After almost 30 years as a concierge in Chicago, Donald Crossley has seen plenty of change in what kind of help a guest needs—but he also knows exactly how to make sure a guest walks away impressed.
The Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago’s concierge never studied hospitality, and would never have even considered a 30-year career in hotels if a doctor hadn’t suggested it.
“I was working in a hospital and one of the physicians thought that I was [great at] taking care of his patients,” Crossley recalled. “He said, 'You belong in the hotel industry.' I said, 'I don't know anything about hotels.'” But the doctor had some connections in the industry, and after an interview, Crossley was offered a position as a concierge at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. “To be honest, I actually told them, 'What is a concierge? What do they do?' They said, 'You would basically tell people where to go and what to do.' I said, 'I'm good at doing that!’” And apart for a brief stint at a Hilton hotel, he has remained with Hyatt hotels in the city since.
When Crossley started out as a concierge in 1991, guest requests were decidedly different from what they are today. “They needed to know the directions to certain restaurants or what tours to take,” Crossley said, pointing out that now, much of this information is available on people’s smartphones. “Technology has taken away some of the responsibility that we had,” he said. “But when we still work with people, we're giving them our all.”
Tips of the Trade
A concierge team can only give their all if they go out and meet the right people. “A concierge always networks,” Crossley said. “That's why I'm a member of the Concierges Association.” To make sure guests get the best seats to shows or games, Crossley made sure to meet the right ticket agents—the ones who offer the best deals and never cheat guests. “I would never use a ticket agent that ever had a shady past,” he said. “I always use ones that are reputable.” Because many guests want to see hot shows like "The Lion King" or "Hamilton," he has made connections at each theater. “I used those connections to assist my guests because those people also helped us do things,” he said, describing the relationships as mutually beneficial.
Networking is just one step, of course. “You also [have to] get out and do things on your own. I always go to the restaurants or the tourist attractions myself.” By seeing these places with his own eyes, he knows which restaurants really have a romantic atmosphere, which attractions are packed on weekends and which shows are the best for families. “This way, they know that you've been there. You're not just reading something out of a booklet.”
What is Crossley’s first rule for aspiring concierges? “Make sure that you're listening because if you're not listening, you're not going to complete what it is that they're requesting.” Paying close attention gives a concierge “a feel” for a guest and a better understanding of what it is they really want. “You look in their eyes to see how serious they are about whatever the request is, and then you take it from there.”
Crossley regularly reminds his proteges not to rely on computers to help with their jobs, especially not when the guest is standing right there. “Rattle off information out of your head because you're supposed to know it. If your computer went down, what would you do?” A concierge’s knowledge, connections and ability to achieve the impossible, Crossley added, reflect on the hotel itself. “And this way the guests will come back and tell friends and friends and friends.”
Top Three Accomplishments
GRAND PROPOSAL: Helping an NBA player propose to his girlfriend
“I assisted him with some plans, dinner arrangements, floral arrangements and a beautiful setting so that he could propose to her.”
WEDDING WITNESS: Serving as a witness as a guest's wedding
“They had the license and everything, but they didn't have a witness. So I went to be the witness so they could get married.”
PUPPY LOVE: Helping an international couple adopt a dog
“I went over to animal welfare with them and they ended up adopting a cocker spaniel. I was so impressed with that that the next week, I went and got a cocker spaniel myself.”