I’m a concierge at a 5-star hotel in New York affected by staff shortages.
- Ryan Lettier has been a concierge at the five-star The Peninsula New York hotel since 2021.
- He makes reservations or rides or finds merchandise for elite clientele, sometimes celebrities.
- He says staffing shortages at restaurants and his own hotel have complicated his role.
This say-to-say essay is based on a conversation with Ryan Lettier, a 43-year-old concierge at The Peninsula New York, a five-star hotel in New York City. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I moved to New York in 2018 from Portland, Oregon to work as a concierge at the Four Seasons New York and have been a member of Les Clefs d’Or, the national association of professional hotel concierges, since 2014.
I started working at the Peninsula New York in November 2021 because Four Seasons Midtown had not yet reopened. I hadn’t moved here to sit on my couch. I wanted to work, but I was going to be very picky about where I ended up. With Four Seasons, I was on top of the business, and I wanted something comparable.
The peninsula was perfect in terms of prestige. I was hired as a seasonal helper to get through the holidays, but then January came and the restrictions had ceased, so the number of people traveling was larger than expected and I needed to be kept. They said they would reassess my role in March, and that’s when they hired me full time.
Most of the time, there are two of us at the concierge desk and our “chief”, or chief, concierge, Frederick Bigler, at the desk. But now we have the US Open, the United Nations General Assembly and Fashion Week, and from there you go to the holidays. The fourth quarter is prime time, and we can’t take vacations – there will be four of us working in the office.
July and August are generally slower in New York because everyone is in the Hamptons or just out of town. But right now we are 100% occupancy. The slower months of the first trimester are usually when we like to take our vacations. At the end of the high season, it is nice to go somewhere warm and rejuvenate.
Some people don’t understand what a janitor is anymore
All these luxury apartment buildings now call their doormen concierge. He drives me crazy. Maybe they’re just handling packages. In order to have your golden “key” keys or your membership, you must work at the concierge of a luxury hotel.
My work is different every day. One day, I might help plan a milestone birthday, make an impossible dinner reservation, or get the best seat in a restaurant. The next day, I may listen to a guest who is dying or who has just faced something very painful. Whether it’s arranging balloons or hot air balloons, puppies and bunnies in someone’s room as a surprise or a Gulfstream jet to Geneva, nothing is too big, too small or too strange.
You are constantly learning as a concierge. It keeps you alert and on your toes. New York City is constantly changing and evolving. In my opinion, there is no better place to be a janitor.
We work much harder now
The luxury traveler is back. International travel is huge. Brazilians, Middle Easterners, everyone flocks to New York. Many of our guests tell us this is their first trip to New York since the pandemic.
What is different now compared to before the pandemic is that our concierge staff has been reduced from seven to five, when the hotel was packed. Our opening hours are from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., whereas before we worked from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. So with full occupancy and less staff, we kind of have to fit all of our customer inquiries, emails and phone calls into a shorter number of hours. Somehow it actually takes longer.
Take restaurants, for example: before the pandemic, maybe 90% of butlers answered the phone. Now, with the lack of staff, half of the restaurants we call to make reservations for our customers don’t answer the phone, so we have to email and wait for a response or try to book online for the customer.
We prefer phone calls to establish our relationships with restaurants. It’s quicker for us to call rather than go to the website and try to find answers to all our questions. Some customers only want to sit outside or have special requests or dietary restrictions. Resy doesn’t bend the rules for us.
Staff shortages in all industries make our job harder
We get customers who come back complaining that service was too slow in restaurants, or they asked for something and it never came. Merchandise in stores is not there either. We have guests who tell us they tried to shop but there was nothing to buy.
A guest I spoke with from Europe wanted to go to Hermès. She wanted a certain dining set that she couldn’t find in Italy and was disappointed that the New York store had even fewer items than in Italy.
These are first world problems. Your Hermès spoons are not available.
With the lack of staff at airports, we often have to deal with lost luggage and it is more difficult to plan a last minute car or driver service. All shortages force us to work smarter and harder with fewer hours and a smaller team.
Another thing that has changed is that we often receive requests for PCR and rapid antigen tests. They have mobile units down the street, but these guys are on the move, so we’re constantly trying to locate where customers can go to get a quick COVID-19 test. We will also work with a nurse who will come in and can go directly to the guest’s room, so they have that luxury, which costs a few hundred dollars. Most of the time now testing is for peace of mind since the restrictions have mostly eased.
We deal with a lot of passing celebrities, and before they go on TV or go to a concert or a book signing, they need a rapid PCR or antigen test .
Our typical customer is the same as before the pandemic – high salaries with high expectations
Everyone has been cooped up at home for so long that they are ready and willing to spend money freely. There is a wait, however. Nothing can go wrong. You have to execute their stay carefully, and we want their first visit to New York to be great. There is a reward that comes back to us nine times out of 10, and I would say customers tip more. Celebrities don’t necessarily tip since you’re dealing with their assistant, but it’s everyday people who recognize and appreciate great service.
When we receive tips from customers – it can be $1 or $100 – everything is grouped together and distributed equally. We have a much smaller team at the Peninsula than at the Four Seasons, and often we all help one guest. Even someone you may not have worked with – whatever it is here, we part ways in five ways.
The other day, a couple traveling from India with their grandchildren left a tip along with a handwritten note. When everything goes as planned for the client, we look good and it can be mentioned in a review or on social media. Sometimes we are even mentioned by name.
Our whole team is really good at reading guests and we are compassionate when something is wrong. Even though they are sometimes upset because the trip wasn’t the best, they might tip you because you’ve exhausted all options and everything that happened was out of your control.
One of the big things I love about our team is that we don’t take anything home. He stays in the office.
We leave consistent notes so that the next day one of us can pick up where the other left off. In previous hotels, I brought things home and followed up on tasks such as confirming reservations or arranging guest requests on my days off. We stand up and finish things for each other. You can actually leave things at the office and enjoy your free time.
There is a huge group staying with us at the moment from Asia who have taken over 100+ rooms in the hotel and are meeting daily at the hotel. It’s so nice to see that again. Hotels are coming back to life. When you see the hotel bustling as it is and busy with requests, it reminds me that this is why I love living and working here. That energy you crave when you think of New York is back.