Lorenzo Illiberi and Alessandro Beccattini are both members of the select concierge club, Les Clefs d’Or. We interviewed them to find out the tricks of their trade and hear the anecdotes they have to tell. And also to discover how they are always at the side of guests at the Bernini Palace during their stay in Florence.
Do you remember your first day as a concierge?
Illiberi: It was March 26 2001, more than 20 years ago. Having been here already for a brief period of work experience while I was studying at hotel management school, for me it was like a return. After graduating, I worked elsewhere, learning fast and, above all, falling in love with what has become a real passion: offering a warm reception, hospitality, service, kindness and the ability to listen and understand all clients’ many needs. I remember that on that first day I felt a huge thrill, as I still do today. Every moment here is different, every client comes with expectations, excitement, hopes and dreams for their stay that are always different. This sense of it being “the first time” is a recurring experience.
Becattini: I joined the hotel in 2008 after working in other hotels. I was wild with expectation, happy to put myself to the test. Two colleagues introduced me to the others and eased me into the environment, a sign of the fact that they liked my work. It may have been a small step but for me it was an important and significant one.
What’s a typical day in the life of the concierge?
Illiberi: It’s hard to explain how the day is structured, in fact it’s almost impossible because changes are taking place all the time. One thing for sure is that it involves constant contacts and relations with people: department managers, the manager and guests.
Becattini: Every time I cross the threshold, I never know what’s in store for me. It’s the main feature of my job, which is a constant challenge. It’s impossible to speak about everyday normality. All I can say is that every time I come in, I take my orders from my colleagues and then I open the concierge’s “Bible”, the diary in which all the things to do, guests’ requests and people to contact are noted down. It’s a report that is constantly updated. Then I open my emails and I start taking control of the activities for the day.
The concierges at the Bernini Palace wear a badge with two crossed gold keys in their lapels. What does the symbol mean for you?
Illiberi: More than by the symbol itself, I’m fascinated by its function: I’m conscious of the delicacy of my role. For me the keys simply attest an aptitude that a concierge has to feel in his soul, like a passion, an inner need. I’m referring to the desire not only to meet the client’s expectations but also to exceed them, if possible. Every day is a challenge. We only have a few minutes to observe clients, to listen to them, to learn to pick up clues about them and then act in their best interest.
Becattini: The crossed gold key badge in my lapel was an important step forward for me. It meant I’d achieved my goal. It represents and is a symbol of the main reason why I began to work in hotels: dealing with people, welcoming guests, being a reference point for guests. And it’s always a satisfaction for me when, partly because they’ve noticed the crossed keys, they come to me with their most delicate requests.
Can you remember an “impossible” or very special request which you were able to meet with kindness and creativity?
Illiberi: A few months ago, a client asked me to get him some red roses at ten o’clock at night. Maybe he had to make amends for something or maybe he was looking for a touch of romanticism. The problem was the hour: where can you find fresh flowers at that time of day? “Of course, no problem,” I said to win time. I walked out onto Piazza della Signoria without having a clear idea of what I should do. I stopped one of those street traders who sell flowers at the tables outside restaurants. And so I was able to come back to the hotel, refresh the bunch and take it to the client. On another occasion a Spanish guest wanted to rent an oxygen bottle to keep in the hotel. I had them send a description of the exact characteristics of the medical device from Spain, then we contacted some pharmacies in Florence, and as a result I was able to come up with a rapid solution. Sometimes we help clients who arrive by plane and have problems with lost baggage. We keep in close contact with Florence airport and, if necessary, we get written authorisation to pick up the luggage so that the guest involved doesn’t have to go there by taxi or wait up to 24 hours for it to be delivered by courier.
Becattini: Once a guest from South Africa asked for a helicopter, a wish I would describe as neither commonplace or all that original. It can happen, but in that case the man’s reasons left me no room for manoeuvre. He wanted to use the helicopter to go hunting in the Tuscan countryside. I had to explain to him as politely as I could that it wouldn’t be possible. It was honestly one of the rare situations in which we were unable to satisfy a guest for reasons beyond our control. Sometimes clients ask us to book tables at top restaurants with never-ending waiting lists at very short notice: in such cases we please them with the oldest trick in the world, appealing to our network of acquaintances and asking for every favour imaginable.
In a hotel with an international clientele like the Due Torri, you come into contact with people from all over the world. How do you attune yourselves to different cultures? Can you give us an example or two of positive interactions?
Illiberi: The desire to interface with everyone is a feature of our personality and personal training, an aptitude we had before we started doing the job. It’s a question of using this ability to open up to the world and understand different, habits, languages and customs – with the utmost attention to detail, American clients, for example, are very straightforward and direct, and enjoy personal contact, unlike people from the Far East. Clients notice our commitment and thank us for it by offering us the biggest compliment of all: the fact that we’ve exceeded our brief and met their highest expectations. This is certainly a source of pride and gratification.
Becattini: An open mind, no preconceptions and willingness to learn and stay updated are fundamental. And experience helps us a great deal too: there are so many things you pick up just doing the job. That Japanese clients like to sleep in separate beds, for example, and that Arabs don’t like shaking hands but prefer a hand-on-chest gesture as a token of respect. As the concierges, we are the members of staff who have the good fortune to create a closer relationship with guests. And it’s always a great satisfaction when they get so used to relying on our discreet presence that they ask “Where’s Alessandro?” or “Where’s Lorenzo?”
What are the most frequent requests you receive from guests? And which tours and experiences do you most recommend?
Illiberi: Florence offers a lot and, especially to people here for the first time, I recommend they hire a guide to discover its artistic beauties and most important sights. Visitors also enjoy food and wine experiences, visiting the city’s markets and attending cookery lessons, not to mention courses on arts and crafts, especially leather and jewellery. It’s possible to admire Florence from a unique viewpoint, sailing down the Arno in a barchetto, the boat used in the past by the renaioli, sand gatherers. Alternatively, you can fly in a hot-air balloon for a bird’s eye view of the city, an emotion not to be missed.
Becattini: Experiences in the environs of the city are very popular. Like the wine tasting in San Gimignano and, more generally, tours of the Chianti hills to find out more about the region. One activity that is attracting more and more people is truffle hunting. We lay on transport to the countryside for clients, who then set off on a walk in the woods with the truffle hunter and his dog in search of the most precious of treasures. Afterwards they go to an agriturismo for a truffle-based lunch.