Les Clefs d’Or Concierge, the quintessence of hotel service since 1952
It’s quite possible that you don’t know what the Clefs d’Or Concierge are, but I first heard about them when I was studying hotel management at Collège Mérici, when a lecturer, Anne McKenna, was head concierge at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac and a member of the Clefs d’Or, the International Union of Hotel Concierges. To find out more, I spoke to Claude Parenteau-Rodriguez, concierge at the Sofitel Montréal Le Carré Doré and Vice-Regional Director of Les Clefs d’Or for Canada.
Les Clefs d’or Concierge, what is this ?
“Les Clefs d’Or Concierge” is a professional association of hotel concierges with around 4,000 members working in more than 80 countries and 530 destinations, literally in the four corners of the world. If you’re a regular hotel guest, you’ll no doubt know what a hotel concierge is. For those who don’t, they’re customer service specialists, so there’s no link with those who do the cleaning in some establishments.
Les Clefs d’Or, whose origins date back to 1929, was officially founded in France in 1952 as a non-profit organization based on two pillars: service and friendship. Before being awarded the right to wear the Clefs d’Or, aspiring members must have several years’ experience as hotel concierges, pass comprehensive tests and prove beyond doubt their ability to provide a service of the highest quality.
Easily identifiable by the gold Bucherer crossed keys they wear in their lapels, these members form an elite, globally connected fraternity committed to professional development and to setting new standards of perfection in customer service, as I mentioned earlier.
The Origin of Les Clefs d’Or Concierge
It was in the mid-1920s that a group of concierges from various Parisian hotels began to come together under the leadership of Pierre Quentin at the Ambassador in Paris (now the Paris Marriott Opera Ambassador Hotel).
On 26 October 1929, Mr. Quentin sent an invitation to 20 eminent concierges from all over Paris to dine at the Noël Peters restaurant in the hope of strengthening the ties that bound them together. The restaurant was located opposite his hotel, in the Passage des Princes. With 11 participants, this dinner marked the first meeting of professional hotel concierges as a group.
Within four weeks, the new association is ratified at the very first general meeting, attended by more than 75 delegates. Pierre Quentin was elected the first president of the Clefs d’Or on 27 November 1929, a post he held for three years.
While war raged and all the hotels in Paris were occupied, the association was put on pause to resume its activities in force after the 39–45 war.
After numerous communications and several smaller meetings (including the first multinational meeting in 1951 in Sierre, Switzerland), the meeting of the first six member sections took place on the historic date of 25 April 1952, at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes. This event gave birth to the Union Européenne des Portiers des Grands Hôtels “Les Clefs d’Or,” the international network as we know it today, and it was the very first multinational Congress. Adding many countries to its membership over the years, Canada joined the ranks of “Les Clefs d’Or” in 1976.
Les Clefs d’Or Concierge in Canada
The first thing you need to know is that not all concierges are Clefs d’Or members. To become a member, in addition to the tests and examinations, the concierge must have 5 years’ seniority in the hotel industry, including 2 years as a full-time concierge.
The Clefs d’Or network is the force behind the association. The association’s key concept is “Service through friendship,” because for international clients, concierges have this network of mutual support to communicate with their colleagues.
Our interview with Claude Parenteau-Rodriguez, concierge at the Sofitel Montréal Le Carré Doré and Vice-Regional Director of Les Clefs d’Or Concierge for Canada.
What are the advantages for guests of staying in a hotel with a Clefs d’Or concierge?
“Firstly, the level of ethics. Restaurant suggestions are not made on the basis of rebates or commissions on bookings; it will really be a recommendation based on the customer’s expectations and requests. Also, with this network, if a customer wants a seat quickly in a restaurant that’s in high demand, such as the Maison Boulud at the Ritz-Carlton Hôtel Montréal, I can easily contact the concierge there to facilitate access to a table. It’s the same thing for a customer travelling to Canada: it’s easy to organize an exceptional stay for our guests with all the different members of the organization in the country or even abroad,” says the concierge at Sofitel Montréal Le Carré Doré.
What does it mean for a hotel to be part of Les Clefs d’Or?
“For a chain like Sofitel, which wants to have a Clefs d’Or concierge in each of its properties, it’s the impeccable ethics that are important. In fact, there are two Clefs d’or concierges at Sofitel. We can also support and train other concierges who are not Clefs d’Or members in the way they deal with customers, in accordance with the hotel’s various policies, of course,” explains Mr. Parenteau-Rodriguez.
The network, a strength
While many trades compete with each other to be the best, the Clefs d’Or’s strength lies in meeting each other and forging links to ensure that their customers have the best possible experience. “We have monthly meetings where we invite different suppliers (festivals, helicopter tours, etc.) to find out more about their services. This helps our members to get to know everything that’s new in Montréal so that they can present it to their customers. After this presentation, we discuss our new experiences (restaurants, exhibitions, etc.) with other Clefs d’Or members to share with the network. It’s important to point out that the Clefs d’Or is a network of volunteers,” adds the hotel industry veteran. He goes on to say that he wouldn’t send a customer looking for the best authentic Italian sandwich to Toqué, just as he wouldn’t send a customer looking for the most upmarket restaurant in Montréal to La Banquise. “It’s all about knowing your customer and your city, and that’s what’s most important in our work, giving the best service to each customer according to their expectations and requests,” adds the Montéregian by birth.
From University to Clefs d’Or concierge
My interviewee began his career alongside his studies in social sciences at university, working as a night auditor in a hotel on the Plateau Mont-Royal. It was by listening to an insomniac guest who kept him company, while his colleagues found her a nuisance, that he climbed the ladder to the evening reception desk. It was there that one of his colleagues told him about the concierge profession and the Clefs d’Or. Knowing only his namesake, who is more involved in housekeeping, he became more interested in the concierge profession, a profession he practised at the Westin Montréal while at the same time taking steps to obtain the title of Clefs D’Or concierge, before taking up his current position at the Sofitel Montréal Le Carré Doré. In the future, he sees himself as head concierge and wants to share his passion and know-how with the next generation.
By the way, congratulations to our collaborator, Mr. Michael Koopmann, Clefs d’Or concierge since autumn 2023!