Indisputably, Donato Bottiglieri is a favorite among guests at One Aldwych, the chic London hotel that sits between two Londons: the financial world to the east and the theater world of Covent Garden to the west. Is he the owner? The front desk manager? The wine steward? No, something much more important. Mr. Bottiglieri is that rarest of ultra-connected, finger-on-the-pulse cognoscenti: the concierge.
In a city packed with five-star hotels, Mr. Bottiglieri has to know not only about restaurants and theater tickets to impeccably serve One Aldwych’s guests, but also needs to be a para-psychologist, ambassador, detective, and above all, secret-keeper. “A concierge has to be everything,” Mr. Bottiglieri told The New York Times in a recent article. “You have to be a real character, and sometimes you meet some real characters.”
Mr. Bottiglieri has lived in East London for much of his eight years in the city. He grew up in Milan and, as part of his schooling, began working in hotels at age 14. He interned at two chain hotels, then after graduation was a page boy for two years at the exclusive Principe di Savoia Hotel, where he opened doors, ran errands, cleaned ashtrays and delivered newspapers.
During those years, he said in the article, he began watching the hotels’ concierges, observing how they engaged with guests. Deciding that was the job for him, he began improving his English so he could reach his goal.
In September 2005, at age 22, Mr. Bottiglieri, by way of a friend’s recommendation, began working at One Aldwych as a doorman. The following year, he was promoted to assistant concierge.
Today, he is fluent in English and telling guests about a very different London than he first encountered, arriving from Milan. New to the city then, he went to nightclubs and made contacts in the music scene. He also visited restaurants (which often court concierges, especially those attached to luxury hotels, offering them food and drink with the hope that they, in turn, will send guests).
Knowing London is an important part of the job, Mr. Bottiglieri said, but being a concierge is also about assessing guests and getting to know a little bit more about them. “The concierge is really the person in a hotel who has time to hear your demands and maybe even your secrets,” Stefan Fraenkel, a professor of hospitality at the École Hôtelière de Lausanne, told the Times. “Guests can tell the concierge things they tell nobody else or make deeply personal requests, but then walk away — a bit like a confessional in a Catholic church.”
For Mr. Bottiglieri, basic psychology comes into play when he first meets a guest. “You always get some background information. Where have they been? What shows do they like? What kinds of food?” he said. “It’s all about getting feedback from the guest.”
An example of Mr. Bottiglieri’s approach to the job: a guest who had just checked out called the concierge desk from Heathrow airport quite distressed. He explained to Mr. Bottiglieri that he had left his passport in his guest room safe and that his flight was due to take off for New York very shortly. Mr. Bottiglieri retrieved the passport and took a taxi to the airport, reaching the guest with only minutes to spare. “Now we’re the best of friends,” Mr. Bottiglieri said, adding that the guest has returned to the hotel many times.
But Mr. Bottiglieri’s most memorable occurrence involved a Saudi businessman. The man’s wife “wanted Fruit ’n Fibre breakfast cereal, but only the Italian kind because it comes without bananas,” Mr. Bottiglieri explained. The couple was planning a month’s travel in Europe, without a stop in Italy, and the wife wanted to take her favorite cereal along. Mr. Bottiglieri telephoned a grocery store near where he grew up in Milan and an Italian colleague from the hotel flew there, returning the next day with a full suitcase of the correct cereal brand.
Just another day in the life of a concierge!