So, How Did You Get The Job, Luis Colmenares, Lead Personal Assistant At Capella Washington DC?

Luis Colmenares, shown above, is standing just outside the hotel’s construction site at 31st and South Streets in Georgetown.

Meet Luis Colmenares, president of the Washington Area Concierge Association, member of Les Clefs D’Or and new lead personal assistant at Capella Washington, D.C., Georgetown. The 54-year-old Colmenares has spent 24 years at the city’s finest hotels, most recently at Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco, where he served for the past eight years as lead concierge before taking the position with Capella in late November.

The always-smiling Colmenares sat with us over lunch, a cheery argyle sweater brightening up his somber jacket-and-tie uniform, to discuss just what he hopes to achieve when he takes over Washington’s first hotel with a dedicated personal assistant program in February.

Nearly a quarter century ago, Colmenares moved to Washington from his native Venezuela on a “whim.” He had visited on a week-long vacation and fell in love with the “great European feel” of the city. After spending nearly a decade as a travel consultant, he applied on a lark to the Capital Hilton after a friend suggested he’d make a good concierge.
He got the job, spending a year as a member of the concierge team at one of Washington’s largest hotels before moving to open the Ritz-Carlton on 22nd and M in 2001, a property that has deep roots in the Washington community.

It is also where he first met Alex Obertop, who was then the property’s director of rooms. Here, he worked as part of a team of six at his first luxury hotel, serving as both a butler to visiting VIPs as well as performing more personalized concierge duties on the hotel’s private Club floor.

An outgoing and self-described “people person,” Colmenares also spent a year at one of the city’s ultraluxury properties, The Mandarin Oriental, before moving to spend eight years at Hotel Monaco, a boutique property in the heart of Penn Quarter.

Here, he earned admittance into Les Clefs d’Or USA, the industry’s most competitive membership organization and rose to become president of the Washington Area Concierge Association, where he was honored with the title of “Concierge of the Year” by Where magazine.

Colmenares tells numerous stories of his days as a luxury concierge, although, ever discreet, he won’t name names. There was the notoriously temperamental opera singer who insisted that he join her for tea, the eccentric businessman who ordered a Hummer delivered to the hotel and would only purchase the vehicle after Colmenares accompanied him on the test drive and approved of the purchase. These are but a handful of loyal clients whom he says he’s had the pleasure of serving. He grins as he tells each story, his eyes crinkling at the corners, making him seem decades younger than his salt and pepper hair suggests.

When asked if he ever wants to leave DC, he shakes his head. “My roots are here.”
But Colmenares yearned for a return to luxury – he missed the fast pace, the one-to-one service ratio, and the guest relationships that developed over repeat visits. In fact, he craved the very attitude that Capella CEO Horst Schulze, a former Ritz-Carlton man, described recently to CNBC when he answered that Capella staffers would do anything for a guest, so long as it was “legal, moral and ethical.”

“Everything [at Capella] is about service,” Colmenares says. “We really want to know the guest, but not be invasive.”

Such knowledge is what sets Capella apart from its peers, and its staff are what make it possible, says Obertop. Assistants will begin by calling guests two weeks prior to arrival, making sure that basic needs like dinner reservations and food preferences or allergies are noted. Upon arrival, a dedicated assistant will greet each guest, doubling as front staff agents as they escort the guest directly to their hotel room for check-in. The process will run like a well-oiled machine, he hopes, the team of seven working shifts to ensure an individualized relationship with guests in each of the hotel’s 49 rooms. As of early December, two of the assistants in addition to Colmenares have been hired – one, a former colleague of his at Hotel Monaco and another who has personal assistant experience but who has never before worked in hospitality. It will be a tight ship, but there’s no one better than Colmenares to run the show.

See D.C. Like a Local: Visit Lead Personal Assistant Luis Colmenares’ Favorite Spots
• The National Gallery of Art … “my favorite on the mall.”
• Hillwood … “a great private space.”
• The Kreeger Museum … “for the architecture.”
• The Spanish Steps … “to sit and enjoy a spring or summer day.”
• Montrose Park … “for picnics.”
• The Key Bridge … “at sunset, there’s nothing better.”
• The Lincoln Memorial … “sit on the back to watch planes take off and land.”

[Image Credit: McLean Robbins]

Behind The Scenes Of Being A Personal Concierge

You see these people every time you go on vacation. They plan your nights out, deliver your messages and go to great lengths to ensure each guest has a wonderful stay at their hotel. Have you ever wondered, however, what goes on behind the scenes for a personal concierge? To help give people an idea of what the job is really like, Michael Romei, the head concierge at The Waldorf Astoria/Waldorf Towers, has been kind enough to answer some personal questions based on his 18+ years of experience.

