Residential Concierges: An Overlooked Hospitality Niche

Stephen Darling

By Stephen Darling

Jul 12, 2023

The Challenge of Residential Concierge Services in Luxury Multi-Unit Buildings

Living in a luxury multi-unit building has its perks: some are more difficult to deliver/achieve.

A friend was recounting/complaining with increased frequency, about his inadequate concierge.   As a business executive, plus board member of the condominium association, he had neither the time nor knowledge of how to deal with the issue(s) that was being increasingly flagged by owners for the Board’s action.  After listening to the issues and asking questions over a period of 4-6 months, I challenged him as to what the Board planned to do to attract, train, retain and feature the best talent in their lobby.  Then came the realization that they had no solution.  

The concierge(s) in the lobby is/are likely as important as your trainer, dentist and hairdresser, who have professional designations and licenses requiring them to keep their knowledge and skills up to date. Why not qualify concierges the same way?  While concierges in residential complexes go back centuries; contemporary property developers and real estate marketers feature them to represent a higher standard of living and prestige.  Few developers or owners know how a great residential concierge service will be delivered.  The property or condominium manager is expected to deliver this feature/service to the Owners/Residents who ultimately pay for it.

While the position/title is the same as in a better (4-5 star) hotel, the similarity stops there.  Residential Concierges are expected to have the same presence, resourcefulness and style of hospitality as a hotel concierge; plus knowledge and a proactive approach to ensure the entire building runs smoothly, including housekeeping, engineering, landscaping, IT, regulations, etc.  

A hotel concierge often gets ‘thanks’ pressed into their palm for securing a special window table at a hot restaurant; but doesn’t have to deal with the toilet that backed up in 1002, or the emotions of an acrimonious divorce where household possessions are separated and removed.  

The fundamental issue is that once hired, most residential concierges are left on their own, expected to figure things out; and the less they’re heard from the better.  Owners, property managers and condo association boards don’t usually have the knowledge or time to train, nurture and encourage their ‘chosen ones’, which sooner or later result in either complete ineffectiveness and/or resignation(s), ongoing turnover – leading to extra work, frustration and considerably less patience by all parties. Absent is that equation and supportive relationship present with the trainer, dentist and hairdresser.  

The greater issue is that it’s unlikely that we’ll find quality, bright and committed individuals when pay is less than a front desk agent, concierge or room attendant in a hotel.  We need to rethink the salary and benefit package offered, in order to recruit individuals with people and communication skills, education and a personality suited to service. By doing so, we’ll get over the hurdle and give the job the dignity, respect and appeal that we need to attract and retain the best possible candidates.  

Developing a Strategy and Solution for Improving Residential Concierge Services

When I researched local/regional providers of residential concierges, on a recruitment, contract or oversight basis, the search came up dry.  The industry has missed the demand, accelerated by the pandemic; as career hospitality staff retired, changed direction and/or moved, within what seemed like weeks or months.   Virtually every residential building that I checked on seemed to have filled their empty chairs –as turnover became fierce.  Some major property management companies hired hospitality professionals for oversight – which typically failed due to distance and demand plus spreading themselves thin.     

Having spent my career in hospitality; and achieved a reputation for hiring, training and nurturing some of the best talent around; I decided to put my hospitality experience to use to solve this hybrid position.  We learned how to work remotely during the pandemic -even in hospitality where recognition, welcome smiles, handshakes and pleasantries are the norm.  

I used my consulting experience working with developers on mixed-use developments, creating service agreements between homeowners and hotel management companies, plus delivering multiple service agreements in residential buildings, through adjacent hotel teams.   

Having worked on the opening of multiple new build-hotels plus repositioned hotels, I went back through job descriptions, standards of performance, checklists, challenges, gathering best practices from unrelated industries; and an accumulation of 40+ years of running hotels successfully.  This was all packaged with what I seek personally in a residential building.

I offered the friend’s condo board my insight and knowledge working with their concierge -to train and prepare her, plus successors, to truly deliver the scope and standard of service that represents a high-end residential environment.  Having served past terms as a board member of condominium associations, plus ownership of residential condos; I knew that my plan would need to incorporate the regulatory aspect of condominium law, owners’ expectations and aspirations of a prime residential building, all wrapped in authentic contemporary hospitality.  

I booked times with the Concierge, initially weekly, then bi-weekly, followed by monthly.  Each 90-minute session involved discussion of current issues in the daily routine, communication of best practices and non-negotiable standards, plus observations with guidance on how to elevate interactions with residents, service reps, delivery agents etc.    

Each session included a review of past action items plus new assignments for the next time.  Scope included email and phone access in case of questions and guidance – and ultimately ended with a review of all key learnings and standards covered over the 3-month period.  

There is a growing shortage of condominium property managers, with certification.  One of the rewards for advancement would be to encourage residential concierges to get their license – paid for by the condominium association, with appropriate agreements in place to retain them.

Transformative Results through Training and Education

None of the condo board were aware of when I would come or go, nor were the Owners aware of the assignment.   After the first, then second week of training and coaching, the board got unsolicited feedback from owners and residents regarding the tremendous improvements they noticed.  The condo association president and the board generally noticed a great improvement in content and communication in weekly reports.  Most importantly, the concierge gained a new sense of clear expectations, knowledge and focus.

My next step is to review my findings with a local community college that has a hospitality diploma and degree program, with a recommendation to develop and deliver a quarterly 10-hour course for residential concierges –delivered through a combination of advance assignments and classroom lectures (also available by zoom).  The objective of a diploma for this 4-part management development program, will deliver a sense of accomplishment, creation of a professional network of a unique position; and ultimately, raise the bar on the role of Residential Concierge.  

Welcome Home!  

About the author

Stephen Darling

Stephen Darling is principal of Stephen Darling Hospitality Consulting Inc. and a Vancouver–based partner of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants. His focus is working with national and international clients on hotel development and operations. Stephen has consulted on several North American mixed-use developments in the luxury sector. He was a senior member of the teams that brought Mandarin Oriental and Shangri-La to North America. He is also certified as an independent board director and a member of the Cornell Hotel Society.

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