Ben Hafiez, Chef concierge at Hilton Kuala Lumpur, 34
The role of a concierge is different from other positions because there is no right or wrong when it comes to serving guests. Every day, you will experience something new and different. If you want to do this job, you have to be super flexible when serving your guests.
Anyone who wants to be a concierge must start from the bottom. You have to start as a porter first, where you learn the basic stuff like how to pick up and arrange luggage. After you master the basic skills of a porter, you learn to greet your guests by their names. After that, you move up to doorman, and then only can you be a junior concierge. The last title is chef concierge. “Chief” in French is “chef”. So that’s why it’s chef concierge.
For me, I do believe when it comes to training, we have to go back to basics but most people forget that.
As a chef concierge, I’m considered quite young. This is because I had a good mentor so I was trained well. Before this, I worked at the Shangri-La, Hyatt Regency and JW Marriott.
We work between 12 and 16 hours per day. But at the same time, we try our utmost to balance work and life. That can be a real challenge.
You have to be so attentive in terms of facial recognition. You have to meet a lot of people and read the newspapers a lot. We have had ministers and royals come in unannounced. We get to see them in a different light because they do things on their own, like drive their own cars and park it themselves. Maradonna came here once. Apart from that, Pak Lah came here a few times; Tun Dr Mahathir and his sons Datuk Mokhzani, Datuk Mukhriz, and the family that owns the Naza Group.
We often get many unexpected requests. There was a guest who wanted a Nexus Google smartphone, and at the the time, it wasn’t out in Malaysia yet. I had to call a few people in my network to check where I could get it. Fortunately, there was a seller in Johor, so I had to go all the way there to get the phone. Apart from that, there was a guest who wanted an Apple Watch. During that time, it wasn’t officially released yet in Malaysia, so I had to go to Singapore to buy it.
Once, my mentor had a rich Italian guest who went along to eat Ramly Burger with my mentor. The guest liked it so much and wanted to his wife taste the burger. Trouble was, his wife was in Milan at the time. The guest gave my mentor a black credit card and asked him to deliver the burger to Milan. Together with the burger cook, my mentor went to Milan in a private jet just to deliver
the burger to the wife.
Yes, of course, I know a few secrets about our VIPs. I can’t say anything—no comment. But that’s also how we know their likes and dislikes. When they come back here, we know what to prepare for them.
I’ve been asked things I don’t feel comfortable about. Mostly the requests are for adult entertainment. Usually, it’s the businessmen who request it because they travel a lot.
Most people don’t understand what a concierge does. People think that the job of a concierge is to only give out pamphlets, pick up the luggage and give directions to the guests, and that’s it. People don’t see the importance of the hotel concierge’s role.
Customers always give us such short notice when they want something. We would be able to plan ahead better if they inform us earlier.
The Grand Budapest Hotel movie does depict our job well. The Society of the Golden Keys of Malaysia is affiliated to Les Clef d’Or, which is based in Paris. There are fewer than 50 Les Clef d’Or members in Malaysia. Other members are at Traders KLCC, Shangri-La, Pullman Bangsar, St Regis Langkawi and Four Seasons Langkawi to name a few more. In order to become a member, we have to answer a test about general knowledge on the Society and Malaysian history. You must pass the test with no less than 90 percent, and only then will you be invited to an interview. The interview panel consists of all senior chef concierges from Malaysia. It is so intimidating.
In the hotel industry, you don’t need a degree. It does not matter who you are—you have to start from the bottom. Some of them will survive, and some will not.
First published in Esquire Malaysia, July 2016.