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Michele Sponagle

Managing editor

Smitten by hotels ever since she was a kid, hoarding toiletries started early and picked up steam as Michele Sponagle began a career as a freelance journalist. Her globetrotting has taken her to properties in more than 50 countries, from rustic B&Bs to sprawling resorts.

At any great hotel, the guest services team members are like superheroes. They solve problems, make the impossible possible and handle a steady flow of requests. What’s it like to be the one providing answers and solutions?

Bernardo Maia is the front desk supervisor at the Grand Hotel Birmingham, and is part of a guest services team that has done it all, seen it all. He joined the hotel in October 2021 and was part of the pre-opening team that worked behind the scenes to ready the luxury property for guests again after being closed for more than 20 years.

What inspired you to join the team at The Grand?

I had the honor and the pleasure of being part of the pre-opening team. It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to reopen such an historical landmark to the city of Birmingham. My background was mainly focused on the food and beverage sector, and I was looking for a different challenge within the hospitality industry. When I saw the job advertised, I knew that I had to at least try to apply as this would be an opportunity that I could not waste.

Describe for readers what your role as concierge entails.

Our role as a concierge is a very interesting one. We must have a detailed knowledge of everything that Birmingham has to offer. This includes restaurants, bars, events that might be happening in the city, directions to and from the hotel, points of interest and quirky stops that might be of interest. I enjoy this role because of the connections that we build with other local businesses and it allows me to promote the city.

What’s the most rewarding part of your role?

The most rewarding part of my job is to see guests happy. I enjoy knowing that the hotel and the venues we recommended made the overall guest’s stay in Birmingham much more pleasant and enjoyable. To see that we improved, changed or created a new positive opinion about our city and about the hotel is always a great feeling.

What’s the most challenging part of what you do?

In my opinion, it’s to ensure that all the guests that walk through the front door receive the same level of experience. Being that we are a one-of-a-kind hotel and considered by many the only luxury hotel in Birmingham, a lot of pressure lays on our shoulders to ensure we deliver the best service possible. Whether it’s entertainment groups, meeting and events participants or regular guests, it is important to be consistent and to always be available to meet and surpass expectations.

The Grand has seen its share of celebrity and high-profile guests. What’s that like?

It is extremely interesting to work with these types of guests. You get to see and experience a completely different reality and lifestyle. Of course, we must be extremely discrete and professional. But it is rewarding to know that we are the “base” from where these guests rest and recover before a big event.

How on earth did you manage to find a parking spot for Tom Cruise’s helicopter?

LOL. We are lucky enough to have a terrace on the first floor and we managed to squeeze it in there.  And the best part, I got to park it!

Can you talk about some of the most unusual and challenging requests you’ve had?

I think one of the most challenging parts of my journey at The Grand was the departure of Johnny Depp. The enormous number of fans that came to see him was unbelievable. Of course, we prioritize the guest’s privacy and their comfort while they are in the hotel. The team did an amazing job to guarantee that all the security measures were in place, and we all chipped in to make sure his departure was a smooth as possible.

There are so many great restaurants and bars in Birmingham. How do you determine which to recommend to your guests?

Birmingham has a panoply of amazing restaurants and sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming to choose one. Of course, we always try to recommend our lovely Isaac’s restaurant (a New York-style brasserie) on-site. I like to personalize the guest experience as much as possible, so I try to get as much information from the guest before making restaurant recommendations. I’ll ask about their tastes, the type of evening they are looking to have (relaxed or upbeat), or if it’s their first time in Birmingham. With that understanding, it becomes easier to recommend a restaurant. We are very lucky to work in a city that offers a lot of quality F&B options and has the most Michelin star restaurants outside of London.

What kind of skills are useful to have for a concierge in a luxury hotel?

I don’t want to sound cliché, but I do believe that a strong passion for customer service is a very important skill to have. This job is focused on guests. We spend the entire shift speaking, helping and recommending places to guests. If you don’t have the right personality, it might be quite exhausting and frustrating.

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