People of Niagara – Matt Sutherland

Don’t you ever wish you could have your own personal assistant?

Oh gosh, I do.

Life gets busy. Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to organize everything that needs to be done – and I’m just talking about day to day life here.

But what about when you’re away from home on a long planned for vacation? Or an important business trip? Or planning something very special during a weekend away – like a proposal?

In circumstances like this, we definitely need some extra help. There’s so much more to organize, and if you’re travelling, you don’t know the extent of what’s available in the place you are staying at. You need a person you can rely on who knows all about the region you are in – someone who can help you with everything from finding a pair of shoelaces to finding the best jewellery shop in town. Someone who knows the specific restaurant you should dine at to help close that business deal, or exactly where to find that rare champagne you want for the moment you pop the question. No matter what you ask, they can deliver.

When you have such a reliable ally at your side, all that’s left for you to do is sit back and enjoy.

Who is that ally for your travels, you might ask?

It’s your Concierge.

Concierge life is fascinating to me. Can you just imagine what it would be like to deal with a bunch of ever changing people on a daily basis, all with different needs and requests? A good concierge juggles what everyone asks for – and they make it all look easy and effortless. Their people skills are top-notch too, and every guest arrives feeling welcome and special.

We all know that working in customer service can be challenging, even at the best of times. So I’ve often thought it would be interesting to sit down and chat with a Concierge, to get an inside scoop on their day to day life.

My wishes for this chat were granted when I first met Matt Sutherland a little while ago. Matt is the Chef Concierge at the Pillar and Post Hotel here in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He is also the Niagara Regional Director for Les Clefs d’Or, which is an elite Concierge organization with just over 4000 members worldwide.

I must have driven Matt a bit crazy at first, because I had so many questions for him. I wanted to know, what kinds of special things had he organized for guests? What is a typical day like for him? How does the role of the Concierge fit in with the workings and hierarchy at a hotel? Also, what exactly is Les Clefs d’Or, and what does it mean to be a member?

Like a good Concierge, Matt was charming, gracious, and happy to answer all of my questions. But as we were talking, I started to think that other people might be interested to hear what he had to say – so he kindly agreed to be the first person to star in my People of Niagara series.

We met at the Pillar and Post for the interview, and many thanks to them for letting us use their beautiful Presidential Parlour for the filming.

So grab a coffee, pull up a chair, and let me introduce you to Matt.

Right off the bat, we talked about our mutual love for life in Niagara.

Loving all that the region has to offer is a great starting point for Matt’s work as Chef Concierge. By keeping on top of all that is happening here, he’s able to direct Pillar and Post guests to any event or outing that would match their interest. But there’s much more to his day than that, and from how he explains it, each day sounds different.

So I asked him, what would a typical day look like?

He said, “A day for me usually starts by reviewing the previous day’s notes, seeing what needs to be followed up on, checking if we have any VIP or repeat guests I should know about. That way if I see them I can address them by name and say welcome back! After that, I dive into my emails. I subscribe to a lot of mailings from companies around the area so I always have a lot to go through…..In-between doing that I handle phone calls, guest interactions, special deliveries, meetings, and the odd champagne sabre….”

Now, if a champagne sabre is part of a typical day for him, then I just might need a career change myself.

From those champagne sabre-ing tasks, I asked him to tell me more about some of the unusual or special requests he’s had.

I just love the “hiding in the curtain” story in the clip above – you can see that Matt is willing to do what it takes to help his guests celebrate their special moments. But that’s not all he does to go above and beyond – he’s also been known to pull off last minute requests that might be difficult for some to do. For example, one guest arrived here for Canada Day weekend, and asked Matt to coordinate a special private dinner for eight people with a chef at a local winery. Being on Canada Day – and at the very last minute – this would definitely have been a challenging thing to accomplish. However, the request came from Adam Sandler….so Matt made it happen.

But I know he would have done his very best for anyone who asked. All in a days work – especially for a Les Clefs d’Or Concierge.

Les Clefs d’Or is a very unique organization, as not just anyone can join – there’s a very strict set of guidelines that must be adhered to before you become a member. First, you need to have worked in the hotel industry for five years, with two of those years as a Concierge in the lobby of a hotel. Then, you can be invited to a Les Clefs d’Or meeting by a current member, and if you are interested in joining, you begin a period of apprenticeship/mentoring with the group. After attending eight of the monthly meetings, the testing begins.  Tests come in the form of phone calls, emails, and drop in inquiries from people at the Concierge desk.  After that, you get a three week take home exam. If all of that goes well, your director will present your scores at the annual national board meeting. Then ALL regions in the country vote on each aspiring member.

Doesn’t this sound like a rigorous testing process?

When you see those golden keys that they wear, you know for sure that every Les Clefs d’Or member has worked hard to earn them.

One of the benefits of the organization when you become a member, is that you have a built-in network of fellow Concierges across Canada, and around the world. Matt explained to me how this has benefited him greatly in his work. In one instance, a guest at the Pillar and Post came to him with a problem from the last hotel that he stayed at….

My final question to Matt was that if someone was thinking about a career as a Concierge, what advice would he give them?

I’m sure Matt will go as far as he hopes to in the hotel business, and I am so impressed by the level of service that he and his fellow Concierges offer. I asked him what the most fulfilling part of his work was, and he answered “It always makes me feel the best when I have an impact on a guest, and make a special connection with them”.

Isn’t that really what exceptional service is about?

But before I finish up, there are still a couple of fun things I want to tell you about Matt.

First, there’s his amazing socks – he loves brightly coloured ones. I thought a Concierge uniform had to be pretty conservative, but Matt keeps some personal flair with his vivid sock collection. We had quite a discussion about socks, and ties, actually.

Second, he was such fun to chat with, and we laughed a whole bunch.

I want to send him a huge thank you for being the very first person to brave the new world of video with me.

And I also want to say thanks again to the Pillar and Post Hotel for letting us shoot our conversation in their Presidential Parlour. Watch the clip below to see the whole suite. It’s lovely.

Since our conversation though, I’m still coming up with more questions – especially about the inner workings of a hotel.

Maybe we should book another coffee date soon, Matt.