Janice Dempsey likes to think her job includes being a tourist in her own city.
As a concierge for the Mandarin Oriental Atlanta in Buckhead, one of her tasks is setting up itineraries for visitors who want a real Atlanta experience during their stay. Many of the places, events and restaurants she recommends are places she visits herself to see the venue for herself, taste the flavors of the menu and gauge the experience to determine if it is more fitting for a family with small children or a solo traveler.
“You can’t just sit at a desk and look online. We’re not just reservation makers,” Dempsey said of the concierge title.
“I go online and look and then I go myself,” Dempsey said. “I go to SunTrust Park, the High Museum, the Atlanta Symphony … and you look around and while you are enjoying the venues you are also learning about them,” she said.
Visiting a location after renovations, visiting a restaurant during different seasons, taking different modes of transportation to a venue, taking a child along to an event, determining actual distance to walk (a “short stroll” as described online could actually be a six-mile hike, for example) — these are all part of the learning experiences Dempsey and other concierges put into their work to ensure they can give guests the best information.
“We have the ability to give knowledge,” she said.
That knowledge is something guests appreciate and are willing to pay for at high-end hotels that include concierge services. And despite the rise in popularity of Airbnb, an online marketplace which lets people rent out their properties or spare rooms, many people still want the personal service Dempsey and others in her line of work provide.
“People are still looking for luxury and want to be pampered and have someone take care of them,” she said.
Dempsey started her career first as a flight attendant for Trans World Airlines (TWA). When it was purchased in 2001 by American Airlines, she opted for early retirement. While at TWA, she traveled the world and stayed at many different hotels. The concierge at those hotels was always someone she relied on for the best information on what to do, where to go.
“I didn’t go to the hotel and stay in the room. I explored and was a big traveler on my own, and still am,” she said. “And it was always the concierge who … I would ask where to go from here, that always knew what was going on locally.”
Going from flight attendant to the hospitality industry was a natural fit for her, said Dempsey, who began working at the Mandarin Oriental Atlanta five years ago. This year she became president of the Concierge Society of Atlanta, which boasts on its website, “Supporting the best Atlanta has to offer, one guest at a time.”
She is also one of only six concierges from Georgia who are members of the exclusive Les Clefs d’Or USA (pronounced “lay clay door,” it translates as “the keys of gold”), the only international association for hotel concierges. The crossed gold key pins she wears on her collar signify that she is a member of the association whose members are only invited following a rigorous application process, numerous recommendations as well as written and oral exams.
These associations give Dempsey access to other concierges throughout the world. For example, when guests at her hotel were traveling to Paris and looking for a special petit fours, Dempsey was able to call a colleague in France to ensure their petits fours were ready when they arrived.
When a guest from Canada calls and asks Dempsey to get tickets to the Atlanta Braves for him and his grandson, she makes it happen. When an elderly guest needs colostomy supplies, she has made that happen, too. If a guest breaks a tooth and needs an emergency dentist, consider the problem solved. Recently, a guest tore a pocket in his pants. Dempsey sewed it up herself.
“We make the impossible possible,” she said.
But don’t expect her exploits to be as dramatic as M. Gustave, the infamous concierge from the Wes Anderson movie, “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
“He was pretty cool in a silly way,” she said with a chuckle.
During last year’s solar eclipse, several guests booked rooms at the Mandarin Oriental to witness the historic event. But they didn’t realize they were staying in a city filled with history itself, Dempsey said. She often recommends guests visit the Atlanta History Center, the King Center and the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Other top spots for guests to visit include the Georgia Aquarium and the Atlanta Botanical Garden, she said. “Atlanta is a modern Southern city that still keeps its Southern charm,” she said.
“You have to have a passion,” to be a concierge, Dempsey added. That includes pride in yourself, pride in your hotel and pride in how your city is represented. And concierges must also listen to their guests, study their body language, ask them questions to ensure they can provide them a memorable stay.
“You have to always be willing to learn,” she said. “You have to be sincere. You have to have knowledge — about attractions, restaurants, locations, events, concerts, sporting events, the times places open, when the Braves are playing.
“You have to be a tourist in your own city,” she said.
This story is part of Perimeter Business, the Reporter Newspapers’ quarterly business section. The Winter 2018 Perimeter Business is focused on the local hotel industry boom. Other stories include a look at why hotels are often in the mix of local mixed-use developments.