Making Customer Service the Top Priority

LasVegas Review-Journal: Her title may be Mirage's chef concierge but Lori Wandzilak, 25, is really a Boy Scout.

And a genie. She can grant wishes -- if you and your significant other want a romantic getaway with chilled champagne, chocolate strawberries and a suite covered in rose petals, Wandzilak can hook you up.

But no matter the request, she's always prepared.

Need an Elvis impersonator to wake you with breakfast in bed? No problem. Wandzilak once arranged that. She also can tie a bow tie and iron a shirt in a pinch. That's in addition to making dinner reservations for a restaurant that is already booked solid, finding tickets to a show that's sold out or scheduling tee time at an exclusive golf course, all in the name of customer service.

Since the beginning of the year, the Nebraska native has been The Mirage's chef, or head, concierge and part of a burgeoning career field on the Strip. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs in hotel concierge will grow faster than normal during the next few years. It's a well-paying job, too, with local salaries ranging from $15 to $18 hourly plus gratuity, according to the International School of Hospitality in Las Vegas. Some hotels pay commission, too.

A decade ago, concierge service was offered at only high-end luxury hotels, something that helped to build guest loyalty. It was widely seen as an amenity, Wandzilak says. In recent years, it has become a necessity, especially on the Strip.

The concierge originated in Europe at least 100 years ago, says Mehmet Erdem, an assistant professor for the hotel college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Their traditional role was to serve as security while their employer traveled. They also ensured that accommodations were ready for the employer's arrival. As the middle class grew and travel became more commonplace, luxury hotels adopted concierge service, Erdem explains.

"In the recent past, having a successful concierge in your room division added immensely to the reputation of your hotel," Erdem says. "Who you were employing (as) the concierge meant a lot for the public relations of your hotel because guests would spread the word about the exceptional service they received."

It was only natural that concierge service caught on and expanded on the Strip, Erdem says.

The valley boasts 19 of the 25 largest hotels in the world, Erdem says. Las Vegas has more four- and five-star restaurants than any city other than New York. Throw in the world-class entertainment and the need for repeat guests and Las Vegas is an ideal spot for a concierge, Erdem adds.

"If you think about the way we have built this city, it is not catering to middle class or regular leisure travelers," Erdem says. "If you have a hotel like The Cosmopolitan, a building that cost $4 billion, for instance, you have to attract a certain kind of guest element to be successful. You need guests that look for luxury accommodations. There are only so many rich people, so when you get someone, you want to make them feel special to keep them coming back."

Creating an exceptional experience is at the heart of what Wandzilak does even though many people don't know what a concierge is or can do. “They think of us as a help desk," Wandzilak says. "But there's so much a concierge can do."

Wandzilak oversees a staff of 22. She works a 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. shift five days a week, but her hours are really 24/7. Her phone is a constant companion. She has even answered it at 2 a.m., although that's unusual. Her job as concierge is to help all guests who ask for it, including high rollers. But the bulk of her staff's work involves making dinner and show reservations.

Many people approach the concierge desk with no idea of what they want, Wandzilak says. That's where the Boy Scout has to take over.

A good concierge must be "in the know," says Timothy Lam, executive director of the Las Vegas-based International School of Hospitality. The school's concierge program is one of their most popular curricula, Lam says.

The job requires them to make snap judgments based on nothing more than a short conversation with a guest, Wandzilak says, so she has to be up to date on the latest dining and entertainment options. On average, she eats at a fine dining restaurant, at her expense, twice a week. "In a nutshell, my job is to go to every show and eat in every restaurant in town," she says.

She uses those outings to build relationships that Wandzilak can then call upon later. It also provides her with a knowledge base that she can draw from to make recommendations.

"How can you recommend something if you haven't tried it? It's about building relationships so that when I call the general manager of a restaurant, I can say: 'I've got eight people coming in. I need to make it happen. Can you help?' " Wandzilak says.

People come to her and sometimes make requests that are impossible to meet. But a concierge can never say "no." They have to offer options. Once, a guest asked Wandzilak to make reservations in an Italian restaurant that was on the Strip, not in a hotel but had a view. At the time, there was no such restaurant, so she recommended an off-Strip eatery that fit the guest's other requirements.

Occasionally, she'll get a request that truly is impossible to fill: an illegal request. People sometimes ask about prostitution, thinking it's legal in Clark County, for instance. It's not, so the concierge has to explain that.

"There are people who think that Las Vegas literally has no laws," Wandzilak says. "You don't want to embarrass the guest, but you have to educate them about the law."

Another misconception about concierge service is that they can comp everything from show tickets to meals. While they sometimes offer concierge specials on restaurants or events, they don't just give things away.

"When a guest comes here, we make sure we go above and beyond in making them happy," Wandzilak says.


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