With Carolina Avaria, President, Les Clefs d’Or Canada
There’s little that pleases the avid traveler more than a fantastic meal in a foreign city. From street food in Bangkok to recommendations for high tea in the heart of London, uncovering culinary gems can easily make (or break) a holiday. With hundreds of travel sites, apps and blogs available online, tourists have the ultimate food experience at their fingertips. In lieu of phone books and travel guides filled with phone numbers and addresses of reputable restaurants, tourists now access an online hodgepodge of reviews, ratings, images and paid partnerships designed to drive business. Soliciting a real review of potential eateries has never been so complicated.
Keeper of the Keys
There exists a global network of professionals within the hospitality industry whose very existence is based on the provision of high-quality information and service. A vastly untapped resource of knowledge committed to unlocking the most incredible experiences in any given city. They are trained to make the impossible, possible. They are members of Les Clefs d’Or.
Les Clefs d’Or, or Golden Keys, is an international professional organization of hotel concierges dedicated to maintaining the highest possible standards of service for hotel guests. Carolina Avaria is their president and today, Avaria can be found at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto leading a team of individuals ready to go above and beyond for any and every guest. “It’s an incredibly passion-driven atmosphere,” says Carolina, insisting that the most important work takes place beyond hotel walls. “If you’re not kind to people you’re not going to get anything done,” says Avaria, laughing as she returns from sourcing an oversized bubble maker for a client who saw one in the park and wanted one of their own (by 8 am the following day).
No Reservations? No Recommendation.
While concierges may be called upon for just about anything and everything, they are sought after for their ability to uncover unforgettable culinary experiences. “We study trends, we study chefs, we always keep our eyes open when we’re travelling anywhere just to be sure that if there’s anything new and exciting, we know about it.”
And while many establishments offer exquisite dining options on premises, concierges know that tourists want to explore life beyond the hotel. So, what motivates a concierge to recommend one restaurant over another? Location, experience and product are all major considerations but, in the end, what matters most is ensuring the client gets a seat at the table. “One of the hardest trends that has come along for a concierge recently is the lack of reservation-taking atmosphere. It immediately disengages us. We can’t make magic happen when someone doesn’t take reservations.”
Whether a client is in town, on business or pleasure, locating the perfect restaurant is a staple in the repertoire of any quality concierge. But how valuable is that recommendation for restaurants?
According to Kevin Curley, manager at Bauhaus in Vancouver, concierges are an integral part of the system, and while the restaurant now sees more traffic coming from reviews provided on websites like TripAdvisor, they still go out of their way to cultivate a relationship with hotels in the area.
Patrick Chow, the event coordinator and front of house manager at Fanny Bay Oyster Bar & Shellfish Market, another Vancouver favourite, claims that the restaurant sees some tourists come in based on recommendations provided by concierges, motivation to keep up a warm relationship between businesses. “Once every few months, we’ll go out to all the concierges around town, say hello, make friends with them, give them some oysters, give them some gift cards or something like that. We keep them in the loop of what’s going on, so they know what styles of restaurants there are out there. We help them; they help us.”
François Dallaire is the restaurant director at Restaurant Épik, a modern Italian restaurant located in the heart of Old Montreal. In his opinion, most tourists stumble upon the restaurant due to its location or visit as a result of ratings and reviews on websites such as TripAdvisor, Google and OpenTable. Despite the frequency of tourists who visit based on online research and reviews, François actively pursues a warm relationship with concierges in the area.
“In early January of this new year, I visited every hotel located within three miles of our restaurant, bringing personalized invitations to every concierge to come and try our restaurant.” François handed each concierge a card that looks like a credit card and invited them to try the restaurant and bring a guest. “After all, how can we expect them to recommend us if they never tried it themselves? Our welcoming philosophy speaks for itself because we know how to host and treat our guests.”
According to Avaria, other restaurant owners should be following Dallaire’s lead. “It’s the entire experience that we need to sell to our guests, and that is done if we are experiencing it ourselves. If there is an opportunity to connect yourself with a concierge, tell them what you’re doing, invite them to experience it.”
Looking to connect with a member of Les Clefs d’Or? Visit lesclefsdorcanada.org.