels built in the world, combined? This reality really places things in perspective and suddenly the helicopter issue and lack of in-house facilities are not priorities. This targets a more mature and sophisticated kind of clientele.
Peter is educated at the famous Culinary Institute of America and combined with over 30 years of experience plus a vast domestic and international network portfolio in his luggage. Tens of thousands have called upon his extensive knowledge about the city, historical places, extending to the latest hype bars and restaurants, which you will not even be able to search on Google (Or even know what to look for?), especially when it comes to the ever-changing culinary and cultural scenes. Therefore, keeping up with the latest trends is vital to inform a demanding clientele. His advice, connections, and knowledge can save you thousands and thousands of pounds and bring you the best London has to offer.
Nevertheless, the industry is moving towards a more practical approach where human resources slowly will get substituted by technology, and it all becomes very impersonal, and there is no way of scrutinizing the sources, which often can be misleading. Questionable is whether this line of work will just fade away and be looked back at, as a “past” privilege for the rich and famous? I decided to conduct an interview with Peter to hear his opinion on this matter.
My five questions to Peter Barwick
Is your position still relevant in 2018 given the internet and “new” job titles at the front desk? What has declined and/or gotten better from when you began?
One would assume that the internet would mean instant and perfect knowledge for all consumers of any goods or services. However, it does not work like this. Just a few weeks ago a member here told me that he had reserved a hotel that was “Just a mile or so from Heathrow Airport because his flight left at 06 00 hrs the next morning”, and he wanted to be very close to the airport.
When I informed him that Heathrow was 50 miles from that hotel, he could not believe it because the hotel was listed on the internet as being in London. In fact, it was 25 miles East of 47 Park Street.
One would also assume that anyone can reserve a restaurant via any dedicated restaurant internet site, This is not true but sometimes you can.
During the busy times in London, it pays to know the Manager or owner of a particular restaurant to get our guests and members in. Personal contacts are vital in this business.
Some guests and members do not want to reserve flights or trains via internet because they may have made a very costly mistake in the past. In this case, they use the concierge to make these reservations. One such example is where a family of 4 wanted to fly to Miami via Virgin Atlantic for a 7day holiday. The gentleman concerned messed up on the website and reserved a holiday for 42 nights by mistake and had booked the cheapest flights with Virgin which were not changeable or refundable. It took me more than fifty long phone calls to Virgin to resolve this issue favourably.
My conclusion is that you will always need a concierge to offer a world class service but also to get a guest or member out of trouble where they have forgotten an important date like an anniversary or birthday and need immediate assistance.
What is the most fulfilling part of your job and less enjoyable?
The most fulfilling part of the job is helping out our members when they need it. For example, if parents have promised their children a visit to Harry Potter and they go online to reserve tickets to find it is sold out 21 days ahead this presents an enormous issue if they are flying back to the USA tomorrow. The concierge is the person to help out under these circumstances and provide tickets that are impossible to get.
Helping guests and members by securing impossible last minute dinner reservations in Michelin starred restaurants that are full and getting tickets to sold-out shows is of paramount importance to keep the reputation of 47 Park Street as high as it is.
The Concierge should be able to do anything whatsoever so long the request is legal. Things I have done are:
· Getting members memberships at private members clubs with 5500 people still on the waitlist.
· Searching and purchasing a guest gates for his mansion in the USA. The gates I got him were from the original residence of The Duke of Westminster which was built in 1780, just 200 meters South of 47 Park Street. This property is now the JW Marriott Grosvenor House Hotel which was completed in 1928 when they knocked down the older house. The Architectural restoration shop wanted £100000. For these historic gates with provenance, but I intervened and got them for £60000 for our guest who was delighted to have them.
· Sending all sorts of strange this around the world to guests like pedigree puppies and other things.
· All manner of things for world-famous stars and politicians, which I will never reveal.
Less exciting tasks are those which Concierge inevitably have to deal with which have nothing, whatsoever, to do with Concierge. Guests do tend to rely more on “us”, as we interact more with them on a daily basis. We make things happen, and the more powerful our network is, the more privileges our clients enjoy. We advise, inform, investigate and act upon any requests within reasonability.
Psychologically, the guests are more prone to come to “us” with any complaints or requests regarding any matter. The reason is that “we” usually are the first members of staff to meet and greet, and therefore a social bond of trust is somehow established. All staff members at the front desk and back office are vital, and teamwork is so important to achieve success, but the reality is we do get to connect more with guests on a more informal level without overstepping any boundaries. Do not forget I entered this business in the 1980s because I love to work with people. However, let me add paying clients! One must never fall below the standard of professional care. There is a fine line to walk! Our mission is to make any guest feel “home” in London. Our performances will subsequently reflect back on the hotel’s reputation. Returning clients are a testimony of success to our team’s hard work, as well as, a professional and personal accomplishment to me. So, in regards to your second part of your question about the “downside” of my work, honestly, I cannot think of any as such – paperwork, of course, can never be avoided in any trade. It is all about your attitude on the day…
Do you think boutique and niche hotels located in Mayfair will survive in the future, or will they morph into a 100% private “time-share” basis for a selected few?
This is a good question. There are a few privately owned niche hotels around, and these hotels usually have some flexibility in what they can offer to a guest. Because the owner can be asked if a tricky request is possible and give a fast answer yes or no, the service level can be awe-inspiring and wow the guest.
However, corporate hotels might not fulfill a tricky request either due to “Liability Issues, or may not be able to get an answer in time to the guest because the question may have to travel through 5 or 6 chains of command to get an answer from corporate headquarters.
For the above reasons, I think privately owned niche hotels will always do well since their response to guest requests can be almost immediate.
I can also inform you that if you change a niche hotel into a timeshare (in fact you would never use this word, your terminology would be Fractional Ownership), whereby the owners pay an annual fee and a considerable initial cost, then this property would make considerably more money. I am sure the individual owners are aware but do not wish to change the character of their personal hotel that they created. In a recession, the property remains unaffected because the owners already paid for the product.
The disadvantage of this system is that new owners may be low spenders.
Are there any hotels in the world which you find “impressive” and why?
Very much so, however, I cannot afford to stay at these particular hotels. I, therefore, visit them for lunch and have a show around. Previously I would have studied every possible detail on the hotel via their website. My personal requirement would be to have a good view. I will take excellent service for granted at these places. Rather than give you a dozen examples let me give you two.
· The Shard, London The highest building in Northern Europe, opulent restaurants, great bars, fantastic service, but q Shangri’la room start at £700 per night!
· Castilo de Casole, Casole, Tuscany. A lovely hotel with an infinity pool looking over the mountains to the nearby town of Casole. Gret restaurants and service. There are 12 nearby Villas of approx. 5000 square feet comprising of 3 flats which are used on a fractional ownership basis with their own pools and hot tubs.
What is your advice to individuals wanting to get into the hospitality sector?
Choose Management or Sales since these positions are the highest paid in the hospitality industry. It is not essential to enter with a relevant degree but would be advantageous. Other areas of the industry are not well remunerated, but there is always the possibility of a gratuity or commissions. The recent trend in the hospitality sector is to become a chef, as many of the top chefs working at conspicuous establishments in London are often regarded as peers in the world of cuisine and a wealth of opportunities open. Celebrity chefs, writers, bloggers are many of the spin-offs, which can be enjoyed upon becoming successful, – but having said this, the work is extremely hard in Michelin starred kitchens, the hours long and many years and the pay not so good.
Anyway, I am proud to say I work for Marriott Vacations Worldwide, a company with great benefits. I would highly recommend anyone wishing to further their careers to contact them.
Thank you for the interview!