What does being the head concierge at The Waldorf Astoria and Waldorf Towers in New York entail?

I ensure each guest that walks through our doors receives first-class, luxury service, which can include anything from ensuring the right climate control in your room to coordinating an extravagant event or night on the town. I have been the man behind proposals, birthday celebrations, anniversaries and first-time visits to New York. I’m one piece of what we call True Waldorf Service, a service standard and commitment that delivers the utmost experience that begins at the time you book your trip.

What is the most unusual request you’ve ever received from a guest?

I once worked with a guest from a high profile family from central Africa, opening a bakery in Ethiopia. She asked me to help her purchase kitchen and pastry equipment that could be shipped to Ethiopia. I got to know the guest as she stayed with us for six weeks and made sure she got everything needed to open her bakery. One day, I hope to take a trip over to see how the bakery turned out.How many requests do you receive per day?

I receive approximately 150-200 emails per day. I do not know the number of telephone calls, but I would say it’s probably 50-100. Naturally, not all are valid requests, but very often simple questions, which could be answered quickly. On average I handle about 30-50 requests per day; again this varies tremendously from a simple private car booking to restaurant bookings to very lengthy and elaborate planning. Due to the nature of our guests and the luxury service provided, there are several guests who ask me to recommend or even assist them with planning worldwide travel. I once had to run to a traveler’s bookstore to purchase something for a guest. I was in my uniform with name tag and Les Clefs d’Or keys and a customer noticed me and said, “Oh my God! The chief concierge of the Waldorf is here. Can I ask you for your recommendation of where we should stay when we visit the Amalfi Coast?”

What is your favorite part about the job?

My passion, energy and drive is really about pleasing others and creating an unforgettable and memorable experience. I also enjoy being very curious and investigating new and interesting ideas and places in our city that I know our guests would want to know about. Recently a guest actually asked me where I lived. When I mentioned that I live in the same neighborhood just a few blocks away from our hotel, they wanted to then know more from me as a local in the neighborhood and actually asked me which way I walked to and from work and what my favorite places were along the way.

What are the true rewards of your job?

Knowing for sure that I made such a difference in someone’s life and/or experience of their visit. There are numerous examples, but one that you might find significant. A group of guests in wheelchairs were here from Germany one year to actually participate in the “Special Olympics.” They asked me if there was any way they could experience a typical New York City disco club at night. Of course it meant that there had to be something nearby that was also wheelchair accessible. I actually found a club just a few blocks away and escorted the guests myself in their wheelchairs down the street and called ahead to have the manager and security of the club meet and greet them to avoid any waiting in lines of delays at the door. They were absolutely thrilled and said it was a trip of a lifetime!

What is your least favorite part about the job?

My least favorite part of the job is when I cannot deliver and I know a guest is disappointed. However, I always try to compensate in some way by sending something to their room, a floating flower petal, chocolates, their favorite book or a very nice card. Most of the time it really involves a restaurant that really is completely booked and they just cannot add another table or accommodate. I have personally gone to all of the major restaurants to introduce myself to management and staff and several of the top 10-20 restaurants. I have cultivated relationships with the managers and maitre d’ in order to assist with special requests and sold out situations. In spite of this, there is sometimes a certain evening that they just cannot make exceptions. It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while.

What kind of in-room surprises can you provide?

We have done it all from providing a family with movies and popcorn or updating room floral arrangements daily, to the more elaborate such as decorating a room for a child’s first baseball game or setting up for a romantic marriage proposal. I have arranged for near life-size chocolate figures to be in the room and even for an American Indian to perform a “bow and arrow ceremony” in a guest room for a family during Thanksgiving. If there is something you want in your room or if there is something we think you will truly enjoy, we do our best to get it there.

Is there anything you’re not allowed to do?

We make every effort to fulfill all our guest’s requests, and they’re generally all very reasonable. If we can’t make something happen, we still work to ensure the guest has a great stay.

What types of guests tend to be the most difficult?

Every guest is different, but that’s part of the fun of this job – understanding or intuiting what people need and going above and beyond their expectations. One of the key characteristics of a good concierge is having this type of intuition, which allows you to make a right match. The match is knowing the customer from communications, interaction, questions and then matching them with the right selection such as a restaurant, Broadway show, concert, shopping or tour.

Have you ever served a famous guest?

I have served several famous guests, however, just like all our guests at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, privacy is always top of mind.

Are there any new technologies you employ on the job?

As part of True Waldorf Service, we rely on a consumer relationships management system that connects our True Waldorf Service personnel to our luxury clientele with ease and helps us to coordinate services and requests.

Do you get any free or discounted perks for being a concierge?

Information about gifts, commissions and tips cannot be disclosed.