Keys to the city: Meet the six Dallas members of Les Clefs d’Or

by | Jul 21, 2018 | Culture, Travel

As members of the oldest concierge society in the world, these six can do it all.
Meet the elite: the only Dallas associates of the globally prestigious Les Clefs d’Or (And wait till you learn what they had to do to get in)

produced and written by CHRISTINA GEYER

“As a concierge,” explains Robert Watson, an honorary president of Les Clefs d’Or Union Internationale des Concierges d’Hotels, “to belong to Les Clefs d’Or is what you aspire to. That is the peak of your career.” Watson first started working in hotels in London at age 16 and now serves as chef concierge — in French, “chef” means “chief” or “head” — at the Willard InterContinental hotel in Washington, D.C. He knew from his earliest working days that becoming a member of the prestigious Les Clefs d’Or was the ultimate goal. Five years later, at the ripe age of 21, he was accepted — though not without plenty of hard work and a natural knack for hospitality.

“the keys of gold,” was founded by three Swiss concierges in Paris in 1929 and is largely considered the most respected society in the hotel and hospitality industries. “The keys are our badge,” says Watson, referring to the pin that all members wear proudly on their lapels: two gold keys crossed in the shape of an elegant X. The goal of the organization is simple: create a network of the most professional, efficient, zealous and well-mannered concierges who work together worldwide to accommodate any request asked of them by their hotel guests. “Everyone has access to Google,” says Watson. “But we have firsthand information. To find the best of the best, all we have to do is pick up the Les Clefs d’Or international book of members.” In the age of instant everything and a do-it-yourself mentality — restaurant reservations you make online, myriad digital ways of reserving even private air travel — members of Les Clefs d’Or contrarily operate the same way they have for nearly 65 years: They call one another on the phone to expedite requests both large and small. It’s old-school cool.

Becoming one of the approximately 4,500 Clefs d’Or members who work around the world is no simple task. The international bylaws set the precedents and minimum standards under which each national chapter (there are 44 in the world, from Belgium to Brazil, Qatar to Canada) must operate. The United States chapter boasts the largest membership, with 600 of its own Golden Keys. To qualify, a concierge must be at least 21 and, as the Les Clefs d’Or USA website states, “be of good moral character.” Applicants must have been employed by a hotel or resort for at least five years and their place of employment must have a desk that includes the word concierge in plain sight. After completing the application, potential new members must find two Les Clefs d’Or concierges to sponsor them, obtain a letter of recommendation from their hotel’s general manager and pass a test. “The U.S. has the hardest test,” Watson says. Examples of questions on the exam:

“A guest is celebrating his first wedding anniversary at your hotel and asks you to set up a romantic evening. Money is tight. What will you arrange?”

“What is the approximate time schedule of UPS Ground service for a 125-pound package sent from your hotel to reach its destination?”

“List seven hotels in the United States with a Forbes five-star rating and name the chef concierge at each property.”

“A guest has just told you he needs to travel to Australia … within 48 hours. State the requirements, forms, and timeframe needed for obtaining a U.S. passport and what you would do as a concierge to assist your guest.”

It’s not easy. Working in Dallas today, only Kevin Alderman, Teklu Berhane, Andrew Bottomley, Lydia Jaeger, Bill Kennedy and Mary Stamm passed with flying colors.