A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life

Karl Wendland – Chef Concierge at the Caledonian Hilton Hotel

My day here begins just after I drop off my daughter at nursery school at about 8 – 8.15. My partner Jackie also works here in Housekeeping – it helps that we understand each other’s jobs because hospitality can be very demanding. The first thing I do is catch up with any overnight developments from the Night Porter.

At 9.00 a.m. every morning we have a meeting for all the heads of department at which we go through the VIPs, conferences and other business to sort out who’s doing what. That takes about half an hour, then I come back to my team and pass on the information. The doorman needs to know who the VIPs are. Of course everyone is a VIP here but Hilton Diamond members receive preferential treatment when it comes to room allocation.

The role of the concierge is to ensure that all the guests are comfortable and enjoy their stay. This can involve anything from help with baggage or transport to recommending restaurants or things to do at their next destination. Seasoned travellers know to come to the concierge desk.

One of the most common requests is for those ‘impossible to get’ theatre tickets or restaurant bookings. The Golden Key Society is a network of people in the hospitality trade who help each other out and I’m a member of that. It’s all about adding to the service we can offer our guests. Possibly the oddest thing I’ve been asked to do is to fly some guns up to Fort William for a shooting party.

I check my emails and attend to anything that comes up. I work very closely with Christine, the front office manager. We often have guests arriving early who want us to keep their luggage until their rooms are ready.

reception at the Edinburgh Caledonian HotelIn the afternoon guests begin to arrive and we may have to get their baggage up to their rooms. I recall one occasion when we had a huge party taking over most of the hotel, none of whom had labelled their luggage and there was nothing we could do but line it up in the hall and watch as they clambered over them trying to identify their cases. Not very professional but very effective. The person who invented wheels on suitcases almost did us out of a job. Most people can manage their own luggage now!

Today the hotel is full for 2 days with a conference so there is less coming and going as everything is organised and laid on by someone else.

We have Health and Safety Meetings on Thursday and Operations Meetings on Wednesdays and Training on Tuesdays. Communication is the key so that we can provide a seamless service for guests.

Karl WendlandWhen I’m not busy I call round my friends in the Golden Key Society to see what’s going on. Some of them are concierges in rival hotels but we still help each other out when we can. I can’t emphasis enough the importance of contacts.

One of our guests might ask me to get him theatre tickets in London and almost always I can do it. The client doesn’t need to know how. Our motto is “Service Through Friendship”. It isn’t like Hotel Babylon – there isn’t a financial relationship with the places we recommend and we don’t make a fortune from tips. We don’t even expect tips – honestly – we’re just doing our job. We get to know our regular guests and sometimes they will ring up and ask me for favours even when they are not staying at the hotel.

There are 9 in my team altogether and we’re all local native speakers – well, there is a token Englishman. In the afternoon I make sure they have had their breaks and at 4pm I pop out to see my daughter.

We are dealing with arrivals most of the afternoon and evening. Travellers are much better prepared now, thanks to the internet so there is less for us to do. There used to be 16 of us.

I’ve been here for 23 years and I can’t see myself moving on. There’s nowhere to go. I left school and started as an apprentice butcher but got paid off when the miners’ strike hit us in 1984. My mother heard that porters were needed here. They had a big visit with 600 – 800 bags to come from Waverley Station, so I did that. Then one of the night porters phoned in sick so they asked me to cover for him. I took on a night shift. After being a porter I became a concierge, then assistant concierge and now chef concierge. There have been a few changes of ownership during my time but I think that Hilton are doing a good job.

It’s not everyone’s idea of a career because the hours can be unpredictable and a lot of people aren’t interested in the idea of ‘serving’ others – maybe they think it’s beneath them. But it’s very satisfying to be able to help people, or to rescue them from difficult situations. For example, we have accounts at the shops to enable us to provide shirts for men or tights for ladies. We have a saying, “We will do anything at all as long as it’s legal.”

I usually have Sundays and Mondays off but if something special is going on I will come in to make sure everything goes smoothly. A 50 hour week isn’t unusual.

I suppose my uniform is a bit formal but it’s my choice and I feel it goes with the job. I never thought about it. We have tartan trews for the other members of the team although they don’t have to wear them.

When I leave at 6.30 I hand over to my assistant. Overnight we just have one person on, the night porter. He can be quite busy some nights, with room service, but other times it’s very quiet.

Facade of Caledonian Hilton HotelI’ve met a few celebrities when they stay here – the one I was most thrilled to meet was Nelson Mandela. I’ve also met Elton John, Bono and Sean Connery threw a plum stone at me, accidentally of course, while I was trying to fix the computer in his room. I met Kate Winslet while they were filming here. They left some props behind and I had to drive them down to Newcastle.

The new VIPs are business people, like Tom Farmer and J K Rowling. That’s another sign of the times. And we are happy to help them all.

Renowned as one of Edinburgh’s most iconic landmark buildings, the Caledonian Hilton is receiving a £22 million investment to retain its position as a world class full service hotel. The overall strategy for the hotel will include the creation of a courtyard lounge, the relocation of the main hotel restaurant and a substantial investment in upgrading the hotel’s bedrooms, an example of which can be seen below. The hotel, which first opened its doors in 1903 is a listed building within Edinburgh’s World Heritage Area and as such is an important and historic venue.

New bedroom at Edinburgh Caledonian Hotel

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Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

One thought on “A Day in the Life”

  1. Hi, i was just reading this article about Karl and have to say he is the best concierge my husband and I have met. We have to travel a lot with our jobs and it is so stress free when you meet someone that can sort your life out when not in our home. All i can say if you visit Edinburgh visit the Caledonian and visit Karl – it will make your stay memorable.

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